Hidden history resides in Springfield’s Gammon House

How to go

What: The Gammon House

Where: 620 Piqua Place, Springfield

When: open houses Friday, Nov. 8, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Nov. 10, 1-6 p.m. or by appointment

Admission: no cost

More info: (937) 322-8359 or www.gammonhouse.org

It’s an old brick house people pass by daily, with probably no idea of its place in history.

The Gammon House, located at 620 Piqua Place in Springfield, is where you wish the walls could talk. It’s where runaway slaves came from 1850 through the end of the Civil War on their way to freedom as part of the Underground Railroad.

The Gammon House’s legacy will be celebrated Nov. 8-10 with open houses and the premiere of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra’s original program, Freedom!

The Gammons were a free black family who owned a house and land in Springfield. George was a carpenter who built the house, and his wife, Mary, a laundress, and there were seven children. They took a major risk as an 1850 act announced that anyone caught aiding runaway slaves would be imprisoned and fined.

It isn’t known how many slaves the Gammons helped, but their home was one of only three Underground Railroad stops in the state owned by free black families.

If their involvement wasn’t enough, the Gammons’ eldest son, Charles, made history himself. He joined the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, and gave his life as one of the first black soldiers to fight in the Civil War, depicted in the Oscar-winning film “Glory.”

The family eventually went in separate directions, with George and Sarah buried in Ferncliff Cemetery. After many renovations and owners, the Gammon House fell into disrepair after 1974 and was just another eyesore.

It wouldn’t be until years later its significance was discovered. Betty Grimes, who grew up in the neighborhood, knew nothing of its legacy for years.

She now chairs the Gammon House Committee, dedicated to its ongoing restoration and preservation since 1998.

“We wanted to restore it as close to its 1850 condition as we could,” said Grimes. “We don’t have photos and just have to base it as close as we can guess to how Mr. Gammon built it.”

The reconstruction began in 2000 with a new roof, floors, doors and windows. Grimes estimates the restoration project is about three quarters finished, with some landscaping left. It’s all based available funding.

She’s proud of the busloads of people who make the trip to see the home. The house contains artifacts from an archaeological dig done with Wittenberg University, but she said not much information is available on the Gammon or their legacy, but with each new discovery it’s exciting to be a part of.

The Gammon House is open by appointment only. There are two upcoming chances to see it.

The first will be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 8, a Friday. The second will be 1-6 p.m. Nov. 10 during the annual Tour of Homes event. There is no cost to see the Gammon House.

“I hope people will come see this piece of Springfield history and all our history,” said Grimes.

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