All images and information in this blog are from: “Levi and Catharine Coffin State Historic Site; Underground Railroad Station,” Midwest Wanderer, 28 February 2018. Website:
The image above is of a hiding place in the Levi and Catharine Coffin house, located in Newport (now Fountain City), Indiana. The Coffins were Quakers and originally lived in North Carolina, but moved north to an anti-slavery state in 1826 because of their pro-abolition position. Once up north, they became part of the Underground Railroad.
As is the case with Maggie and her boarding house, the Coffins’ activity on the Underground Railroad was secret. The only other people who know for certain that Maggie harbors freedom seekers are some people who live on Water Street, the street in Blaineton that is home to most of its Black population.
Levi Coffin was involved in various economic activities: he owned a dry goods store and a bank, had an interest meat packing, and approved mortgages as a director at a bank in another town. Unlike Maggie, Coffin was well-respected. Even those who knew of his activities would never think of reporting him (harboring people escaping from slavery was an illegal activity). And while Levi was out and about in the community being a good citizen (which he was), Catharine was at home caring for their visitors by providing food, clothing, and other comfort.
In 1839, the Coffins moved from living above the dry goods store and into a house of that Levi had designed. The place was designed to hid freedom seekers. One room had five doors in it. Should “slave catchers” arrive at the house, the self-emancipators were able scatter in five directions. Down in the basement was a full kitchen, where meals could be prepared in secret for the Coffins’ guests. The basement also contained a spring well which, when they had extra people inside the house, hid the fact that the Coffins were using more water than normal.
Finally, the Coffin house had a fifteen-foot-long closet in an upstairs bedroom. The entrance to the closet easily was hidden by putting a piece of furniture in front of it. The image of the closet from the Coffin house was what gave me the inspiration to include a closet in the Old Caretaker’s House on Maggie’s property.
Now, on to my story.
The final installment of “The Newcomer” answers Eli’s question about the cellar (I think the answer, given my blog above, should be obvious). As it turns out, that answer is something with which he is quite familiar.
Although "The Newcomer" involves the Old Caretaker's House on Maggie Blaine's property, the image above is just a stand-in. It really is a photo of Meade's Headquarters that I took on a visit to Gettysburg, PA. But the structure is a small building with, if memory serves me correctly, one room on the first floor, and there appears to be something of a second floor or an attic above. So it does the trick!
As for the second section of "The Newcomer," we find Eli making deals with Maggie to rent the Old Caretaker's House. He also meets the other residents of the main boarding house, and works on how to build and/or pay someone to build a flatbed press so he can start a newspaper.
The only thing Eli cannot do is find out why that cellar door is locked. How frustrating!
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder