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A functioning farm since its establishment in 1850, McClew Farm, which is now known as Murphy Orchards, was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. During the 1850s, an untold number of fugitive slaves found safety here on their way to Canada and other points and were hidden in the secret room underneath the McClew’s barn, which still stands. The site was significant enough that the National Park Service named the farm a part of its Underground Railroad Network to Freedom in 2001. Tours of the farm are available and while guests can look down into the secret room, they are not permitted to enter.

The barn at McClew Farm

Cloud, Sky, Plant, Building

The entrance to the hidden room

Brown, Wood, Gas, Cave

The founder of McClew Farms, Charles McClew, established the farm in 1850, along with his wife, Anna Maria. The couple built the big brick house which is still the home of the Murphy family today. In addition to the residence, McClew also built a smokehouse, an ice house, and the barn, all of which are still standing and in use.

At some point, the family became involved in the Underground Railroad. Upstate New York had a particularly large network of stations and hiding places that were part of the network. This was in part simply due to its proximity to Canada, which became a more attractive destination after 1850, when the Fugitive Slave Law effectively meant that even Northern states were no guarantee of freedom for runaway slaves. But it was also likely because the state had once had a very large population of slaves—reportedly second only to South Carolina’s, at one point—and when the state abolished slavery in 1827, it suddenly had a very large population of free African Americans, many of whom were eager to help slaves still in bondage escape to freedom.

Underneath the barn on the Murphy’s property is a secret room that measures 8 feet by 10 feet. The floor of the room, which is accessible by entering through a trap door, is 13 feet beneath the floor of the barn and has an 8-feet high arched ceiling. From the trap door, the entrance to the room appears much like the opening of a well. For anyone inside the secret room, closing the trap door meant total darkness. To allow for fresh air, however, the McClews installed five small pipes through the room’s ceiling, undoubtedly attempting to make their small hiding place as safe and comfortable as possible.

Tours for school groups are offered regularly throughout the year and include other areas of the property as well. Tours include trails that the Murphy family has developed along Hopkins Creek, which is believed to have been an actual route used by escaping slaves. For safety reasons, the public is not allowed to go into the secret room.

The McClew Interpretive Center at Murphy Farms , National Park Service . Accessed May 9th 2022.

Sharp, Teresa. Take a Step Back in Time at Historic McClew Farmstead in Burt , The Buffalo News . September 1st 2013. Accessed May 9th 2022.

Westmoore , Jean. A Stop on the Underground Railroad , The Buffalo News . February 9th 2005. Accessed May 9th 2022.