But John Monteith was also an avid abolitionist and had larger plans for his move to Elyria. Monteith Hall served as a safe house on the Underground Railroad. “He constructed a tunnel from the riverbank into the basement of the house,” explains Janet Bird, chair of the Elyria Woman’s Club board of trustees, which owns the house today. “Rev. Monteith would hold slaves there until he could arrange for them to move on. Their four children often woke up in the night with a couple of slaves lying on their bedroom floor.”
It is not known how many slaves traveled through Monteith Hall, but Bird estimates it was probably fewer than 100, given the major Underground Railroad stops were in Oberlin.
Monteith wanted his oldest daughter, Sarah, to marry Ely, but she fell in love with Lorain County Sheriff Nahum Gates. The two married and moved into the house. Although Gates was outspoken against slavery, he was bound to uphold the laws.
Monteith died in 1868 after he fell down the stairs in the house.
Years later, Monteith’s grandchildren played in the tunnel, but either his daughter’s husband or his grandson had it filled in because it was in danger of collapsing. “If you go into the basement it’s entirely hand-hewn sandstone blocks,” says Bird. “Except for one wall, facing the river. It’s quite apparent where the tunnel came into the house.”
The house was passed down through a couple of Monteith-Gates generations before it was sold to the Elyria Woman’s Club in 1954.
The Woman’s Club conducts tours of Monteith Hall the third Saturday of the month from 1 to 4 p.m., or by appointment. Admission is $5.