History of Oviatt House
In the 1830s, Salmon Oviatt and his family moved to Richfield, Ohio where he and his son Mason raised upwards of 3,000 sheep. In 1836, he built his family home still standing today at West Streetsboro and Oviatt roads near the Summit-Medina line. The lumber for the house was milled on site by Mason and his brother Erastus in a sawmill they built next to the nearby creek.
Mason invited his friend, John Brown (the American Abolitionist) to move to Richfield to be his partner in the sheep business. Since both families had such strong anti-slavery beliefs, it was a natural fit for Richfield to become a major Station on the Underground Railroad where freedom-seekers could hide and rest. Hiding places were built into homes along the way, and Oviatt House is no exception. It is rumored that there is a nook or “closet” in the basement of this historic house.
LEARN MORE: Dating the House
To help you understand the significance of Oviatt House, let us take you back to a moonless night in 1840. Five freedom seekers were crammed into the false bottom of a horse-drawn wagon driven by Mason Oviatt. The lid was shut and covered with hay to disguise its fragile cargo. The long, difficult journey to freedom took them into Oberlin, Ohio and eventually to their independence. LEARN MORE: Secret Hayride Leads to Freedom
In addition to the ties to the Underground Railroad, the Oviatt family was very important in the development of the community. Their farm and thriving sheep business enticed other businesses to come to Richfield, including blacksmith, harness and tannery shops. Many of the homes and barns erected in Richfield in the 1840s were built using lumber milled at the Oviatt sawmill.
Mason and Fanny Oviatt raised eleven children in this house. When Mason died in 1850 searching for gold in California, Fanny kept the farm going until her death in 1886. Many generations of the Oviatt family remained in the house until 1919 when the house and adjacent farmland were sold to inventor James Kirby.
In 1937, Kirby sold his estate to the Cleveland Girl Scout Council which was used until 2007 as Camps Julia Crowell and Crowell Hilaka. The Girl Scouts sold its camp to Richfield and is now known as Richfield Heritage Preserve – Ohio’s Hidden Treasure™.
Oviatt House was added to the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program in March 2021. Listings included in this program “honor, preserve, and promote the history of resistance to enslavement through escape and flight.”