BERLIN — Now a private property, the house at 289 Main St. was once a home to Milo Hotchkiss — an avid anti-slavery advocate and, possibly, an Underground Railroad member.
Located next to the Berlin Historical Society, the Hotchkiss’ family home is frequently referred to as a “wedding cake house” — with each floor similar to a tier of cake. Others say the house resembles a 19th-century riverboat.
Throughout his life, Hotchkiss was a portrait painter, teacher, farmer, justice of the peace, and a member of the Board of Education for 40 years. He was born in 1802 in the state of New York. He married Rhoda Barrett, with whom he had six children. In 1831 they moved to Berlin, where Hotchkiss built his family home in 1855.
Historical records indicate that Hotchkiss was a part of the Underground Railroad — a network of people offering aid to escaped slaves from the South.
Most likely, Hotchkiss used his house to shelter runaway slaves, according to historian Strother Horatio. In his book, “The Underground Railroad in Connecticut,” Horatio wrote: “A minister in Meriden, Rev. George W. Perkins often hid fugitives in his barn or attic. He probably then took them to the Milo Hotchkiss way station in Kensington. From there they would get taken to the Stanley Quarter in New Britain and then on to Farmington.”
Like many anti-slavery advocates, Hotchkiss frequently faced violent public opposition. Mobs occasionally vandalized his home and once even attacked Hotchkiss while he was attending an antislavery meeting in Meriden.
“In the mid-1850s there weren’t many people of color in town,” said Sallie Caliandri, president of the Berlin Historical Society. “It was a very homogeneous society, at least here in Berlin, and people who were different were looked at with suspicion.”
Hotchkiss died in October of 1874, at the age of 72. He and his wife are buried in the Ledge Cemetery. Hotchkiss lived long enough to see some of his early opponents change their views on slavery, according to Berlin-Peck Memorial Library assistant director Cathy Nelson.
“He was one of the leaders of the antislavery movement in the state and certainly in the town of Berlin,” said Nelson.
In the obituary, it was noted that just before his death, Hotchkiss said: “The greatest delight of my life has been to watch and see the moral progress of the world.”