By Lowell & Kaye Christie, F47246
The Underground Railroad refers to the efforts of free citizens to aid individuals, and sometimes families, in escaping from slavery prior to and during the Civil War. The “railroad” provided an opportunity for sympathetic white Americans to play a role in resisting slavery and in providing freedom for all.
In August of 2004, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened in Cincinnati, Ohio, to help educate people about this incredible operation. This museum has a broad focus, exploring struggles for freedom around the world and throughout history. Located at 50 E. Freedom Way, the center is open Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Visit www.freedomcenter.org or phone (877) 648-4838 or (513) 333-7500 for more information.
Many other sites recognize an individual’s or community’s involvement in the movement. If reading this month’s column sparks your interest in visiting some of the many historical sites related to the Underground Railroad, we strongly recommend that you check out this National Park System Web site: www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/underground/ugrrhome.htm. There you’ll find information for nearly 60 sites in 20 states, with more still being added.
1. Adair Cabin State Historic Site, Osawatomie, Kansas
John Brown (of Harper’s Ferry fame) came to Osawatomie in 1855 when three of his sons appealed to him for help against proslavery forces. While in Kansas, Brown was involved in a number of skirmishes, including the battle of Osawatomie in 1856. The cabin, which was owned by Brown’s brother-in-law Samuel Adair, was dismantled and reassembled in its current location, John Brown Park, in 1912. The interior of the cabin remains much as it was when Brown was a frequent visitor and contains much of the original furniture. Adair Cabin State Historic Site is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and on Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m.
2 .Todd House, Tabor, Iowa, and George B. Hitchcock House, Lewis, Iowa
The home of Congregational Church minister John Todd was an important stop on the Underground Railroad. In addition to preaching against slavery, Rev. Todd recruited Congregationalist ministers such as George Hitchcock to join the struggle. The Todd House is located on Park Street in Tabor, and is open to the public by appointment; call (712) 629-2675. The George B. Hitchcock home also was a welcome respite for runaway slaves. This home, on State Road 44 just west of Lewis, also is open to the public.
3. Milton House National Historic Landmark, Milton, Wisconsin
Underground Railroad conductor Joseph Goodrich was active in the Seventh Day Baptist Church, a denomination that officially denounced slavery. Goodrich and a group of fellow believers surveyed and established the town of Milton. He started with a log cabin, but added a frame structure in 1845 that he called the Milton House Hotel, which is still standing. Part of the original cabin complex remains as outbuildings. According to reports, fugitive slaves entered the cabin to avoid hotel guests, then walked through a tunnel that led to the hotel basement, where they were welcomed with shelter and food. Milton House is located at 18 S. Janesville St. in Milton. From June to Labor Day, the museum is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. In other months, tours are available by appointment; call (608) 868-7772.
4. Owen Lovejoy House National Historic Landmark, Princeton, Illinois
Owen Lovejoy also was a Congregationalist minister. The shooting death of his brother by a proslavery mob made him even more committed to seeing slavery abolished. In addition to his fiery sermons and speeches, Lovejoy openly admitted to using his home to harbor slaves on their way north. In 1854 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he promoted his abolitionist views. The Lovejoy House is located on East Peru Street in Princeton near the corner of Sixth Street. From May to September, tours are offered Friday through Sunday from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. Appointments to visit the house at other times can be made; call (815) 879-9151.
5. Dr. Nathan Thomas House, Schoolcraft, Michigan
Dr. Thomas, a Quaker, was one of Michigan’s most active Underground Railroad conductors. His wife’s memoirs, written in 1892, provide information about her husband’s Underground Railroad activities. She estimated that between 1840 and 1860 they helped 1,000 to 1,500 fugitive slaves escape to freedom. Slaves often were brought to the house by Zachariah Shugart, a fellow Quaker. Thomas shuttled them to another Quaker’s home along the route to Detroit, and then to Canada. The Thomas House is located at 613 E. Cass St. in Schoolcraft. Tours are available by appointment by writing to the Schoolcraft Historical Society, P.O. Box 638, Schoolcraft, MI 49087.
6. Levi Coffin House National Historic Landmark, Fountain City, Indiana
Built in 1827, this house was owned by Levi Coffin, another Quaker abolitionist. Because of his extensive role in the Underground Railroad, Coffin has been called its “president.” He aided more than 2,000 fugitive slaves heading to freedom. In 1847 the Coffins moved to Cincinnati and opened a store selling goods made by freed slaves and continued with their antislavery activities. The Levi Coffin House is located at 115 Main St. in Fountain City. It is open to the public from June through August, Tuesday through Saturday, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. In September and October it’s open on Saturdays only from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. For more information about the house and the Underground Railroad, visit the Richmond/Wayne County Convention and Tourism Bureau Web site at www.visitrichmond.org or call (800) 828-8414.
7. John Rankin House National Historic Landmark, Ripley, Ohio
This was the home of Presbyterian minister John Rankin, who is reputed to have been one of Ohio’s first and most active “conductors” on the Underground Railroad. He wrote Letters On American Slavery, among the first antislavery books printed west of the Appalachians. Between 1822 and 1865, Rankin and his family assisted hundreds of escaped slaves. The Rankin House is located in Ripley at 6152 Rankin Road on a hill above the Ohio River. It is open to the public.
8. Village Of Mount Pleasant Historic District, Mount Pleasant, Ohio
The village of Mount Pleasant played an important role in the antislavery movement and in the Underground Railroad. Its Quaker population preached and practiced their abolitionist views and published antislavery literature. The town was a refuge for fugitive slaves and home to free blacks. Local residents operated a school for black children and established the Free Labor Store, which sold no products made by slave labor. The Mount Pleasant Historical Society offers Underground Railroad walking tours, which include several houses within the historic district. Call (800) 752-2631 for more information.
9. Harriet Tubman Home For The Aged, Residence, And Thompson AME Zion Church, Auburn, New York
Tubman, a renowned leader in the Underground Railroad movement, was born a slave in Maryland and gained her freedom by escaping to Philadelphia. There she worked and saved until she had the money and contacts to rescue several family members, and eventually guided some 300 people to freedom. During the Civil War, Tubman aided the Union Army as a spy, nurse, cook, and guide. After the war she moved to Auburn and began caring for aged and indigent African-Americans. In 1896, Tubman purchased 25 acres adjoining her home and built the Home for the Aged, where she continued to care for her charges. In 1903 she deeded the property to the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Zion Church with the understanding that the church would continue to run the home. The Home for the Aged is located at 180 South St.; her home is located at 182 South St.; and the church is at 33 Parker St. The Home for the Aged is open to the public by appointment. Visit www.nyhistory.com/harriettubman for more information.
10. John Brown Farm And Gravesite National Historic Landmark, Lake Placid, New York
John Brown called this farm home during the decade before he led the raid on Harper’s Ferry. After his death and burial at this site, it became a “pilgrimage” spot for free African-Americans and white abolitionists. A statue of John Brown and a young African-American boy now stands near the grave. The John Brown Farm and Gravesite are located on John Brown Road, just south of the intersection with Old Military Road in Lake Placid. It is open to the public.
11. Harriet Beecher Stowe National Historic Landmark, Brunswick, Maine
Author, humanitarian, and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe lived in this house when she wrote her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The daughter of a notable Congregational minister, Stowe moved to Cincinnati in 1832, where she taught at the Western Female Institute. While living there, she met numerous fugitive slaves, and then traveled to Kentucky to witness the brutality of slavery firsthand. In 1850 she and her husband moved to Maine. Based upon her Kentucky experiences and her interviews with fugitive slaves, Stowe began writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin upon her arrival in Brunswick. The Harriet Beecher Stowe House is located at 63 Federal St. in Brunswick. It is now a restaurant and hotel and is open to the public.
12. African American National Historic Site, Boston, Massachusetts
Lewis Hayden, an escaped Kentucky slave, settled in Boston and became active in the abolitionist movement. His home there is the best-documented of Boston’s Underground Railroad stations. The Hayden House is one of 15 pre-Civil War buildings at the historic site. Others include the Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the black Massachusetts 54th Regiment; the African Meetinghouse (the oldest-known extant black church in the United States); and the Abiel Smith School, Boston’s first primary and grammar school for African-American children. All of the sites are linked by the 1.6-mile Black Heritage Trail. The historic site headquarters is located at 14 Beacon St., Suite 506, where visitors can find information on touring the Black Heritage Trail.
13. Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Washington, D.C
Famous abolitionist, writer, lecturer, statesman, and Underground Railroad conductor Frederick Douglass lived in this house from 1877 until his death. Born a slave, Douglass learned to read and write at an early age and escaped to freedom. When living in Rochester, New York, he was both a leader of Rochester’s Underground Railroad movement and the editor-publisher of an abolitionist newspaper. After the Civil War, Douglass moved to Washington, D.C., where he remained an outspoken advocate for the rights of African-Americans. Although not directly associated with Douglass’ involvement in the Underground Railroad, this site helps visitors understand the life of “the father of the civil rights movement.” It is located at 1411 W St. S.E. in Washington and is open to the public.