TABOR – When it comes to history, the Todd House in Tabor might be one of the best kept secrets in southwest Iowa.
Built 158 years ago by Congregational minister John Todd, the two-story structure once served as a major hub on the Underground Railroad. Today, it stands as a lasting tribute to the abolitionists and John Brown loyalists who opposed slavery and supported the Kansas Free State movement of the 1850s.
Visitors to the Tabor landmark will find a house that looks a lot like it did in the 19th Century and a museum filled with artifacts from the Todd Family - books, furniture, family photographs, Rev. Todd’s saddle bag and hand-made Christmas ornaments. There’s even a dictionary and set of 19th Century encyclopedias. The Todd House is owned and maintained by the Tabor Historical Society.
“People are becoming more aware of the Todd House and Tabor’s history because there’s so much interest in the Underground Railroad,” said Tabor Historical Society spokesperson Wanda Ewalt. “The slaves felt safe in Tabor. Everyone in Tabor was an abolitionist, so they (slaves) didn’t need to hide unless they knew a slave catcher was coming.”
Ewalt said it was a very common practice for slaves escaping from the state of Missouri to pass through Tabor and stay at the Todd House. John Brown, who visited Tabor frequently and is known to have camped overnight in the park across the street from the Todd House, often escorted the slaves.
Todd deplored the violence associated with some of Brown’s slave rescue missions to Missouri and other states, but was always willing to provide assistance to the escapees during their struggle for freedom. The basement of the Todd House was used to store weapons, ammunition and supplies for many of Brown’s raids.
Prior to coming to Tabor, Todd was educated at Oberlin College in Ohio, the first college in the United States to admit both blacks and women. Many of the most extreme abolitionists attended Oberlin.
Todd played an instrumental role in the founding of the Congregational churches in both Tabor and Glenwood. Many of his Sunday sermons focused on equality and the evils of slavery. Todd served as a chaplain in the Union Army in 1864, but came back to Tabor where he helped found Tabor College, a progressive school open to all students regardless of race or gender.
Todd’s contributions to Tabor and the Underground Railroad are preserved in The Todd House for generations to come through the efforts of the Tabor Historical Society and the National Park Service. The Todd House is listed as a National Historical Site.
The Todd House is only open to visitors by request, which can be made by calling 712-629-2675. With 2011 marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, interest in the Underground Railroad and the Todd House is expected to increase.
“Sometimes we’ll get a call from someone who’s traveling on the Interstate and they want to stop here,” Ewalt said. “ We’ll even get calls from people who are over at the Casey’s store here in town who are trying to find us. We’ll just come over and open it up for them.”
Ewalt said school children occasionally visit the Todd House as part of their history curriculum. Most recently, a history honors class from Arlington, Neb., paid a visit to the Todd House. Ewalt said visitors aren’t only fascinated by the many artifacts in the museum, but by the original appearance of the house itself, which was built with native cottonwood, oak and walnut timbers.
The Todd House is located on Park Street in Tabor, approximately two blocks west of Main Street (U.S. Highway 275).