Resting on a quiet treed hill in my hometown of Mt. Vernon, Ohio is a dilapidated mansion built in 1853. Shrouded in mystery, the Curtis Mansion inspired my imagination as a child, and I wondered about the people who once lived in the abandoned mansion and what happened to them. I was certain the place was haunted, especially on those stormy nights when tree limbs would sway outside the darkened windows and the front gate would bang in the wind. And I also was certain something grand once happened inside its walls.
As an adult, the Curtis Mansion continued to intrigue me. I’d heard the rumors for years about a secret tunnel that ran under the house, to the family’s cemetery plot. I’d also heard that the family once harbored slaves along the Underground Railroad. They would flash signals from the towering cupola to let nearby homes on the Underground know the runaways slaves were coming.
My aunt and uncle’s house (the white home in the pictures), about a half-mile away from the Curtis Mansion, was rumored to have been part of this network because of their cupola, the tunnel from their basement that led to the town square, and because the Curtis family lived there before they built their mansion on the hill.
So I began to wonder even more. What if these rumors were true and a tunnel really led to the mausoleum? What if the tunnel once sheltered runaway slaves on their journey north? And what if a house like this could be used in some way to help people today?
One of Mt. Vernon’s librarians (my Aunt Janet) located a treasure trove for me–a binder filled with information about the Curtis Mansion including rumors about the tunnel going to two separate locations, the facts about its history, even description of the original furnishings.
After I read this information, I had to write a novel based on the rumors of this mysterious old house. And I wanted its walls to come alive as a character in the book. As I started scribbling notes, the contemporary suspense novel Refuge on Crescent Hill was born. The plot was revised multiple times. New characters introduced. Others changed. But the character of the fictional Bristow Mansion stayed the same.
Below are a few pictures of places that inspired the settings in Refuge on Crescent Hill. The Curtis Mansion, a smaller Curtis home built down the hill (the Paxton house in my novel), and a private family cemetery nearby of a Quaker family who were also rumored to be active on the Underground.