Historic Underground Railroad station near Wrightsville faces uncertain future: Part 1
Back in June of this year, I published a well-received blog entry briefly outlining the history of the “Hybla” property and its signature 18th-century stone farmhouse just west of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. Not only was this the sturdy home of Underground Railroad Quaker conductors Jonathan and Susanna Mifflin and their equally active son Samuel W. Mifflin in the first half of the 1800s, on June 28, 1863, this was a Confederate artillery position during the Skirmish of Wrightsville. Two 3″ Rifles of Captain William Tanner’s Courtney (Va.) Artillery fired at retreating Pennsylvania militia from this position and also hurled explosive shells at the distant Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge. Later that fateful Sunday night, Rebels camped on the property before marching back to York on the morning of June 29.
The shells all missed their mark.
Now, according to the present occupants (who have lived there for decades and have wonderfully restored the historic house), unless a grass roots effort can rise to save Hybla, this landmark, which has quietly stood watch over Wrightsville since the mid-1700s, may be gone forever (click here to read the York Daily’s Record‘s fine article on the topic).
That would be a tragic shame for a county that has such a rich history, dating well before the American Revolution. Yes, there are several other historic properties in York County that are also threatened and deserve preservation. But, only this one served as both a station on the Underground Railroad and a Civil War battlefield. In fact, few properties in Pennsylvania, other than in Gettysburg, can make that same claim.
We all will miss the mark if this building in the future is allowed to be torn down.
Here are some photos I took today on a private tour of what remains of the once-sprawling Hybla estate and the nicely preserved farmhouse.
Historic Wrightsville, Inc., presented the home owners a few years ago with this nice sign. The construction date 1753 is approximate; there is some uncertainly as to the exact age of the house. Jonathan Mifflin and his wife Susanna secreted runaway slaves on the property and made arrangements for them to be taken to her brother William Wright across the river in Columbia. From there, the Quaker network took charge of the freedom seekers.
Samuel W. Mifflin moved out of the house in 1846. During the Civil War, it was the home of the Huber family. They appear to have fled across the bridge to Columbia before the Confederates approached on that long-ago Sunday evening, just three days before the battle of Gettysburg began.
Were freedom seekers who escaped from slave owners in Maryland and Virginia hidden here in the cellar?
Or perhaps in the two walled-off crawl spaces on either side of the third floor? The Wrights were active for several decades in the Underground Railroad, and, in addition to their barn, outbuildings, and springhouse, it is quite likely freedom seekers found temporary shelter here when the slave catchers in the Wrightsville area sought them.
The residents have did a marvelous job in restoring the old house and have very tastefully decorated it in the spirit of the 19th century. Modern Hybla is a testimony to their love of history and preservation.
The stairs lead to the equally tastefully decorated second floor bedrooms. Above them is a third floor, topped with a large attic.
The top of the stairway. Samuel W. Mifflin was born in one of the bedrooms on this floor. He was a noted railroad engineer after he departed Wrightsville and sold the home.
Interior of the western addition to the original stone house. Constructed of brick, this dates from the 1800s.
Members of the Blessing family purchased the 200-acre Hybla farm in 1960; they still own the farm. Much of the land surrounding the historic house over the years has been sold and is now a growing industrial park. The current residents, relatives to the owners, are concerned that the house could be sold and a business erected on the site. There has been some limited discussion of saving the stone-and-brick house and moving it, but that, of course, is cost prohibitive and would ruin the integrity of what is left of the original property (much of the old battlefield is lost to the modern Rutter’s, the industrial park, a nearby golf course, and the southern expansion of Wrightsville’s neighborhoods).
If the Underground Railroad waystation, one of the most active in the entire region, indeed does fall to a wrecking crew in the future, that would be a shame.
We all would miss the mark in preservation.
In the next post, I will examine the grounds and viewsheds remaining around the house and discuss why Confederate Brigadier John B. Gordon selected it in the heat of battle as a final position for two of his artillery pieces to drive off the Union militia guarding the access to the Columbia-Wrightsville covered bridge. The Hybla hillock makes a fine platform for cannon.