Off a busy road in Baltimore County there’s an unassuming home with historical roots. At one point in time, it served on the footpath to freedom.
The Underground Railroad was a network of stations, safe places for runaway slaves to stop in their ultimate quest for liberty. They mostly traveled at night, sometimes 20 miles per trek. The stars were their guide, but it was families along the way that gave them the necessary shelter.
A Baltimore County family risked their lives running a safe house. Centuries later, a new family, in a much different time, now tells their story.
The success of the house was rooted in how well it blended in. A well-known family that contributed to the community was also hiding a secret.
“He used to hide them in his barrels, either roll them down Stumpy Lane or load them on his wagon depending on the weather conditions and haul them to the safe house,” said Jeff Supik.
Jeff and Shirley Supik are the current owners of The Emmart Pierpont Safe House.
The Emmarts, who came generations before the Supiks, would hide slaves in the Baltimore County house during the day then help guide them along the Underground Railroad at night.
“We became the 7th generation to own the home and all the six before us were related by blood. We're the first that weren't related so we tell everyone we bought our first home and inherited a legacy,” Supik said.
The Supiks see themselves in the Emmarts. They want to do something for others and they found their calling in sharing the home's history.
“So, they had a symbol and when you opened the basement door, reached in, felt that symbol and knew you had reached a safe place,” said Shirley Supik.
The station and safe haven along the Underground Railroad was constructed around 1791. The house was moved twice, finally landing on North Rolling Road where the Supiks took it over in 1980.
They renovated the house and lived in it for several years but were forced to relocate and close it off to everyone after a termite eradication went bad. To keep the county from tearing down the piece of history, the Supiks decided to go public with its past.
“So they started prayer vigils and then [a] Towson [official] says, 'We're getting support from all over the country, phone calls, emails, letters, what do we do now?' Someone says make it a landmark, so that's what we did,” said Jeff Supik.
They learned something from that experience. They didn't choose the house, the house chose them.
“If the house calls, we go that's how it is. This is bigger than he and I, it's bigger than you and he and I. It's history, it's bigger than all of us. And we need to promote the history, we cannot forget the things that truly made us great,” said Shirley Supik.
She has a pure appreciation of history, one she shares in packed auditoriums, outside the property, at various festivals, and with anyone who will listen.
“A safe house is hope. The Underground Railroad was hope. It wasn't about slavery. It was about people working together of all colors, of all ages, of all nationalities, to do the right thing. That's what we need today,” said Supik.
The Supiks are trying to fundraise $350,000 to fully renovate the house so they can re-open it to the public and add another room for meetings and learning seminars.
If you'd like to contribute or learn more about The Emmart Pierpont Safe House, click here.