NJ home of Strawbridge & Clothier co-founder spotlights Underground Railroad

Thursday, August 3, 2017
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Historic house in Riverton. Nora Muchanic reports during Action News at 6 p.m. on August 3, 2017.

RIVERTON, N.J. (WPVI) -- It's as if time is standing still in a house on Bank Avenue in Riverton, New Jersey.

Known as the Caleb Clothier House, it's lovingly cared for and decorated in the style of the 1800s.

Owners Mary Louise Bianco-Smith and Ken Smith are history buffs, thrilled the home has been designated a local historic site for its role as a stop in the Underground Railroad which helped slaves escape to freedom.

"We were able to prove that not only Caleb Clothier, but Edward and Sarah Ogden would do anything they could to help free and expedite the flight for the enslaved," Bianco-Smith said.

Built in 1851 and perched on the Delaware River, it was once the summer home of Caleb Clothier, co-founder of Strawbridge and Clothier department stores and an active abolitionist in Pennsylvania.

It's believed he and the next owners, the Ogdens, hid slaves in the sprawling basement.

"They would come off the river and would come to the house, but still be kept in the basement," Smith said. "There were nooks and crannies down there; there were places that people could hide."

From the time she was a child, it was Mary Louise's dream to live in the house and now that she's here, it's her mission to share its rich history.

"My goal is to teach the children to value history and the legacy," Bianco-Smith said.

There are artifacts from the 1800s and a bricked-over tunnel, it's believed slaves used to access the basement.

Ken and Mary Louise embrace their homes past and offer guided tours by appointment.

The reason they do it is simple.

"Teach them about famous people that lived in a little small town who were very quiet, that did the best they could to work together to help others," Bianco-Smith said.


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