Recently I attended a meeting that consisted mainly of residents of Plymouth Meeting, PA. Plymouth Meeting is a small Township a few miles outside of Philadelphia. These neighbors had gathered at the National Register of Historic Places building, Plymouth Friends Meetinghouse, to discuss the possible demolition of additional National Register buildings located directly across the street from where they were currently sitting.
The Corson Family heirs, one of whom currently lives on approximately 10 acres across the busy intersection of Germantown Pike and Butler Pike, had agreed to sell their property. The developer has released plans to build 48 townhouses on the property that currently has several houses on it. Many arguments were given for why this wasn’t a great idea. I was there because there are 2 buildings on the property, Abolition Hall and Hovendon House, that represent what historian Charles Blockson describes as part of “an inspirational shrine, a historical landmark of enormous importance.”
Charles Blockson noted that the entire village of Plymouth Meeting was abolitionist. The meetinghouse, built in 1708, and practically every home and store in the crossroads hamlet was used to hide runaway slaves.
Those who found shelter in Plymouth Meeting were routed five miles up Germantown Pike to Norristown or into Bucks County, where their journey continued to New York State and Canada.
The Corson family risked arrest and violence, to aid slaves on the run.
George Corson was so dedicated to the battle against slavery that in 1859 he converted a barn across from the meetinghouse into 150-seat Abolition Hall, as a platform for the leading anti-slavery speakers of the era.
After the Civil War, Helen Corson married Thomas Hovenden, a famed artist who painted “The Last Moments of John Brown” and made Abolition Hall his studio.
Nancy Corson who once lived at Abolition Hall said her great-grandfather, who died before she was born, passed on tales of the Underground Railroad. She said, "There is a story about my great-grandfather transporting runaway slaves at night in a hay wagon. Everyone fell asleep - the people hiding, my grandfather and the horse all fell asleep - and ended up in a ditch."