Peter Mott House Underground Railroad Museum in Lawnside, NJ, reopening
The Peter Mott house has weathered 177 years of history, with COVID-19 just the last gasp of its glorious past.
After three years of closure, the Lawnside, NJ, home that served as a refuge for former Underground Railroad slaves, reopens to the public this weekend.
Visitors can tour the rustic property again and learn about leading 19th-century abolitionists such as Harriet Tubman and William Still, “Father of the Underground Railroad.” They will also get to know Mott, who founded the house in 1845 and helped move former slaves safely to South Jersey.
“It will be fantastic to see people here again,” said Linda Shockley, president of the Lawnside Historical Society. “It’s a story that needs to continue to be told.”
The past few years have been uncertain for Shockley, who oversees the house-turned-museum. COVID restrictions eliminated indoor visits in March 2020. The following year, she realized the house would need a long list of repairs before reopening again.
To keep Mott’s story alive, Shockley had to get creative.
Linda Shockley, President of the Lawnside Historical Society, poses with merchandise for the newly reopened Peter Mott House in Lawnside, NJ. … Read moreJesse Bunch, Jesse Bun
Last June, for example, they held an educational camp for children on the front lawn, where social distancing was observed. Nestled at the end of a residential driveway, the lawn would also host the historical society’s 32nd anniversary in October. (It was formed in 1990 to protect the house, which was in danger of being demolished.)
Yet visitors could not see the frozen-in-time interior.
Between two rooms, the squeaky wooden floor and the original cabinets practically tell stories. Objects from the 1800s, including some belonging to Still, are displayed behind glass; an ornate set of opera glasses, a pocket watch and a revolver among them. Models of clothing worn at the time hang on a coat rack in another room.
Items belonging to William Still, “Father of the Underground Railroad”. Visitors can view Still’s belongings at the newly reopened Peter Mott House Underground Railroad Museum in Lawnside, NJ. … Read moreJesse
It was Still’s story that Shockley was most eager to tell, given his credit as the father of the railroad in a 1902 New York Times obituary. Born in Burlington County, Still moved to Philadelphia and then resettled hundreds of freedom seekers to the North, going to great lengths to document their identities in hopes of one day reuniting broken families.
It all came full circle in the 1990s when a direct descendant, Clarence Still, saved Mott House from destruction by founding the Lawnside Historical Society. He would live to see the property open as a museum in 2001 before dying in 2012.
One of the benefits of the year-long shutdown, according to Shockley, was that the downtime allowed for overdue renovations. The rear door, which opens into the rush of the New Jersey Turnpike, was damaged and needed to be replaced. A new roof was put in place and the shutters were repaired, while the white clapboard siding received a fresh coat of paint.
The work was made possible by grants from the New Jersey Historic Trust, which provided approximately $60,000, as well as $30,000 from Camden County Open Space and Farmland Preservation. Contributions of about $10,000 from private donors also helped, Shockley said.
The museum, located at 26 Kings Court in Lawnside, will be open to walk-in visitors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. It will remain open on weekends from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Private tours can be booked on the museum’s website. Admission is $10 per adult and $5 per K-12 student. Masks and temperature checks are required upon entry.