The Underground Railroad may be one of the most recognizable terms in American history. It was a network of secret routes that slaves used to escape from the South to the free North– and it ran right through our area.
“When we first bought this place, people started telling us things, and that was one of the first things we were told. ‘You know that was actually part of the underground railroad?,'” Norma Bowyer, local historian said.
Norma bought the historic “Fitz Randolph House” in 1969.
Bowyer said, “It’s really fun to live with one foot in the past.”
Jepthah Fitz Randolph and his wife Deborah were members of the Seventh Day Baptist Faith, which had denounced slavery and joined the abolitionist movement.
“The house was built by Jepthah Fitz Randolph, and Jepthah was quite an interesting, educated gentleman. His family came here from New Jersey with the Seven Day Baptists,” said Bowyer.
After Fitz Randolph bought the property in 1847 on Meat House Fork in Doddridge County, he lobbied for the construction of the Salem-Harrisville Turnpike.
Bowyer added, “We kind of think it was kind of a way to connect the Seven Day Baptist Churches, and also a way of maybe helping the slaves.”
The Fitz Randolph House is full of history and stories. Norma said her family discovered several crawlspaces.
“We said, ‘What’s underneath here, and what’s underneath there?’ Lots of little hiding places,” Bowyer said.
According to the 2009 Underground Railroad Free Press survey, the Fitz Randolph Home was considered a safe house.
“You never admitted you were part of it because it was illegal, but it’s there in the documents,” said Bowyer.