Newspaper Article regarding Alfred Rice

This article was written in 1962 by Bill Lamale for the Buffalo Courier Express and found on the website. It must be regarded as oral history, however, it gives us the story of Alfred Rice that has been repeatedly told in many articles through the years.  The Rice family lived past the border of Cattaraugus County. It has been said they were a strong connection to Cattaraugus County's "railway", often coming into the Franklinville, Cadiz area to pick up passengers. 

 Underground's Last 'Conductor' Marked Station by Bill Lamale

NICHOLS BROOK-Alfred Rice, whose long white beard fell to his chest, always pointed to a grove of trees along Nichols Brook in the Town of Sardinia as he said: 'That's the spot. That's where the underground railway was."  In the latter years of his life he told that to his son. Pat C.Rice, who lives in Chafee, and close friends.

LAST 'CONDUCTOR'- Alfred Rice was the last of the underground railway conductors in Western New York. Before the Civil War he helped scores of runaway slaves to escape to Canada. The strong abolitionist was an educator and farmer. He was born in Cherry Tavern, a landmark on the Buffalo Rd. just north of Cattaraugus Creek. His father was Elihu Rice, the tavern keeper. There were eight children in the family.

TEACHER- When he grew up, Alfred Rice took over a farm at the next four comers and got married. He, too, raised a large family and cultivated many acres. But he also found time to teach at the academy in East Aurora, 17 miles away. There he became known as the only member of the faculty who in his head could solve problems involving the square root, and who could read music on sight. He never smoked, drank or swore.

LAST LEG- Shortly before the civil War, the last leg of an underground railway was established between Franklinville and Canada. The ideal stop on that route was the Big Cherry Tavern, standing on high ground in remote, unsettled country. Half a mile or so behind it was picturesque Nichols Brook, winding through a tangle of wild cherry trees and chokeberry vines. Here Elihu Rice hid the fleeing slaves, and brought them food from his kitchen.

HIDE IN BRUSH- The fugitives were spirited in by wagon from Franklinville, arriving sometime early in the morning. They spent the bag daylight hours huddled in the underbrush, down by the creek. At dusk young Alfred Rice would hitch up his spring wagon and head down the lane to the station, looking about to make sure he wasn't being followed.

DANGERS- He told his son that the fugitives used to carry their possessions wrapped in a calico cloth tied to the end of a stick. They lay in the bed of the wagon, covered by straw or canvas, during the three-hour ride to East Aurora.  Rewards were posted for the runaways, and there was always danger. Once when his wagon rumbled along the plank road in Protection, south of Holland, two men sprang from the bushes and grabbed the bridles. Alfred beat them off with his whip.

IN ARMY- Young Rice was a conductor until he joined the Army and served as a lieutenant. He returned from the war and went back to farming and teaching. Pat Rice remembers his father as a devout, quiet man who could quote Scripture on any occasion. Landmarks in the underground railway which Alfred Rice pointed out on buggy rides are still there, and now his son, a 67-year-old carpenter, showsthem off to students of local history.

INN REBUILT-  The old tavern, marked by a towering black cherry tree which stood squarely in the center of Buffalo Rd. and neatly divided traffic, is now a private dwelling occupied since 1943 by Mr. and Mrs. Guy S. Mordan, formerly of Buffalo. They have rebuilt the inn, but preserved its handsome white pillars and corner timbers of red beech. Nichols Brook winds through their farm,  and back where the underground station once was.  Mordan found a huge deposit of marl. This natural bed of lime he uses to fertilize the fields.

DIES AT 90- Alfred Rice lived to be 90 and died in 1923. Two weeks before his death, the old man sat up most of one night reading through a book on archeology. Pat says he read by lamp.

Source:  this oral history was found at:      Buffalo Courier Express, Sunday, February 18, 1962, page 21

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