Peter Mott House and Underground Railroad Museum (the Lawnside Historical Society)
26 Kings Ct., Lawnside, NJ 08045
Website – http://www.petermotthouse.org/
Like many folks in South Jersey, I’ve driver past the Peter Mott House signs a trillion times, every time saying, “Oooooh, I should go there.” Well, many years later, I still hadn’t stopped. Until that late June day when I did.
My wife, The Pres, Tree Rider, and Kite Flyer were joined by our friend Mike (who’d been playing the same “Oooooooh, I should go there” game that I was for years).
So why did we stop on a Saturday afternoon for an old house? Well, Peter Mott was a special person. He was a very successful free African American man from an era where that was a very difficult achievement. He was a self-made man who became a well off property owner. He was a minister and a Sunday School Superintendent. He built what is now the oldest house in Lawnside. He was one of the architects of the town known as Snow Hill (or Free Haven), which became Lawnside.
But it was the secret that Peter Mott kept that makes his house so important to visit – he and his wife used it to help escaped slaves make it to freedom in the Northern states or Canada. The Peter Mott House was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Not only was it a stop, it’s the rarest of preserved stops – a stop on the Underground Railroad owned by an African-American in an African-American community.
Our visit was supposed to start with a short movie, but the technology wasn’t cooperating that day. Instead, we were treated to a lesson on the man, the house, and the town from the two volunteers from the Historical Society who were on duty that morning. The presentation was excellent, allowing the kids to get an idea of what happened here, while also being able to answer a lot of questions about the Underground Railroad in particular and Lawnside’s role in it in particular.
After the presentation, you’ll receive a tour of the house. The tour doesn’t take long, as only two rooms are open. The rooms have many of the same types of artifacts that all historical societies have, such as the children’s crib and a collection of old glass medicine bottles.
However, the house also has some unique and fascinating items on display. Some of the most fascinating to me were a few of the belongings of abolitionist and key member of the Underground Railroad in the Delaware Valley, William Still. Others include items dug up from the property during archaeological digs. There were also items relating to the tough fight to save the house from destruction from a developer.
Overall, we spent over an hour here (thank you to our guides for being so enthusiastic about talking about all they know!), and learned a ton about the Underground Railroad and South Jersey’s part in it. It was time very well spent.
So if you find yourself with an hour on a Saturday morning, don’t just drive past this place. Stop in and discover this historical wonder for yourself.
Visiting information: The Peter Mott House is open for tours each Saturday from Noon to 3 PM. The cost is a donation of $5 per adult and $2 per student.