New historical marker goes up in Holley by house on Underground Railroad

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 October 2020 at 6:43 pm

Photos courtesy of Melissa Ierlan

HOLLEY – This new historical marker was installed today at 35 South Main Street. It notes the site was once a “Safe House” and the home of Chauncey Robinson, who lived from 1792-1866.

Robinson was an Orleans County pioneer and an abolitionist. He sheltered escaped slaves at this site as part of the Underground Railroad.

The sign was funded by Roy Bubb, James Robinson, the Orleans County Historical Association and the Orleans County Historian’s Department under Matt Ballard.

The other side of the marker notes the location is the “Brainerd Home,” which was built by Col. Ezra Brainard, inventor of Brained Truss Bridge. He was a contractor on the Erie Canal who built the Sandy Creek embankment in Holley.

Local historians have long suspected there were houses in Orleans County on the Underground Railroad, which was a secret network of trails and homes. But there wasn’t documentation to back it up, until Clarendon Historian Melissa Ierlan found a letter from Robinson’s grandson.

In the lengthy letter, the grandson details visiting his grandfather, who took him up to the second floor of the back side of the house. The grandfather pulled back a curtain, and there was a group of escaped slaves on beds.

More research showed that Robinson was in fact an outspoken abolitionist,.

This is the second historical marker in Orleans County about African-American history. Medina in April 2015 unveiled a marker on Main Street in recognition of two speeches delivered in the community by Frederick Douglass, a leading abolitionist.

The Holley marker highlights a local resident advocating for escaped slaves.

The Holley marker is two-sided with one side highlighting Robinson and the Underground Railroad, and the other side noting the work of Ezra Brainard, who built Robinson’s home and oversaw construction of the canal embankment over Sandy Creek.

Return to top