The land on which the stone house was built in 1856 had been deeded by the U.S. Government to Henry Bunn and the deed was recorded on Feb. 25, 1854. Mr. Bunn sold 120 acres (W 112 of SE 1/4 and SE 1/4 of See. 9) to George B. Hitchcock, recorded on June 21, 1854. The basement of the House is made of limestone, which is the harder of the two stones. The house structure above ground is sandstone most likely mined from the nearby Jester Quarry, which is south of Lewis about half a mile & still visible when you drive that way. Ox teams hauled the rock to the river where it was floated across on a raft and then hauled up the steep hill to the high, level site of the house. Because sandstone is relatively soft, he made the walls 20 inches thick to help stabilize the house. The architectural style of the house is a regional adaptation of the Federal style. The two story house measures 30 by 40 feet.
The house was heated by stoves & there is a large fireplace in the basement, which would have not only served to heat the house in winter, but could have been used for cooking in the summer to keep the upstairs cooler. Washing was most likely hung in the basement during the winter months. The mill work inside the house is walnut & oak. It would have been milled at Steven’s Mill, two miles west on Indian Creek – the only sawmill within many miles. The flooring is made of wide oak boards. Carpeting, made on hand looms in sections & then sewn together, might have been added later. Carpets were a luxury & made the house warmer & easier to clean, thus adding decorative appeal. Sometimes corn husks were placed under the carpets for additional warmth.
Originally, a hinged cupboard separated the two basement rooms. The Hitchcock’s were active in the Underground Railroad from the time they arrived in the Lewis area. At this early date, there was no way of anticipating the Civil War & the emancipation of slaves. Therefore, when Rev. Hitchcock was in the process of building his ‘big’ house, he felt it necessary to build the secret room to allow “freedom seekers” a safe place to stop on their way to freedom. The basement was accessible by the kitchen, and also by an outside entrance. The hinged cupboard served as the only access to the ‘secret’ room, where fugitive slaves would be hidden in times of danger. It was a federal offense to shield or aid fugitive slaves. There were several houses in the Lewis area that were willing to welcome these runaway slaves. When they left Lewis, there were a couple of routes that they could take that would eventually get them to Des Moines, where many fugitive slaves took shelter at the Jordan House. From there they would continue on towards Clinton, IA which was an important crossing point for the Mississippi River. Then on to Chicago or Detroit and into the northeastern states & finally to Canada.
After the Hitchcock’s left the house in 1865, it continued on as a working farm for about 110 years. The house was abandoned in the mid 1960’s until 1977 when Zoe Kay & her sister-in-law Alice, purchased the farm. They worked hard & did the research for placing the Hitchcock House on the National Register of Historic Places. At that time they called it the “Freedom Farm”. They had a vision of what the property could be, and in April of 1978 they sold the land to the State of Iowa. The State then entered into a management agreement with the Cass County Conservation Commission Board, transferring the care & maintenance of 65,8 acres, more or less, to the Board. The property has since been known as the Hitchcock Recreation Area. On the property is also a 1.75 mile nature trail.
George Hitchcock was born in 1812 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts – the sixth of eleven children.
The great, great, great grandfather of Rev. Hitchcock was Matthias Hitchcock (or Mathew as listed on the ship’s docket), who was born in England in 1606. Along with his wife, Elizabeth Perry, and son, Eliakim, he came to America in 1635 onboard “The Susan and Ellen.” https://www.geni.com/projects/Great-Migration-Passengers-of-the-Susan-and-Ellen-1635/15966
David Hitchcock, Rev. Hitchcock’s grandfather was born May II, 1745, and was one of five children. He was an honest, industrious shoemaker but a series of misfortunes reduced the family to the lowest state of poverty. He was determined that his eldest son, David Jr., should be educated, having shown an early inclination to learn. When money and clothing permitted, David Jr. attended school between his 5th and 12th year, at which age his father died.
At the age 17, David Jr. was apprenticed to a shoemaker at $1 a month plus board. At age 20, he moved to West Stockbridge, Massachusetts to be employed as a shoemaker at $3.33 per month. He later became a journeyman and at age 26 he married Sarah Swan. They had eleven children of which George was the middle child. David Jr. authored three religious books that are on microfilm at the New York Historical Library. His last years were spent in Fairfield, Iowa, as a shoemaker and died there in 1847.
The eldest of David Jr. children was Harvey Rexford Hitchcock who became a missionary to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). The eldest daughter was a teacher and one of the youngest sons, Allen, graduated from Yale Divinity School and organized and preached at a Congregational Church in the Davenport area.
George Hitchcock’s life seemed to be plagued by illness. He was attending college at Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill. In 1835, at age 23, he was unable to continue due to illness, one of the many recorded periods of incapacity.
He married Carolyn Grossman at Jacksonville in that same year and began farming in Scott Co., Iowa. In 1841, he was pastor of a church in Oskaloosa, Iowa, although his first commission from the Home Missionary Society is dated Nov. 14, 1844. In 1847, he was a stone mason and was preaching in both Oskaloosa and Eddyville and while working in the quarry, a particle of stone flew into one eye and destroyed his sight.
Move to Lewis
In the fall of 1853, the family moved to the Lewis area and lived in a log cabin west of town.
Rev. Hitchcock organized the Congregational Church in his cabin on April 11, 1855. There were eleven charter members including his wife and eldest daughter, Mary Tucker.
The joy of moving into the new home was dampened by a tragedy in that same year. The Hitchcock’s son, 19 year old Leang, was shot by a friend who thought that his gun was not loaded. The young men were part of a group that had volunteered to escort a group of settlers going to Kansas during the time of turmoil about whether Kansas should be a slave or a free state. The Rev. John Todd, abolitionist minister of the Tabor Congregational Church, wrote that Mrs. Hitchcock never seemed to recover from the shock of the death.
Rev. Hitchcock frequently wrote to the Society Office, begging them to send out more ministers. In 1856, he pleaded with them again “not for missionary ministers, but for missionary families to come and settle and illustrate the Gospel in their lives, and to establish customs in these new communities.”
In 1860, in another letter to the Society, he complained that many of the men of his church were following the lure of the mines in Colorado. He resigned his commission in 1861 but remained at the Stone House. In May of 1863, he received a commission for Olmstead and Exira and at Big Grove and in Adams County. And, in May of 1864, he was given a commission for Exira and the people in Cass, Shelby, Pottawattamie, and Adams Counties; a vast area.
It was during his twelve years at Lewis that Rev. Hitchcock was involved in the Underground Railroad movement, the house having been built with the care and protection of travelers in mind. The Civil War ended in 1865 and the Hitchcock’s moved to Kingston, Missouri, where he would have an opportunity to minister to blacks as well as whites. He organized churches in Kingston, Brookfield, and Laclede. He wrote again to the Society imploring them to send more ministers.
In 1869, Rev. Hitchcock was given a commission for Lowell and Petersville, Kansas, preaching also at Baxter Springs and Tennessee Prairie in extreme southeast Kansas.
In 1872, Rev. Hitchcock applied for an appointment to some frontier field and was asked by the Society to explore Howard County. He left home on the 30th of May, traveled on horseback from 250 to 300 miles, finding places favorable for organizing churches that could be supplied by one man. After 6 weeks absence, he returned home to make arrangements for the move. He was not quite well, and after 2 weeks, a doctor was called who found no reason for concern. On the morning of August 4th, he began to fail rapidly and expired at two in the afternoon. His widow was left with four young grandchildren largely dependent on her care. Rev. Hitchcock is buried in Baxter Springs, Kansas. A photo of his headstone is on display in the Granary.