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Levi and Catharine Coffin, longtime residents of Wayne County and committed abolitionists, aided thousands of slaves as members of the Underground Railroad. The Coffin family moved to Newport (now Fountain City) from North Carolina in 1826 because they found slavery incompatible with their Quaker faith.
Coffin established a successful general store in Newport and was an investor in the Bank of Indiana’s Richmond branch. In 1839, the Coffins built a Federal-style brick home to assist slaves along the road to freedom. Three important Underground Railroad routes merged at the home, and it soon earned the nickname “The Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad.” The house contained hidden rooms and an indoor well to conceal the large amount of water needed for the escapees hidden inside.
The Coffins left Newport in 1847 to establish a wholesale business in Cincinnati, Ohio. At the conclusion of the Civil War, Coffin served as an important leader in several groups which sought to educate and assist former slaves. In 1867, he wrote his autobiography entitled Reminiscences, which chronicled his many contributions to the anti-slavery movement.
Levi Coffin died on September 16, 1877, and is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati.
The state of Indiana purchased the Levi Coffin House in Fountain City in 1967. It was restored and opened to the public in 1970. The home is a registered National Historic Landmark and is operated by the Levi Coffin House Association.
The portrait was acquired by Eli Lilly in 1976 from a Coffin family member in Cincinnati. Lilly died before he could provide the history of the portrait, and the painting’s artist is unknown.