Home to the most Underground Railroad sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places in New York State, Oswego County and its people have long stood for freedom and equality for all. Our newest museum, the Starr Clark Tin Shop and Underground Railroad Museum, commemorates our connection to this significant chapter in our nation’s history.
In 1827, Colonel William Fitch erected this mercantile shop in the village of Mexico, N.Y. Later, it would become an important part of the story due to the actions of one of the many abolitionists in the area, Starr Clark.
Clark was born on August 2, 1793 in Lee, Massachusetts and later spent time as a youth in Utica, New York. He married Harriet Loomis from Verona when he was 22 years old and, a year later, the couple moved to Danby, just south of Ithaca. During this time, they experienced a religious conversion that had a profound effect on the rest of their lives. Of their eight children, a son born in 1831 was named after Theodore Weld, who was at that time one of the best-known abolitionist orators in the country.
In 1832, Clark was hired to run Colonel Fitch’s store in Mexico. He was paid $350 per annum, which included use of the neighboring house and garden. In the store, he sold dry goods and groceries and later added a tin and stove shop, which became a community gathering place. People collected their mail, read the daily paper and discussed politics and social issues of the day, including the abolitionist movement.
Oswego County was a hotbed of abolitionist activity and the tin shop and many houses in the surrounding area were “stations” on the Underground Railroad. This was not an actual “railroad,” but rather, a network of people and places that provided aid to slaves who had escaped their masters and sought a life of freedom.
Clark himself was an organizer of the Oswego County Anti-Slavery Society, and wrote the first anti-slavery petition sent to the U.S. Congress from Oswego County. Like many of his neighbors, Clark opened up his home to these “freedom seekers” and they were welcomed, hidden from authorities, and provided with fresh clothing and hot meals while arrangements were made to transport them to Canada.
One famous case in our history was “The Jerry Rescue.” A group of abolitionists, including Clark, planned to rescue William “Jerry” Henry (McHenry), an escaped slave charged under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. After his rescue, “Jerry” was secretly transported and hidden along the Underground Railroad in Oswego County before finally making safe passage to Kingston, Ontario, Canada where he remained the rest of his days.
Posted here are a few images of the museum:
This building is just one of many well-documented and recognized Underground Railroad locations in Oswego County, and one of only a few sites open to the public. Stop in to learn more about this brave heritage and the restoration of the original tin shop.
The Starr Clark Tin Shop and Underground Railroad Museum, 3250 Main St., Mexico, N.Y. is open from 4 to 7 p.m. on Fridays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, or by appointment. Admission is free. To schedule a tour, call 315/963-7898.
The Mexico Historical Society presents…
During our visit to the museum, we caught up with our friends Marge and Dave Thomas from the Children’s Glassworks Theater in Cleveland, N.Y. As guest speaker, Marge shared a bit of history about the children’s theater and its namesake, Cleveland Glass Works.
This year, the troupe’s annual Christmas production is a trilogy of short plays featuring children of various age groups. The stories include “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” “The False Sir Santa Claus,” and “The Christmas Gift.” As in the past, the scripts are adapted for the stage by Marge herself to be sure that every child has a role to play. The show is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday, December 13 and Saturday, December 14 at the former St. James Episcopal Church on North Road in Cleveland. Tickets are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children. For event details, call 315/675-8517.
For more information about the Starr Clark Tin Shop and Underground Railroad Museum, visit www.mexicony.net/history or find the “Mexico Historical Society Museum” on Facebook. To learn more about Oswego County’s history, go to http://www.visitoswegocounty.com/.