Hidden History

Hidden History: Dennis Farm

SUSQUEHANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) Tucked away in Susquehanna County is the Dennis Farm.  

     Its story begins in the 1790's when the Dennis family - free African Americans - made their way to Northeastern Pennsylvania.

     Their remarkable story continues to be told today through descendants... Who continue to operate the Dennis Farm.

     Eyewitness News Reporter Eric Deabill has more about the lessons and stories the farm holds for visitors.

 

 Located on creek road just outside of Hop Bottom -- is a piece of Northeastern Pennsylvania’s Hidden History.

The 153-acre "Dennis Farm" has been here for more than 200 years -- but many people are only starting to learn about it.

Denise Dennis is now spreading the word -- after one of her ancestors -- Prince Perkins -- a free African American -- settled here after coming from Connecticut in 1793.

 

 

"They became landowners before Lincoln was born and were able to pass it down to each generation which is something African Americans haven't been able to do as much" Denise Dennis explans.

 

Dennis' ancestors were farmers who planted crops and worked their own land.

At a time when most other African Americans were slaves -- her family was free.

Denise Dennis says Prince Perkins fit into a predominantly white community -- in part -- by becoming a fiddler.

 

 

"He played at all the major events, on voting day, if there was a house razing, nothing got started until he came with his fiddle"

 

The farm that Perkins once lived on -- has been passed down for generations.

There is still more than a mile of stone walls built by family members.... and an old farmhouse which is in the process of being restored.

 

 

"I feel so connected to them through that land that i can see where they lived, step on the ground where they stepped, see the fields that created crops that helped them to live" said Dennis.

 

One of the most significant features of this entire farm is located near the top of the property -- about one mile off the established roads. This behind me is the Perkins-Dennis family cemetery where not only family members but friends are buried

 

Those "friends" may have been African Americans who were looking for freedom on the Underground Railroad.

 

 

"Runaways who died enroute to freedom in our area were buried in our family's cemetery because it was the only black cemetery" noted Dennis

 

In 2001 -- in an effort to preserve this property -- the "Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust" was created.

Just five years ago -- the group reached out to Keystone College to help tell the farm's story.

 

"Over the past five years, we've had about 20 students be "docents" -- those are tour guides at the farm. We educate them. They actually have a better understanding of what the Dennis farm is"  said Lucas Taylor.  Taylor who is with Keystone College says the school also holds a symposium on the Dennis Farm each October.

It's something students are interested to learn about.

 

"They get to see a different piece of culture coming alive, something that they might have never experienced in their life and it's very close to the campus" noted Taylor

 

Descendants of the Dennis Farm are now trying to raise ten million dollars -- to restore the 19th century farmhouse as a museum -- and to build an interpretive center with a lecture hall.

The Smithsonian has even taken interest in the farm -- having taken roughly 30 letters, books and documents to display.

Now -- Denise Dennis wants to make sure all of Northeastern Pennsylvania can learn about it too. 

"There is no site comparable to this that they know of so far in the United States that was owned by free African Americans for over 200 years that remained in the hands and stewardship of the same family and is now open to the public

 The Dennis Farm is raising money to build a museum and restore the farmhouse.

Learn more about the Dennis Farm.


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