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Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harris House

29251, Uncle Tom's Road, Chatham-Kent, Ontario, N0P, Canada

Formally Recognized: 2005/04/06

View of the west elevation showing tall proportions and off-centred windows – December 2005; OHT, 2005
View of the west elevation – December 2005
View of the north elevation showing central window and fieldstone foundation – c. 1995; St. Clair Parkway Commission, 1995
View of the north elevation – c. 1995
Contextual view from the north showing sawmill and smoke house in the foreground – December 2005; OHT, 2005
Contextual view from the north – December 2005

Other Name(s)

Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harris House
Fugitive Slave House

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2007/11/08

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The building at 29251 Uncle Tom's Road, commonly known as the Harris House, is situated slightly southwest of the community of Dresden in the Municipality of Chatham-Kent. The building is one of three historic buildings located at Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site, which is a site commemorating the life of Reverend Josiah Henson and his contributions to the Underground Railroad. The two-storey, clapboard clad building was constructed c. 1890 and is one of the few fugitive slave structures remaining in Ontario.

In April 2005, ownership of Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site was transferred to the Ontario Heritage Trust, thereby conferring protection to the heritage elements of the site that embody its symbolic and associative values. Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site was also commemorated in 1999 when the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada erected a plaque recognizing Josiah Henson as a Canadian of National Historic Significance.

Heritage Value

Located near a bend in the Sydenham River slightly southwest of the Town of Dresden, Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site occupies a five-acre parcel of land within the boundaries of the original Josiah Henson farm plot. Although the Harris House has been moved a significant distance from its original location on Wilson Street in Dresden, its current contextual setting is likely to resemble that of the residential buildings within the former Black settlement of Dawn. Two other historic buildings have been relocated onto the site, the Henson House (c. 1850) and the Pioneer Church (c. 1850), and a new building, the Josiah Henson Interpretive Centre, which was constructed in 1994 to accommodate a museum and theatre. The Harris House is somewhat separated from the other buildings, but it stands in close proximity to a display of historic farm equipment and a smokehouse constructed within the trunk of a sycamore tree.

The Harris House is historically significant for its associations with the Underground Railroad and the settlement of refugee slaves in Southwestern Ontario. Reportedly built by a former slave, the house is one of the few fugitive slave structures remaining in Ontario and is representative of the type of housing common amongst the Black settlers of the Dresden area. The house was originally located within a row of architecturally similar houses on Dresden's Wilson Street, but was moved to its current location at Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site in 1964 after use as a granary on a nearby farm property. While the complete history of the building is unclear, it provides a good example of a fugitive slave's first freedom quarters.

The Harris House is architecturally significant as an example of a vernacular building style typically associated with refugee slaves. The modest structure, which measures only 5m x 5m, is built of local materials and completely lacks the ornamentation of other buildings typical of the same era. The simple design includes a single room on the main floor used for domestic activities and a single room on the second floor to serve as the sleeping quarters. The verticality of the design is representative of the need to keep warm during the cold Canadian winters; a task often difficult for persons more accustomed to the climate of the southern American states. Building “up,” rather than “out,” facilitated the maximum usage of heat from the ground floor fireplace and the small dimensions of the house ensured the proper heating of the entire internal space. Another interesting feature of the house is the presence of only one window on each of the house's four elevations. Unlike larger structures, four windows (two per floor) were enough to adequately light all areas of the house. In 1993, a fieldstone foundation was prepared for the Harris House and the exterior walls of the structure were restored.

Source: Trust Property Files, Ontario Heritage Trust

Character-Defining Elements

Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Harris House include its:
- location on the original five-acre Henson farm plot
- close proximity to its original location on Wilson Street in Dresden
- proximity to the Henson House and Pioneer Church
- physical relationship with other resources of Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site, such as the farm implement display and the smokehouse
- existence as one of the few remaining fugitive slave structures in Ontario
- overall vernacular design incorporating the use of local construction materials and techniques
- unique proportions derived from its small square footprint and tall exterior walls
- post and beam structural system with clapboard siding
- overall lack of ornamentation and irregular placement of windows
- understated main entrance with simple four-panel wooden door
- double-hung sash windows with four-over-four glazing patterns
- gable roof clad with cedar shingles
- one room per floor layout
- horizontal board interior finishing of the first and second floors
- exposed beams and rafters visible from the first and second floors
- location of the staircase against the east wall
- location of the fireplace directly next to the entrance




Recognition Authority

Ontario Heritage Trust

Recognition Statute

Ontario Heritage Act

Recognition Type

Ontario Heritage Foundation Property

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)

1964/01/01 to 1964/01/01
2005/01/01 to 2005/01/01
1993/01/01 to 1993/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Peopling the Land
Migration and Immigration

Function - Category and Type


Historic or Interpretive Site


Single Dwelling

Architect / Designer




Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Trust Property Files Ontario Heritage Trust 10 Adelaide Street East Toronto, Ontario

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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