Seven Underground Railroad sites that helped guide enslaved people to freedom

Mildred Europa Taylor February 05, 2022
Statue titled "North to Freedom" at Chamberlain Freedom Park. Image via Wikimedia Commons/DrStew82

The Underground Railroad was a large movement in North America consisting of several individuals who worked together to aid enslaved men and women in their escape from their captors. The freedom network began in the 1830s; there were homes, schoolhouses, churches and businesses which became known as “stations” along the route toward the north.

These homes provided temporary shelter for fugitive slaves before they continued the rest of their journey. People like Harriet Tubman who helped enslaved Africans move from one station to the other were called “conductors” while those operating the stations became known as “station masters”.

The Underground Railroad extended to Canada in 1834 after the latter had outlawed slavery. By the end of 1850, the network had helped over 10,000 slaves escape to freedom. The following are seven Underground Railroad sites that helped guide people escaping slavery:

Image via Indiana State Museum

Levi Coffin House

Located in Fountain City, Indiana, the Levi Coffin House was once a “grand central station” for the Underground Railroad. Levi and Catharine Coffin, who owned the house, were from North Carolina and were part of the state’s Quaker population that did not believe in slavery. When Levi and Catharine moved to Newport (now Fountain City), Indiana, in 1826, their home became a temporary shelter and safe house for enslaved men and women escaping to Canada for freedom. They would be given food and a place to sleep until it was safe for them to continue on their journey. For 20 years, the Coffins sheltered over 2,000 people on their way to freedom.

Sandwich First Baptist Church in Canada was a significant stop on the Underground Railroad. © Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada.

Sandwich First Baptist Church

Four years ago, historian Lana Talbot talked about how visitors of the Sandwich First Baptist Church have seen and heard things in and around the church that cannot be explained by church authorities. Indeed, the historic Sandwich First Baptist Church does not only stand as one of the Black border-town churches in Windsor, Ontario, but it stands also as an important symbol of the anti-slavery struggle. First built as a log cabin in 1847, the church was rebuilt by free and fugitive slaves with hand-hewn lumber and bricks. All members helped in its construction by giving donations or making bricks from local materials. It was finally dedicated in August of 1851. The church was a significant stop along the Underground Railroad, receiving, sheltering, and helping large groups of Black settlers, mainly ex-slaves who were arriving in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Image via News Center Maine

Chamberlain Freedom Park

Named for Civil War hero Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain, the park is found in Brewer, Maine. On a small hillside in the park is a bronze sculpture that depicts a man climbing out of a tunnel. The sculpture, called North to Freedom, is a memorial to the Underground Railroad. It is Maine’s only official memorial to the Underground Railroad. The tunnel was in the past hidden under the historic Holyoke House. The house and the tunnel were reportedly part of the secret route enslaved men and women used to escape from the American South into Canada in the 1800s. The statue is a tribute to the enslaved people who used the Underground Railroad and those who helped them on their way to freedom. The historic Holyoke House was torn down in 1995.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/AngieBarr

Nathaniel Dett Memorial Chapel

The church was constructed in 1836 by formerly enslaved people who escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. “It’s a simple and unassuming wooden frame structure in the Upper-Canada Georgian style, with blue clapboard siding and Gothic Revival stained glass windows,” Atlas Obscura writes, adding that the building stands today as the third-oldest church in Niagara Falls. A leader in Afrocentric music, Robert Nathaniel Detthonors, attended the church as a child. In 1983, the church was renamed in his honor. Today, the Nathaniel Dett Memorial Chapel is famed for being an important part of Canada’s role in the history of the Underground Railroad. It is also designated a National Heritage landmark site.

Image via Creative Commons/Atlas Obscura

Ten Mile Freedom House

The Lake Street McDonald’s in Chicago’s village of Maywood stands on the former site of the Ten Mile Freedom House, which was a safe haven for escaped slaves fleeing the antebellum South along the Des Plaines River, according to Atlas Obscura. The House was once a resting place for settlers bringing their crops to Chicago before abolitionists started using it during the mid-19th Century to shelter runaway slaves. The house was torn down in 1927.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/John Phelan

Frances H. and Jonathan Drake House

Located in Leominster, Massachusetts, the House was built by well-known abolitionists Frances and Jonathan Drake in 1848. They built the house with a trap door to hide escapees as they made their way to the North and Canada. The house was included on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. Four years later, it was bought by the Leominster Historical Society and the city.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Rhododendrites 

Abolitionist Place

Abolitionist Place is another name for a section of Duffield Street in Brooklyn, New York City. It was named Abolitionist Place in 2007 in honor of antislavery activists who used the area to help enslaved people escape along the Underground Railroad in the 1800s. Many of the original structures used at the time can no more be found in the area even though people can still see a two-story redbrick building at 227 Duffield that was once the home of well-known abolitionists Thomas and Harriet Truesdell. In 2016, it was announced that the home would be turned into a museum and heritage center.


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