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Once Part of the Underground Railroad, the Future is Uncertain For Richfield's Oviatt House

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Judy Bowman
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The Oviatt House was built in 1836 but was not rediscovered until the land it was on became public again, following the closure of Camp Crowell Hilaka in 2011.

A historic house in Richfield with ties to the Underground Railroad is slated for demolition. But a citizens group is working to save the Oviatt House.

The city’s Joint Recreation District voted last year to demolish the house, which sits on part of the land once used as Camp Crowell Hilaka by Girl Scouts. Long before that, the 180-year-old building was the home of Mason Oviatt, who worked with abolitionist John Brown to shield slaves on the path to freedom.

Sue Serdinak is with the group “Save the Oviatt House.” She says even though the building needs work, it’s worth saving, and the group has volunteers willing to help.

“Three master preservationist carpenters did a lot of research on the building, and they determined it was really in very good shape for its age," Serdinak said. "They and other volunteers put metal sheeting on the leaky roof. They secured the entire building and painted it. They are donating all of their leadership and time on this. If we can get the board to allow the building to continue to stand, we will have volunteers working on it.”

Serdinak added that the group is working to have the National Park Service add the house, and several others, to the Network to Freedom, which preserves remnants of the Underground Railroad.

“The home of Mason Oviatt is where the wagon was stored [and] where he went to pick up people and take them across hilly Rt. 303 to Oberlin. They took such a stand against slavery, and we want to honor that,” she said.

In a statement, Recreation District Board Chairman Bob Becker said the district would love to save all the historically significant structures on its land. But with limited funding, public input on saving lakes and dams on the property, and the deterioration of the Oviatt House, the decision was made to demolish. However, he says there is currently no timetable for that given the recent interest and fundraising activities from the "Save the Oviatt" group.

And this month, Richfield Village Council is considering a resolution to support saving the house.

The "Save the Oviatt" group is holding an information meeting Thursday.