Underground Railroad Stations by Eber Russell
The era preceding the Civil War for many years was marked by the activity of an open defiance of the Fugitive Slave Laws. Dedicated and conscientious men who were opposed to slavery, made a business of helping escaped slaves on their trip to Canada where the Fugitive Slave Law could not touch the negro.
More than a century later it is difficult to locate any of those Underground Stations as they were called, but a few very old people can still remember of having certain houses pointed out as Stations and very occasionally the name of an operator might be mentioned guardedly. It was such a precarious undertaking to transport slaves that it was done very quietly and sometimes even without the knowledge of a nearest neighbor. Sometimes the station master never knew who delivered the escaped slave to him. It always being done in the night, then he in turn would in a short time carry the negroes to the next point.
Versailles being always an isolated community and so near Lake Erie it was ineviatble that it would be one of the stations, and strangely instead of there being just one individual engaged in the traffic, it is most certain there were four: Hiram Chapman was one who lived in a small house now occupied by his grand nephew Alan Parker. Hiram Chapman was a retired Sea Captain and became a noted nurseyman and vegetable grower. His monument is the unique one in the South West corner of the Versailles cemetery.
The next one is the house in the fork of the road down the 1st hill from Chapman. It was built by Levi Palmen and as a boy of 8 or 10 it was often pointed out to me as being a station, by one who was of Civil War age and had long been acquainted with Versailles people and history. The story was as related to me that there was a room on the second floor which had no door, the entrance being through a trap in the attic.
The third location is just at the crest of the second hill on Main Street which is the straight road down into town. This was known as the Merrill place and was on the right going down but was burned many years ago. Recently some boys found a recess in the cellar wall indiciating that it had been occupied.
The lasst was the home of Eber Pettit, a manufacturer of medicines. The formulas of which he supposedly obtained from the neighboring Seneca Indians of the Cattaraugus Reservation. It was near the present home of Mrs. George Palmer.
In the last three reported Stations there is a tradition that there were tunnels from them leading to the bank of the creek, but it is more than likely that this idea is pure myth, only the Merrill and Pettit houses were near enought to the creek to have made it possible if the hydraulic race way hadn't been in the way. It is quite certain that the passengers were taken down the Cattaraugus Creek in boats, it being only a distance of less than ten miles and the flow of the creek being much deeper than now.
If anyone doubts that there could have been four stations, the tradition is too persistant to discount it. Versailles has always had a very decided personality of its own. Witness the fact that it once had an industry employing 108 people, another was started there by a George Ubel which is now located in Johnson City Pa. and is reported to be worth $1,000,000.00 and birthed three men who attained Doctor of Philosophy degrees. Dr. Raymond Mark Harrington, now director of the South Western Archeological Museum of Los Angeles, Calif., Dr. Arthur C. Parker, director of the Science and Arts Museum of Rochester, N.Y. He died in 1955 and was considered the greatest authority on Indian Archeology, tradition and history, and still living in Versailles, Dr. Alan Parker, Industrila Attorney for Niagara Falls Chemical Companies. Also one Indian practicing physician Dr. Peter Wilson. Versailles was entitled to four Underground Railroad Stations.
It is a matter of record that three of these run away slaves reached Versailles late enough so that it was not necessary for them to go farther. They were George Washington Fitzpatrick, Thomas Jefferson Fitzpatrick and Mrs. Firzpatrick, all evidently from the same plantation. They are buried in the Mallory or North Cemetery.