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Uncle Tom's Cabin - Henson House

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

Formally Recognized: 2005/04/06

View of the south elevation showing porch and offset central entrance – December 2005; OHT, 2005
View of the south elevation – December 2005
Interior view of the kitchen showing the fireplace at the west end of the house – August 2005; OHT, 2005
Interior view of the kitchen – August 2005
Historic image of the house being relocated by owner Jack Thompson - 1964; Jack Thomson, 1964
Historic image of the house being relocated - 1964

Other Name(s)


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 Henson 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, dwelling clad in clapboard, was constructed c. 1850 and served as the home of Henson during the latter years of his life.

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 Henson farm plot. The Henson House has been moved several times since the death of Josiah Henson in 1883, but its current contextual setting near the river is likely similar to its original location. Two other historic buildings, the Pioneer Church (c. 1850) and the Harris House (c. 1890), have been moved to the site to assist with interpretive functions, and a new building, The Josiah Henson Interpretive Centre, was constructed on site in 1994 to accommodate a museum and theatre. The Henson Family Cemetery is situated directly west of the Henson House and the grave of Josiah Henson is commemorated at this location with a plaque erected by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. Only vestiges of the original Henson farm remain today, as the thick walnut groves that originally covered the land have long been replaced by an expanse of open farm fields.

The Henson House is historically significant for its association with Reverend Josiah Henson, a fugitive slave, memoirist, and conductor on the Underground Railroad, who rose in status to international celebrity as the inspiration for the character of Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1852 novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Born in Maryland in 1789, Henson escaped slavery in 1830 when he followed the Underground Railroad into Upper Canada with his wife Charlotte and their four children. In 1841, Henson and a group of abolitionists purchased 200 acres of land southwest of the current Town of Dresden and established the Black settlement of Dawn to accommodate newly arrived refugee slaves. In an effort to provide these refugee slaves with the education and skills they needed to become self-sufficient, Henson co-founded a vocational school called the British American Institute. With the success of the school, the Dawn settlement grew to approximately 500 residents, but its numbers began to decline in 1863 with the emancipation proclamation by US President Abraham Lincoln. Despite the option to return to his native country, Henson chose to remain in Canada and it is believed that he and his wife spent the remainder of their lives in the two-storey house that now sits within the boundaries of Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site. The Henson House is also associated with the early development of heritage conservation and tourism in Ontario. The potential for converting the Henson House into a museum and promoting it as a historic attraction was first realized in 1948 by then owner, William Chapple. Chapple's efforts to restore the modest dwelling as a museum ensured its survival at a time when the architectural conservation movement had not yet been developed in Ontario.

The Henson House is architecturally significant as an example of mid-19th century vernacular domestic architecture. The two-storey, post-and-beam structure is considered a substantial building for the standards of its day in rural Ontario. When compared to the homes typically associated with fugitive slaves, it stands as a visible symbol of the status and power accumulated by Henson during the latter years of his life. The house is constructed from local materials and exhibits the proportions and central hall plan common amongst many of the province's earliest residential structures. Its date of construction has been an issue of debate for many years, and calculations made by qualified historians and architects have ranged from the early-1840s to the mid-1870s. Despite the absence of conclusive evidence, most recent efforts to date the building have resulted in an estimation of c. 1850.

Source: Trust Property Files, Ontario Heritage Trust

Character-Defining Elements

Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Henson House include its:
- association with Reverend Josiah Henson
- association with the Dawn Settlement
- association with the early development of heritage conservation and tourism in Ontario
- overall vernacular design incorporating local barn framing techniques
- three bay front (south) elevation of Georgian inspiration
- post and beam structural system with clapboard siding
- reconstructed porch (based upon a historical photo) that spans the length of the front (south) elevation
- off-centre main entrance with original trim, four-panel wooden door, and three-pane sidelights
- double-hung sash windows with six-over-six glazing patterns
- gable roof clad with cedar shingles
- central hall plan that divides the kitchen and parlour on the first floor and the two bedrooms on the second floor
- sawn pine floors of the first and second floors
- exposed beams of the ceilings on the first and second floors
- workmanship of the vernacular wooden staircase
- red oak ground floor beam and red oak floor joists that are likely original to the house
- location on the original five-acre Henson farm plot
- proximity to the former Black settlement of Dawn
- proximity to the Pioneer Church and Harris House
- relationship with the Henson Family Cemetery




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
1883/01/01 to 1883/01/01
1948/01/01 to 1948/01/01
2005/01/01 to 2005/01/01
1984/01/01 to 1984/01/01
1993/01/01 to 1993/01/01
1999/01/01 to 1999/01/01

Theme - Category and Type

Peopling the Land
Migration and Immigration

Function - Category and Type


Historic or Interpretive Site


Single Dwelling

Architect / Designer



Josiah Henson

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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