Shugart House

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The Shugart House, south of Marion on St. Rd. 37. Photo ca. 1980s
The Shugart house, currently owned by William Fields, holds great historical significance. The Shugarts owned three homes in the Franklin Township, starting with a log cabin in the 1800’s. The Shugarts were a rather simple family, pioneers and Quaker farmers. George Shugart, the first of the Shugarts pertaining to the historical architecture, was an extremely devout Quaker and a strong leader in the Underground Railroad.

Contents

The Shugart Family

The Shugarts were a Quaker family; pioneers settling in Indiana from North Carolina in the 1800’s. George Shugart migrated to Grant County from Wayne County where he was born, at the age of 15 in May 1823. It was here that he married his wife, Abigail Osbourne and bore her a son, Jolm Shugart. In the 1840’s George built a house where he and his family would live (Buffington, Fred).

The grounds of the Shugart home give evidence of the agricultural life of the Shugart family. (Buffington, Fred) At the Southeast corner of the house, one can see the remains of the milkhouse and the reconstructed well house. The log cabin at the rear of the property stands on the site of the original log home of the Shugart family (“A Quaker farm and underground slave station” brochure). George Shugart erected the log cabin as a temporary home for himself and his family to live in while the brick house was being constructed, and the land was being prepared for cultivation. This house was torn down in the 1860’s. The present structure is a pre-civil war log cabin that originally stood near Fairmount, Indiana. The building was carefully dismantled and moved to its present location on the east side of the brick home and restored as closely as possible to its original state, the way George Shugart had built it in the 1800’s.

George was a very devout Quaker and a leader in his religion. He and his wife both had very strong beliefs on some very controversial issues (Buffington, Fred). Mr. Shugart and his wife both took a very determined stand on the question of temperance giving their unqualified support to the Prohibition Party, hoping in time to see the liquor traffic wiped out (“A Quaker farm and underground slave station” brochure). Mr. Shugart was a strong supporter in the Underground Railroad. In fact, his house was a slave station that helped thousands of runaway slaves to freedom. In one such case of runaway slaves, the bounty hunters were unable to sniff the girls out even when they were right under their noses. Mrs. Shugart dressed the girls in her own clothes—the Quaker bonnets had wide brimmed hats so the women’s faces could not be seen in profile—and passed them off to the bounty hunters as her daughters. Then she led them to a buggy and to freedom, taking the precaution of advising her husband to tell the bounty hunters that she and her “daughters” were going to assist a neighbor in childbirth.

"A Labyrinth of Hiding Places"

His home is said to be “a labyrinth of hiding places for runaway slaves.” (Hoch, Kathy). The upstairs walls of the home are indeed a labyrinth.

“I told my daughters,” said Bill Fields, current owner, “if anyone ever breaks in, they should get inside these walls—no one would ever find them.” At one time a ladder led from between the upstairs walls to the root cellar. The root cellar in turn connected to an underground tunnel, which led to a nearby creek (Hoch, Kathy). This made it convenient for slaves to escape by traveling through water in which the dogs could not smell them out. ‘The tunnel apparently caved in over time,’ suggested Bill Fields after searching for the tunnel and finding only the original well.

Not only is the house equipped with a labyrinth, but it also has many other very interesting features. The home proudly boasts architecture, more elaborate than the usual Quaker dwelling. It seems George Shugart, the prosperous builder, found nothing amiss with the elaborate woodwork, beautiful furniture, and stylish Williamsburg wallpaper (Hoch, Kathy). The house is a prime example of prosperous pioneer living before the civil war.

The structure is constructed of brick, which was made on the grounds. The walls are a powerful, luxurious three bricks thick. The hand-hewn timbers (two by twelve stock) came from poplar trees on a nearby acreage. In time, age and vandals destroyed much of the beautiful interior. However, when Mr. Fields purchased the home in 1967 he and his wife worked hard to restore the home to it’s original condition through careful study of Shugart family records (“A Quaker farm and underground slave station” brochure).

Other Shugart Homes in Franklin Township

There were three Shugart homes in south Marion in Franklin Township, one of which burned to the ground in 1995. Another was destroyed in ‘97 to make room for an extended airport. John Shugart, son of George Shugart, built this house. There is a very interesting story behind this house. It had been in the family for many years, up through the 1940’s when Don Zimmer bought and owned it for about nineteen years. However the last owner, David Pitcher, who bought the house in 1967 and lived there with his family until fall of ‘96, says that this house was no ordinary house. He claims that the ghost of Mrs. Shugart haunted the house. According to the legend, the original Mrs. Shugart spent much of her declining years moving back and forth between the homes of her two sons, one being Pitcher’s old home, the other being the Shugart house currently owned by Bill Fields, the only one still standing. Mrs. Shugart allegedly began to have some mental failing that left her to believe her sons were stealing money from her, so she began rummaging through the houses on her frequent visits. Whether or not this story is true is a matter of speculation, however Pitcher swears he has heard someone in the second floor bedroom (Breen, Ed).

The other original Shugart home burned to the ground in 1995, but up until that time, the home had been in the family for 160 years. Hugh Arthur “Jack” Dyson was the last owner of the Shugart home. John Shugart—Dyson’s great-great-great grandfather first acquired the farm in 1835. When Cornelius Lomax Shugart died (John’s great-great grandson), the farm was divided between his three children: 48 acres went to Dyson’s grandfather, Arthur Shugart, 36 acres and the house went to Nina Mills and 36 acres went to Florence Strops. The original 120-acre farm weathered many midwestern storms--and was a link in the Underground Railroad. It has been quite an accomplishment to keep the Shugart property in the family for so many years. Because of this accomplishment, Dyson was awarded the Hoosier Homestead Award from the Indiana Office of the Commissioner of Agriculture in 1994 (Losure, Cindy). However, the other Shugart Homes have not been in the family as long. The Bill Fields home is the only standing example.

The Fields' Renovation

Bill bought the house in 1967, and moved in shortly there after with his wife, Marita, and two teenage daughters. “We had to,” Bill said. “Every time we would put something in here, somebody would steal it.”

Upon moving in, the house was infested with rats, rabbits, bird nests and all. The previous owner had given up a two-year attempt to remodeling the house. The Fields restored the interior to very near the original wit painstaking research and estimated $50,000 in materials alone.

“Every room in this house has been a kitchen,” Marita said. When they moved in, they could only live in one room because the wind blew right through the downstairs. Finally, they got another room done and kept going on from there until they were finished (Hoch, Kathy).

“And we did all the work ourselves.” Marita stated.

However, discouragement also came along with all the time, money, and effort the Fields’ put into the home. Although the hard work really paid off, there were times when they would have gladly abandoned the scene (Hoch, Kathy).

“At one time I would have sold it for $2.00, but nobody would have taken it.” Bill said.

“We were really discouraged.” Marita recalls. “We borrowed all the money we could from the bank and we put every cent into the house. And we were having trouble selling our old house, so we were out of money. We’d worked so hard and had all that money in it, and it didn’t show. People would come over and say, ‘When are you going to start remodeling the house?” (Hoch, Kathy).

“It’s funny about something like this,” Bill said. “You spend lots of time and lots and lot of money on it and you get depressed because it doesn’t show at all. But then you put just a little more work to it, and all at once it begins to look pretty good. It just falls together.” (Hoch, Kathy).

At one time, their daughters, Stacie and Amber did not want the school bus picking them up in front of their house, because they did not want anyone to see their house. But now they are very proud of their home and the way it looks. In fact now their home is used as a museum for everyone to see for a minimum price (Hoch, Kathy).

Conclusion

In summary, the Shugarts were very devoted people in their church and in their home. George Shugart was a strong supporter in the Underground Railroad, which resulted in his house becoming a slave station during the civil war. The Shugart’s erected three house in the mid-1800’s that hold some very interesting stories, but none so interesting or famous as those from the house of George Shugart and his runaway slaves.

Works Cited

  • “Arthur E. Shugart.” Centennial History of Indiana 1812 to 1912, 1914 ed.
  • Breen, Ed. “Where will the Ghost go?” Chronicle Tribune 17 Feb. 1997
  • Buffington, Fred. “Reminiscing.” News-Sun 16 Nov. 1994
  • Hoch, Kathy. “Schoolteachers remodel historic Quaker home.” Dimensions 28 Dec. 1975
  • “John V. Shugart.” Centennial History of Grant County Grant County Indiana 181 2 to 1912, 1914 ed.
  • Losure, Cindy. “Family to get award for Homestead longevity.” Chronicle Tribune 10 Jun. 1994
  • Shugart House: A Ouaker Farm and Underground Slavestation. Indiana: Marion

Credits

Katie Morris submitted this paper on January 16, 2001 for Mr. Munn and Mr. Lakes' classes at Marion High School

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