The ground was broken for the mansion and hundreds of laborers were hired. The family watched from the little wooden house as a great brick edifice arose from the fields on the knoll to the north. Three stories it rose, a two story wing, almost another house unto itself for the servants grew to the north and a cupola crowned the top. Glowing copper panels formed the roof and brightly colored paint trimmed the ornate gingerbread porticoes. Sooner than anyone thought possible the house was complete. It stood glowing in the summer sun of 1856, a testimony in brick to the community and family that made it happen. The night before the family was to move in the house caught fire and burned to the ground. A bucket brigade arrived too late and could not get near the inferno for the heat.
Some people said an elderly Native American woman simply called “Satan” had burned the house because it sat atop the burial place of her people, the Shawnee. The more likely explanation is that of a bricklayer on the project named George Blackburn. He was a notorious character who, when he was not robbing and plundering, worked as a bricklayer in the Dresden area. He supposedly bragged in a drunken stupor to someone in Dresden of having burned the mansion in order to generate more work for himself. George W. Adams heard of this and promptly had Mr. Blackburn arrested and sent to the Columbus Penitentiary. Blackburn had helped build the prison and was able to escape soon thereafter. He returned to Muskingum County where he met his end through the splitting axe of a farmer he attempted to rob in the area of what is now Ellis Dam. NOTE : New information has been found on this local legend.
Prospect Place, the name George Adams gave his mansion as it was to be the prospect of a better future, was immediately rebuilt. The second version was identical to the first in every way and stood on the very same foundation. The family lived there for many years and were very happy. Mary gave George two wonderful children in this new home, John Jay and Sophia Adams. George was a great abolitionist like his father before him. He became active in what later became known as the “Underground Railroad” in the 1840's. He became a conductor, going often himself, and later sending his men, to retrieve refugee slaves from the South and bring them to freedom in the North. Originally the mill is said to have been used as the “station”, but as Civil War seemed more likely as the 1850's went along George and Edward decided to move the operation to George's new home. Thus his business would not be endangered and the happenings and operations of the station would be more secret.
The tunnel: Although popular myth of the area maintains that there was an underground tunnel in the basement of Prospect Place, the reality is that the restoration project has yet to discover one. There is a sub-floor pit refrigeration system that could easily be mistaken for a tunnel and could have been used for emergency egress in case of a home invasion by bounty hunters. In the case of the “Underground Railroad” the word underground simply refers to a clandestine activity and does not always denote the presence of an actual tunnel. Although some homes did indeed have tunnels and hidden passages, Prospect Place seems, unfortunately, not to be among them.
It is very likely that many abolitionist meetings took place in the Gentlemen’s Parlor of Prospect Place in the 1850's and 1860's. It is also likely that Mr. Nelson T. Gant may have been a regular guest. Mr. Gant was a former Virginia slave from Loudon County who had been given his freedom on the death of his master. Mr. Gant had moved to Ohio and started an orchard and coal mining operation in Zanesville. From these ventures he became a millionaire and a very important local conductor on the “Underground Railroad.” Though local and family lore suggest Abraham Lincoln was also a visitor to the mansion, we have yet to substantiate this legend.
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History of Prospect Place