8 Maplewood, Geneseo
Original Author: Julie Paxton, ENG206 SP10
Revision Author:

Built in 1854, the story of 8 Maplewood is surrounded by history and folklore. While there is well researched information about the stately brick home, much of it's history was passed down by word of mouth. To see the home in person, it is easy to sense that the walls (built three bricks thick!) have lots of stories and secrets that we may never know. An impressive sight, the home is a two-story house built next to a wooded area of Geneseo Creek, with a wrap-around porch and a cupola on top. On the inside, this incredible home features a grand entryway that shows off the winding staircase extending to the cupola, working coal fireplaces (one of which has been converted to gas), floor length windows to the porch, and a curious folding staircase to the basement. On several of the windows, tell-tale signs of previous residents whisper their ongoing presence through names etched in the windows panes.

The first family to live in Maplewood was the family of Alfed Whitman Perry. The Perry family comes from a long line of well educated, Congregational ministers and missionaries with strong abolitionist views and fascinating links to American history. Perry's father, Dr. Alfred Perry, came from the same church that pastored theologian Jonathan Edwards and studied at the Philadelphia Institute under Dr. Benjamin Rush at the same time that Merriwether Lewis was sent to Dr. Rush to learn about frontier medicine prior to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. In 1837, Dr. Perry moved his family from Stockbridge, Massachusetts to Mercer County, Illinois. Dr. Perry died the following year, leaving a widow and 8 children. Alfred Perry was the second oldest child and was 20 years old at the time of his father's death.

Alfred Perry arrived in Henry County in 1839. He was a pioneer with considerable ambition and began purchasing land in Geneseo immediately upon his arrival. His first purchase was a parcel of 160 acres (60 of which was the original homestead) for $1.25 per acres. In 1841, he married Mary Boone, whom he likely met in Mercer County. They had two daughters together. Frances Louise (affectionately called “Fannie”) was born in 1843 and Clara Barton (also known as “Callie”) was born on Christmas Eve in 1845. During their first years of marriage (1841–1855), Alfred and Mary spend much time exploring Henry and Mercer counties and acquired 21 parcels of land, totaling 1680 acres (purchased for approximately $2100), much of which could be used for coal mining. The 1870 census listed Alfred as a coal merchant with real estate valued at $100,000 and personal property values at $20,000. Among his many accomplishments, he opened the Briar Bluff mines and was president of the Northwestern Illinois Coal Company.

The Perry brothers (Alfred, Nathan, George and Charles) formed a private bank, which later became Perry, Spalding and Co. (incorporated into The First National Bank in 1864). Alfred and his brother, Nathan, also owned Perry Brothers Dry Good Store. It has been suggested that the bricks used to build Maplewood “came up the Mississippi as ballast from a slave ship”, however information has also been gathered that stated Samuel McHose came from the East and was contracted to make brick for Perry Brothers Dry Good Store. With Geneseo's early founders being abolitionists, the idea of Maplewood's bricks being part of a slave ship would be ironic to say the least!

Driven by a mission to “receive no individual to its fellowship but such as believe that the holding of their fellowmen in the bondage or slavery is a sin and hence are willing to do what they can to break every yoke”, Geneseo's first pioneers established the Congregational Church, where the Perry's attended. It has been rumored that tunnels were built from Maplewood to the Congregational Church (and to the Geneseo Historical Museum) as part of the Underground Railroad. This rumor has been proven untrue and probably arose out of the misconception that the Underground Railroad was actually “under the ground”.

There is strong evidence that Geneseo had several Underground Railroad stations and hundreds of slaves probably passed through Geneseo on their way to Canada. It comes as no surprise that several rumors include Maplewood as part of the story. Local folklore leads many to believe there is a slave buried under a large rock behind the house at 8 Maplewood. While this has been neither proven or disproven, it is possible as many slaves arrived ill and destitute, and undoubtedly many died along the way. With legal action looming for those caught aiding a runaway slave, it seems reasonable that many were buried and hidden for the safety of the station conductors, their families and the slaves.

Still today, evidence can be seen of Maplewood's likely participation in the Underground Railroad. When Maplewood was built, a secret, folding staircase was built inside of a closet on the main floor. If entering the closet from the main floor, it looks like an ordinary closet, but a concealed doorway on the right reveals the folding stairway. When lifted, the folding stairway provides a sloping ceiling cavity that could have been used for hiding escaped slaves. When the stairway is down, it leads from the main floor to the basement. Of course, there is no record of how many slaves may have been aided by the Perry's, but if the walls could speak, the tales would surely be incredible.

Built with brick, mortar and a devout view on abolition, the home at 8 Maplewood was constructed by the Perry family to protect their family and aid those in need of shelter. While much history has been lost through the years, it is clear to see that the Perry family held religion, freedom and prosperity at the forefront of their lives. With strong ties to the Congregational Church, evidence that supports their involvement in the Underground Railroad, and their successful business ventures, it is clear that the Perry's were pioneers who had an enormous impact on Geneseo's early growth as a thriving abolitionist community.

In 1874, the Perry's sold their Maplewood home to the Richard Owens family, but remained active in the community. Clara became an accomplished pianist and married William J Heacock (or Hiscock). She had no children and died in New York State in May 1903. Fannie married Marshall Walcott and they lived with Alfred and Mary for a while. She became active in the Henry County spelling school and won the 1876 spelling competition. They had three sons, Alfred , George Elton and Frank Barton. George lived only ten days. Marshall was a merchant presumably working in one of the Perry businesses. They were living in Geneseo according to the 1880 census, but eventually moved to California.

Mary died on March 13, 1886. Alfred died seven years later on December 29, 1893. Before his death, Alfred held offices in the Old Settler's Society and the Henry County Agricultural Society. He also continued his involvement in the dry goods store, Briar Bluff mines and Northwestern Illinois Coal Company.

Maplewood has had several owners since the Perry's, many of whom were family members of pervious owners, and was even a college for several years. The ownership includes:

1854 – 1874 Alfred W. Perry
1874 - 1886 Richard Owens
1886 – 1892 Geneseo Collegiate Institute
1892 – 1911 *William A. Bickel
1911 – 1923 Dr. Edward T. and Susan (Hanford) Harper
1923 – 1925 Charles C. Hanford
1925 – 1957 James Mirfield
1957 – 1971 J.M. Hanson
1971 – 1984 Jay & Judy (Bond) Hanson (Hanson's son/daughter-in-law)
1984 – 1986 Stephen Fonteyne & Harry Fonteyne
1986 – 1992 William Hanford (Charles C. Hanford's grandson)
1992 – 2008 Edward Faudel
2008 – Jay & Judy (Bond) Hanson

*The Geneseo Collegiate Institute sold Maplewood to William A. Bickel for a sack of gold worth $1300 (in $10 pieces) and a house on Main Street.

Works Cited
Hanson, Judy Bond. Personal Interview. 7 Apr. 2010.

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