The Thomas Miller House

Imagine escaping slavery with two young children and not knowing where to go for safety. Crossing the Ohio River in Cincinnati did not guarantee safety, but finding a whole stretch of safe houses did. As a slave, you would move before the sun rose, and you would look for a faint glow from a candle light signaling a stop on the underground railroad. As you knock on the door, you are risking everything you ran away for. You do not know if the house is a safe house, or the home of someone who may report you to police. But once the door opens and you see a friendly face and someone taking you into their home, you know the journey has been worth it. Once you are in the house, you would be taken to a hiding place and you may see other families in hiding as well. The owner of the home gives you food and you create a sleeping arrangement. As a slave, you could not be more thankful for all of the abolitionists that have helped you escape your horrible life of being owned. Thomas Miller was one of the abolitionists that sheltered and helped slaves get to safety.
Thomas Miller moved to Medina from Southam, England and bought 90 acres of farmland. The land was originally just outside the village of Medina, but is now within Medina City. The farmhouse was used for other purposes than just being a roof over the Miller family: it was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The house has nooks behind bookcases, the fireplace, and a trap door on the floor that leads to a walk-out basement, which lead to a barn that once stood at the back of the house that helped lead slaves to safety. The slaves were also kept hidden right behind the fireplace if needed. But once the civil war ended, and the need to help fugitives escape ended, the home had been used as a hospital and a daycare.

Images

The Thomas Miller House Today

The Thomas Miller House Today

There have been modifications to the house, such as adding more doors and expanding the basement. Different owners knocked out the front of the house and added a front door and a window. Now, there are four doors, three of which you can get to without going around out back. It is still a one story house, but there is more space, if it is compared to the old, stuffy, compacted, six-room house. The big tree that is right in front of the house was just a scrawny, little tree in 1923 and it is now a big oak tree. Image Courtesy of: Gloria Brown View File Details Page

"The Bungalow in the Winter" 1923

"The Bungalow in the Winter" 1923

In this drawing of the house from 1923 you can see lots of changes.What is amazing is even though the house was renovated in 1923 the builder was still able to keep the lattice structure used when it was originally built in 1841, almost 80 years before. Before this renovation, the living room was much smaller. Also the porch used to reach across the front of the whole house. Also, there was no Route 3 in this picture, only East Liberty Street with Route 3 just as a dirt road. This allowed the house to have a longer pathway up to the front steps of the house. Another thing is you can see the barn behind the house where the slaves would next be taken to continue their journey. Image Courtesy of: Community Design Committee View File Details Page

The Living Room Fireplace

The Living Room Fireplace

The beautiful fireplace, built in 1841 was more than just a fireplace. The fireplace hides a nook behind it there is a secret nook where slaves would be put to be safe. There were two ways to get into this hidden nook. One way is to take off all of the books from the right side of the fireplace. The bookshelf has a false backing which leads to a ladder. On the opposite side there is a secret door that looks like it is part of wall. Behind it is a ladder and another door leading to one of the bedrooms. Image Courtesy of: Community Design Committee View File Details Page

The Secret Door in the Bookshelf

The Secret Door in the Bookshelf

If you just look at the bookshelves in the living room you would see nothing out of the ordinary, but if you knew what was behind the secret door you would know it's anything but ordinary. If you open the door you find a ladder that leads you up into a nook by the chimney where Thomas Miller would allow slaves to hide while traveling on the Underground Railroad. The width of the shelf above is the same width of the area between the secret door and the bedroom door, which is about two feet. This is the most accessible entrance to the nook above the fireplace but there is also one on the opposite side of the fireplace. Image Courtesy of: Community Design Committee View File Details Page

The Ladder Leading to a Safe Room

The Ladder Leading to a Safe Room

When slaves arrived at the Miller house, they would be taken to one of the few hiding places in the house. One hiding place led to a secret room on top of the fireplace, with two ways in. In the house, you can see where the bottom of the hiding place would be, which is where the top of the fireplace curves. The easiest way was to climb up the ladder behind a hidden door to a hidden room. Once you made it to the secret room, it also leads to an unfinished attic, which lead to another unfinished hiding place. The fugitives could stay up there and be hidden from guests who would be in the living room. Image Courtesy of: Community Design Committee View File Details Page

The Trap Door in the Living Room Floor

The Trap Door in the Living Room Floor

The trap door is a secret entrance from the floor in the living room, and is usually hidden by a rug. The door and hinges itself have been updated and restored so it is safe to walk across. The trap door is five feet away from the fireplace and the room below it takes about 10 feet off of the basements area. Once you climb down the ladder, it leads you to an area in the basement that looks like it does not exist as part of the basement. From the trap door, slaves would be lead downstairs to a small room separate from the basement. Image Courtesy of: Community Design Committee View File Details Page

Audio

Thomas Miller House Now

View File Details Page

The Bungalow in the Winter 1923

View File Details Page

The Living Room Fireplace

View File Details Page

The Secret Door in the Bookshelf

View File Details Page

The Ladder Leading to a Safe Room

View File Details Page

The Trap Door in the Living Room Floor

View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Christine Jenkinson, Anica Micovic, Paige Higgins, “The Thomas Miller House,” Discover Medina, accessed April 27, 2017, http://discovermedina.org/items/show/236.

Subjects

Tour navigation:  Previous | Tour Info | Next

Share this Story