Murals are currently being painted in Downtown Greenfield! Take the complete tour of the murals on Juneteenth, June 19. Details available here.

Downtown Greenfield Abolitionist & Underground Railroad Art Walk

Jump to: #1 31 Bank Row | #2 Hope & Main | #3 451 Main | #4 473 Main | #5 500 Main | #6 402 Main | #7 400 Main | #8 63 Federal | #9 258 Main | #10 Coombs & Main | #11 Miles & Main | #12 265 Main

#1 Dexter & Eunice Marsh House Site • 31 Bank Row

A black and white photograph of Dexter Marsh

Dexter Marsh

In 1953, a woman named Sophia Woodman sent the Historical Society of Greenfield her recollections of a story told to her as a child by her surrogate “aunt” Arabella Marsh. Born in Greenfield in 1835, Arabella Marsh grew up on Clay Hill (on the site of present-day Bank Row). Her father Dexter, a laborer who discovered fossilized dinosaur tracks while laying a sidewalk and eventually attained local renown for his extensive fossil collection, was the son of Joshua Marsh, a Montague man once described by a contemporary as an “abolitionist to the core.” According to Woodman, a very young Arabella Marsh came home one day to find the yard full of black children, with whom she played delightedly until nightfall. Unable to locate them the following morning, she went crying to her stepmother, who asked, “What black children, dearie? There are no little black children; you must have had a very interesting dream. Now run along to school and don’t talk about it.”

Black and white picture of Eunice Marsh

Eunice Marsh

Only as she grew older did Marsh begin to suspect that her parents sheltered fugitive slaves. No other documentation has surfaced to date pointing to the Marshs’ involvement with the underground, and Woodman herself acknowledged that her memory of the details of “Auntie Belle’s” story was imperfect. Nevertheless, Dexter Marsh’s family heritage lends credibility to the tale, establishing him as an individual with personal ties to the anti-slavery movement.

 

#2 Franklin County Anti-Slavery Society Site • Corner of Hope St. & Main St.

Formation of the Franklin County Anti-Slavery Society

Around the turn of the twentieth century, long-time Greenfield resident Samuel O. Lamb noted that the early anti-slavery meetings at the Methodist church “made an impression on me that time has not effaced.” Established in 1831, the congregation erected its first building around 1834 on the site currently occupied by the Franklin County Courthouse. Site of the inaugural convention and several later meetings of the Franklin County Anti-Slavery Society, the church lent strong institutional support to the growth of abolitionist sentiment in the county. After losing their building in 1846 due to a financial crisis within the congregation, the Methodists met for a time in the town hall before purchasing the old St. James Episcopal Church building and relocating the structure to just east of its current location at 25 Church Street.

#3 George T. Davis House Site • 451 Main St.

Black and white picture of George T. Davis

George T. Davis

One of the founding members of the Franklin County Anti-Slavery Society (FCAS), George T. Davis served as the organization’s first Treasurer, and later as a Vice President. A prominent lawyer who also served as a state representative, state senator, and U.S. Representative, Davis embraced political action as the most promising avenue for anti-slavery activity and supported the transfer of affiliation to the Massachusetts Abolition Society. As a member of the Business Committee, he helped guide the organization’s first year as the Franklin County Abolition Society. The prosperous Davis owned multiple properties in town, including a house on the site of the current-day Greenfield Cooperative Bank and a larger one on eastern Main Street, immediately west of the present-day YMCA building.

#4 Billy Elliot House • 473 Main St.

Black and white picture of Billy Elliot.

William "Billy" Elliot

Merchant and insurance salesman William “Billy” Elliot played a leading role in the organized anti-slavery movement. Deeply committed to political action on behalf of the slave, he served as Secretary and Treasurer of the Franklin County Abolition Society and joined the Free Soil Party in 1848. A 1934 “Old Timer Remarks” column in the Greenfield Recorder, a repository of local lore, termed Elliot’s home at 473 Main Street (still standing) a frequent “place of refuge for slaves fleeing from southern captivity,” a stop-over point for those on the road to Canada. Elliot maintained various places of business throughout his career; sites that may have played a role in his underground activities. He worked for years at Lyman Kendall’s store on the corner of Main and Federal Street and later operated his own business at current day 310 Main Street. After retiring from mercantile life, he became an agent for the Conway Company and maintained an insurance office in the P.T. Sprague building, which stood on the site of current-day 320 Main Street.

#5 George Grennell House Site • 500 Main St.

Black and white picture of George Grennell

George Grennell

Lawyer George Grennell, another founding member of the FCAS, ranked among the county’s most prominent men. Elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1828, he served for eleven years, vocally encouraging his reluctant colleagues to extend diplomatic recognition to Haiti, the western hemisphere’s first independent black republic and a lightning rod for Americans’ racial fears. The first President of the Troy & Greenfield Railroad Company and the holder of many local and county offices, Grennell, according to the Greenfield Gazette Centennial Edition, “early took a positive stand in favor of human freedom and equal rights.” Along with D.W. Alvord and Hugh Thompson, Grennell served as a Greenfield delegate to an 1854 mass meeting in Worcester that adopted a resolution condemning the Kansas-Nebraska Act (which overturned the historic Missouri Compromise to open the two territories to slavery). Two years later, he organized a public meeting to protest South Carolina congressman Preston Brooks’ caning of Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner, an outspoken abolitionist, on the floor of the U.S. Senate. A cape style home now standing at 53 High Street served as the Grennell homestead at 500 Main Street until 1846, at which time the family constructed a larger and more stylish house on the property and moved the cape to its present-day location. Though later owners have altered both homes, the two Grennell residences continue to provide a link to an earlier era.

#6 Leavitt Family House • 402 Main St.

Picture of Jonathan Leavitt

Jonathan Leavitt

The prominent Leavitt family of Charlemont, Heath, and Greenfield spearheaded the crusade for evangelical social reform in western Massachusetts. Charlemont farmer Roger Leavitt served as President of the Franklin County Anti-Slavery Society, and in 1840, received the state Liberty Party Convention nomination for Lieutenant Governor. His wife Chloe Maxwell Leavitt actively collected signatures for petitions demanding the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia. Two of Roger’s brothers settled in Greenfield: Jonathan, who rose to public esteem as a judge, and Hart, a merchant who served as a founding member of the county anti-slavery society. Hart Leavitt’s store—site of the town’s first newspaper and post office—stood next to Jonathan’s law office on Main Street. Jonathan and his wife Emelia, daughter of Congregational minister and early critic of slavery Ezra Stiles, the first President of the Connecticut Society for the Promotion of Freedom, moved to Greenfield in 1789. Their household on Main Street (the Greenfield Public Library from 1909 to 2023) included several African Americans: Vincy, the nursemaid; Jim, a manservant; and Eliza, the cook. Their legal status is uncertain. Given the era, they could have been enslaved, free, or in transition.

When Ezra Stiles died in 1795, Emelia Leavitt brought two of his aged servants— Newport and Nabby—to Greenfield. Stiles bought Newport in 1756 from a slave trader in his congregation who recently returned from a voyage to Guinea, naming the young boy for his new hometown. His discomfort with slavery rising in tandem with his willingness to accept blacks as equal members of his church, Stiles freed Newport in 1778 upon accepting the presidency of Yale. Four years later, the bleak economic prospects facing free blacks in Rhode Island drove the couple to New Haven, where Newport approached Stiles for a job. In accordance with common practice, Stiles agreed upon the condition that the couple indenture their two year old son Jacob to him until the age of twenty-four. Newport and Nabby did not linger long in Greenfield. Missing their old home, they soon returned to New Haven, revealing the strong communal ties that bound eighteenth century blacks as well as whites. Both Roger Leavitt and his oldest son Joshua helped to found the American & Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, and the Yale-educated Joshua threw himself into the anti-slavery cause on a national scale, serving as publisher of the American Anti-Slavery Society’s official newspaper, the Emancipator, and later the New York Independent. Ohio State University historian Wilbur Siebert listed Joshua’s brother Hart, a Charlemont resident, as one of Franklin County’s Underground Railroad operators, “a sturdy abolitionist who did all he could to help slaves gain their freedom.”

#7 John Putnam Barbershop Site  • 400 Main St.

Black and white picture of John Putnam

John Putnam

John Putnam’s considerable musical talent and good humor have left a long-lasting impression on the region. Contemporaries often noted that “his infectious laughter, once heard, was long remembered." According to family stories passed down through descendants, Putnam and his wife Julia, both born into freedom in Massachusetts, actively assisted fugitives traveling through Franklin County. Black barbers such as Putnam—who tended to possess the contacts and resources necessary to help freedom seekers on to their next destination point—played an important role in the Underground Railroad. Putnam’s shops above J.H. Hollister’s jewelry store, at the Mansion House, and at the American House may have served as information centers for those aiding fugitives. Putnam came to Greenfield no later than 1845 and resided originally on Mill Street. The earliest specific documentation placing his family at 175 Wells Street is an 1871 map recording their presence on the lot next to the railroad tracks, although they did not actually purchase the property until 1880. J.H. Hollister, the jeweler who worked in such close proximity to Putnam, took over ownership of a tract of land including 175 Wells in 1866, opening up the possibility that the family rented the lot prior to 1871, or perhaps even before the Civil War.

Postcard of the former Mansion House.

The Mansion House once located at 400 Main St.

Putnam descendants have long recounted stories of an underground tunnel leading from the house’s basement toward the railroad tracks. A 1970s demolition at 175 Wells uncovered a subterranean tunnel closely matching the oral tradition. Lacking any documented family presence on the property prior to 1871, however, it is also possible that later generations, familiar with John and Julia’s work with fugitives, may have invested the tunnel with Underground Railroad connotations it does not necessarily possess, unintentionally confusing activities taking place at the Mill Street house or the barbershop with those particular to the Wells Street property.

#8 George T. Davis House Site • 63 Federal St.

Black and white picture of George T. Davis.

George T. Davis

One of the founding members of the Franklin County Anti-Slavery Society, George T. Davis served as the organization’s first Treasurer, and later as a Vice President. A prominent lawyer who also served as a state representative, state senator, and U.S. Representative, Davis embraced political action as the most promising avenue for anti-slavery activity and supported the transfer of affiliation to the Massachusetts Abolition Society. As a member of the Business Committee, he helped guide the organization’s first year as the Franklin County Abolition Society. The prosperous Davis owned multiple properties in town, including a house on the site of the current-day Greenfield Cooperative Bank and a larger one on eastern Main Street, immediately west of the present-day YMCA building.

#9 John Putnam Barbershop Site • 258 Main St.

Black and white picture of John Putnam

John Putnam

John Putnam’s considerable musical talent and good humor have left a long-lasting impression on the region. Contemporaries often noted that “his infectious laughter, once heard, was long remembered." According to family stories passed down through descendants, Putnam and his wife Julia, both born into freedom in Massachusetts, actively assisted fugitives traveling through Franklin County. Black barbers such as Putnam—who tended to possess the contacts and resources necessary to help freedom seekers on to their next destination point—played an important role in the Underground Railroad. Putnam’s shops above J.H. Hollister’s jewelry store, at the Mansion House, and at the American House may have served as information centers for those aiding fugitives. Putnam came to Greenfield no later than 1845 and resided originally on Mill Street. The earliest specific documentation placing his family at 175 Wells Street is an 1871 map recording their presence on the lot next to the railroad tracks, although they did not actually purchase the property until 1880. J.H. Hollister, the jeweler who worked in such close proximity to Putnam, took over ownership of a tract of land including 175 Wells in 1866, opening up the possibility that the family rented the lot prior to 1871, or perhaps even before the Civil War.

A black and white photograph of the American House.

The American House

Putnam descendants have long recounted stories of an underground tunnel leading from the house’s basement toward the railroad tracks. A 1970s demolition at 175 Wells uncovered a subterranean tunnel closely matching the oral tradition. Lacking any documented family presence on the property prior to 1871, however, it is also possible that later generations, familiar with John and Julia’s work with fugitives, may have invested the tunnel with Underground Railroad connotations it does not necessarily possess, unintentionally confusing activities taking place at the Mill Street house or the barbershop with those particular to the Wells Street property.

#10 Samuel Wells House Site • Corner of Coombs Ave. & Main St.

Black and white photograph of western Main St. in Greenfield, Massachusetts including the Samuel Wells House

Samuel Wells House

Francis M. Thompson’s 1904 History of Greenfield mentions an old-fashioned, square house on the western part of Main Street, near Coombs Avenue (now demolished), surrounded by rumors of underground activity. Thompson notes that some pre-Civil War residents, (potentially the Samuel Wells family, but also possibly a later owner) “were at one time involved in some trouble for harboring slaves.” When historian Wilbur Siebert began his investigation into Underground Railroad activity in Massachusetts in the 1930s, Isadore Taylor of Charlemont wrote him that “it was said many years ago that the Samuel Wells farm was a station from which slaves were sent to Brattleboro, Vermont.” Both Taylor and Greenfield librarian May Ashley, however, proved unable to locate any documentary evidence or oral verification for this claim, even from descendants of the Wells family.

#11 Charles & Emiline Fisk House Site • Corner of Miles St. & Main St.

In 1895, Greenfield resident J. Johnson wrote Ohio State University professor Wilbur Siebert, the first historian of the Underground Railroad, that Dr. Charles L. Fisk and his wife Emeline sheltered fugitives in their Main Street home (which stood on the lot between current-day Miles Street and Fiske Avenue), a claim that Siebert later repeated in his 1936 book, The Underground Railroad in Massachusetts. Fisk’s son Charles, Jr., also in a letter to Siebert, lauded his father as “a great and early pioneer in the anti-slavery cause,” but offered no further details about underground activity. In his History of Greenfield, Francis Thompson called the Fisk home a frequent refuge “of the fugitive slave in his search for freedom." An abolitionist of the Garrisonian model, Fisk may have maintained a personal friendship with the fiery editor.

#12 Washington Hall Site • 265 Main St. & Veterans Mall

A scanned image of a flyer for a Frederick Douglass lecture on January 3, 1866 at Washington Hall

Frederick Douglass Lecture at Washington Hall January 3, 1866

Constructed in 1857, the Washington Hall auditorium provided the space necessary to establish Greenfield’s position on the lyceum lecture circuit. The auditorium comprised the second floor of the new town hall, which stood on the site of the current-day Veterans’ Mall. Addresses by nationally prominent figures such as Frederick Douglass, Henry Ward Beecher, Theodore Parker, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Oliver Wendell Holmes exposed residents to some of the newest and most exciting currents in contemporary literary and political thought. Anti-slavery activists such as Beecher and Parker preached abolitionism at every opportunity, often using highly dramatic oratorical techniques to grip their audiences’ emotions. 

Text adapted from the pamphlet “The Road to Freedom: Anti-slavery Activity in Greenfield, Massachusetts,” produced by a partnership of the Greenfield Human Rights Commission, the Greenfield Historical Commission, and the Pioneer Valley Institute, Joan Featherman, project director, and Jill Ogline, project scholar and author. "The Road to Freedom" was funded by a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Mildred Jones Keefe Preservation Fund for Massachusetts.

The Greenfield Abolitionist & Underground Railroad Downtown Art Walk was funded by the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) under the Making it Public (MIP) for Massachusetts Municipalities grant program for Temporary Public Art.