- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 9, 2005

CINCINNATI - The two decades that Harriet Beecher Stowe lived in Cincinnati helped shape the feelings and ideas that led to her anti-slavery novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

Now, several groups are working to make more people outside Cincinnati aware of the importance to America’s heritage of her 19th-century home.

“Harriet Beecher Stowe didn’t write the book there, but it was where she learned about the evils of slavery and the efforts to help slaves escape to freedom,” said Kathy Hoke, a spokeswoman for the Columbus-based Ohio Historical Society that has been responsible for the house since it was donated to the state in 1946.

Optimism about the historical site’s renewed potential as a tourist attraction stems from the emergence of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The Cincinnati-based museum dedicated to the series of safe houses that offered shelter to fleeing slaves has increased attention to the Stowe house and other southwestern Ohio sites associated with the anti-slavery movement.

While living in Cincinnati, Stowe encountered runaway slaves and witnessed a slave auction in neighboring Kentucky. Her friend John Rankin, whose Ripley home was an important Ohio stop on the Underground Railroad, told her of a young slave who ran across the ice-covered river carrying her child. That later became one of the most dramatic scenes in Stowe’s book.

“We think it’s important for people to visit sites such as the Stowe and Rankin houses so that they can better understand slavery and the struggle for freedom,” said Carl B. Westmoreland, the center’s senior adviser for historic preservation.

Stowe, who was born in 1811 in Litchfield, Conn., moved to Cincinnati in the early 1830s as a young woman when her father, the Rev. Lyman Beecher, became president of the Lane Theological Seminary.

The two-story brick house that sits atop a hill a few miles north of downtown was completed in 1833, and the author lived there until her 1836 marriage to seminary professor Calvin Stowe. She remained in Cincinnati until 1850, when the Stowes moved to Brunswick, Maine, where she wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

The best-selling novel, published in 1852, was written in reaction to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which made it a federal crime to assist runaway slaves. The novel made Stowe an international celebrity praised by slavery’s opponents and condemned by its advocates. When the author was introduced to President Lincoln in 1862, he responded, “So this is the little lady who started this big war.”

Barbara Furr, who serves as one of a few volunteer tour guides at the Stowe house, said an increasing number of visitors have been directed there by center staff since July, when the house began opening a few days a week to the public. It was previously open only by appointment.

Decreased funding led the Ohio Historical Society to partner with neighborhood groups to maintain the house, which is surrounded mostly by commercial buildings.

A grant from the city is financing structural repairs, and various groups are trying to determine ways to fund exhibits and furnish the house with Stowe family items and other period pieces.

Parts of the house likely will continue to be rented for office space and events, such as lectures and art shows, said Jim King, executive director of the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, which is managing the site’s redevelopment.

“The major push will be to make it a historical museum that can attract visitors from around the world,” he said.

The museum will anchor a Harriet Beecher Stowe Cultural District that will include arts centers, other historical sites, retailers, restaurants and entertainment, Mr. King said.

Katherine Kane, executive director of the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, Conn., the city where Stowe died in 1896, said she welcomes any project that increases recognition of Stowe’s legacy.

“Our outlook on the world has changed a lot, but her legacy can still inspire others to commit to social justice and positive change,” she said.

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