Uncovering the Underground Railroad at the Lemoyne House
Located along the National Road Heritage Corridor in downtown Washington, Pennsylvania, is one of the most interesting historical houses in western PA: the LeMoyne House. To the unsuspecting passerby, there is little to delineate the building from any other historic buildings in town. However, the historical marker outside does give some clues as to the importance of the home.
Built in 1812 by Dr. John LeMoyne, a French physician who had fled the French Revolution, the house is more famous as the home of his son, Dr. Francis LeMoyne. The younger Dr. LeMoyne was a noted abolitionist, and predates many of the more famous abolitionists in America. Dr. LeMoyne is also unique for his support for equal rights for both women and people of all races, something that was incredibly uncommon in the mid-19th century.
As a physician, Dr. LeMoyne was one of the city’s more prominent citizens, and that might have been enough to have him remembered in local history. However, what makes his place in history the most special is his connection to the Underground Railroad.
As the organizer of the Underground Railroad in Western Pennsylvania, Dr. LeMoyne was directly responsible for the movements of the many slaves that crossed the Virginia (now West Virginia) border into southwestern Pennsylvania. While Dr. LeMoyne didn’t frequently house slaves himself, he did from time to time, especially those that required medical attention.
However, so prominent was Dr. LeMoyne’s role as an abolitionist that John Brown corresponded with him on several occasions, even trying to recruit him for his infamous raid on Harper’s Ferry. LeMoyne was also drafted on three different occasions as the Liberty Party’s nominee for Governor of Pennsylvania and once as its Vice Presidential candidate.
Today, the LeMoyne house is home to the Washington County Historical Society which offers tours of the home to interested visitors. The first floor of the home is set up as it would have been during the mid-18th century. A doctor’s office and pharmacy occupy half of the lower floor, while a parlor with personal effects of the LeMoyne’s occupy the other half.
Upstairs, there is a small military museum that showcases items that were used or collected by residents of Washington County during wars ranging from the French and Indian War to the Korea War. There are many interesting items on display here including German guns and uniforms from World War II and items related to Philo McGriffin, a hero for the Chinese in the First Sino-Japanese War in the late 19th century.
Overall, I found the LeMoyne House and the Washington County Historical Society to be a great place to check out. Truthfully, a visit to the house is more about the stories told about what happened in the house than the house itself, but it’s amazing standing in the home and thinking about the people who lived there and those who passed through on their way to freedom.
Even better, when you can combine a visit with the equally impressive Bradford House, which is located a block away, the LeMoyne House is definitely a great place to visit for anyone interested in some of Pennsylvania’s least know historical stories.
Note: My visit to the LeMoyne House was hosted by the Washington County Historical Society. However, the opinions expressed in the article are my own and were not subject to review.
Hours: Tuesday-Friday: 10am-4pm
Cost: Adults: $5, Children: $4
Address: 49 East Maiden St.