It was 1842 when James L. Smith came to Norwich using the Underground Railroad. He was a slave and decided to become a free man by running away from his captors. The Underground Railroad much to his surprise leads to a house located in School Street. The property in 59-61 School Street became Mr. Smith’s residence.
Centuries later, official from Norwich are deciding what to do with the house. A proposal was sent to the council from the city last month and mandates them to make plans for the future use of the house.
There were protests from committee members as well as preservationists regarding the city’s act of giving away the property. A deal is being ironed out between the city and the officials while a $1 amount included in the proposal. The amount would seal the transfer for the condition that the property be improved and refurbished with the year it was acquired.
Last May 2013, the house was foreclosed and the ownership was transferred to the city officials.
The officials are not expecting for the property to be converted into a museum but they were hoping some changes could be made within the house. Some details could be refurbished like the doorways and windows and they request it coincides with the era when Smith was still residing there.
Dale Plummer, city historian and also a member of the committee that made the RFP, revealed that within Connecticut the house is one of the very few that have a connection going to the Underground Railroad.
The RFP states that the officials would rather that the new occupants be willing to share as owner among rental units. The deadline is May 21 and until then interested property buyers could send in their response. After that time, the committee is going to send a proposal to the council.
Home visit wasn’t part of the proposal but if the Smith house could be refurbished then it could be a major attraction in Norwich’s historic tours within the Jail Hill community. It was in March 1999, when the property was included in the National Register of Historic Places along with 108 other locations found in the Jail Hill Historic District.