On the trail to freedom

Federal, state officials to launch
Underground Railroad initiative

Driving tour, project features
Eleutherian College and AME Church in Madison

By Konnie McCollum
Contributing Writer

(July 2006) – Madison, Ind., and the surrounding area will soon be cast into the national and regional spotlight with the introduction of three new driving tours of historic Underground Railroad sites, called “Southeast Indiana Trails to Freedom.”

Booklet Cover

The cover of the new
booklet features many
faces of the Underground Railroad story.

Madison played a prominent role in the historic Underground Railroad movement during the Civil War. Thousands of freedom seekers crossed the Ohio River into the area and were helped by anti-slavery advocates.
Linda Lytle, executive director of Madison’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, said at one point in history, Jefferson County was the heaviest traveled area along the river for those wishing to escape slavery. There were numerous sites around the area where slaves could go to get help in the trek north to freedom.
While many of those sites and structures have long disappeared, there are five sites in Jefferson County listed on the National Park Service’s “Network to Freedom,” the highest designation an Underground Railroad site can receive from the federal government. That is the largest collection of sites in the nation. “Jefferson County is unique in that we still have the sites standing, which gives more meaning to the great stories that have been recounted about them,” Lytle said.
One of those sites, Historic Eleutherian College in Lancaster, Ind., has been designated a “gateway” on the second driving tour of Underground Railroad sites. A kickoff celebration, free to the public, is planned for 12:30 p.m. Friday, June 30, at the site.
“We are excited that Eleutherian College is the first gateway to launch on the driving tour,” said Jae Breitweiser, executive director of Historic Eleutherian College.

Southeast Indiana Trails to Freedom
Driving Tour Kick-Off Events

• 12:30 p.m. June 30 at Eleutherian College, Lancaster, Ind.: Ceremony to honor the Underground Railroad conductors who operated in Jefferson County in pre-Civil War period of history. Kabhir Shareef, an actor from Indianapolis, will present a re-enactment of George DeBaptiste, a black abolitionist and businessman, and his Underground Railroad activities from Georgetown, and African American settlement in Madison to Eleutherian College. DeBaptiste referred to the college as “The New England Settlement who operated a good station.” Representatives from the state and county levels will give a brief presentation on this project, the college and the restoration efforts happening there. Visitors will also be able to enjoy live music and refreshments during the event.
• 3-5 p.m. July 7 at The Carnegie Center for Art and History, New Albany, Ind.: Grilled hot dogs, lemonade and ice cream will be available free while listening to storyteller and author Judith Owens-Lalude. She presents “The Long Walk,” an interactive story told in the first-person about a 9-year-old girl, Wednesday, and her Mama who decide to run away from their owner, Master Ben. Representatives from the three gateway sites along with New Albany Mayor James Garner will speak before the “Freedom Ambassadors,” young children from the community, read selected stories. Visitors will also enjoy music from the Deep River Songbirds, a men’s gospel quartet.
• 7:30 to 9 p.m. July 14 at Levi Coffin State Historic Site, Fountain City, Ind.: Start your evening at the Art Gallery at Indiana University’s East campus in Richmond from 6 to 8 p.m. to see the opening of “Threads of Strength and Fortitude: Penny Sisto’s Slavery Quilts.” This is an art exhibit featuring artist Penny Sisto’s Underground Railroad fabric art works. The exhibit will also showcase the work of several local artists the have pieces relating to the Coffin House. Also live music, refreshments and a short program on the Southeast Indiana Trails to Freedom will also be held at the gallery. Then visitors can visit the Levi Coffin House, which came to be known as the “Grand Central Station” of the Underground Railroad, for candlelight tours of the home from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

• Information: Visit: www.SoutheastIndianaTrailstoFreedom.com. The Indiana Underground Railroad Initiative is administered through the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, (317) 232-1646.

Breitweiser said many activities are planned, including musicians, speakers and re-enactors. Numerous prominent people and politicians have been invited. Re-enactor Khabir Shareef of Indianapolis will portray anti-slavery activist and nationally-known Underground Railroad conductor George DeBaptiste in a speech about the Underground Railroad. There will also be light refreshments available.
A booklet for the “Southeast Indiana Trails to Freedom” driving tours will be unveiled and be available for purchase at the Eleutherian event. The booklet, priced at $5, details each tour and highlights the sites along those tours.
The booklets, which provide colorful pictures and interesting information about the Underground Rail-road, will also be available at all of the Convention and Visitors Bureaus in each county throughout Southeast Indiana.
Each driving tour highlights one “gateway,” a museum with Underground Railroad exhibits or an historic site of Underground Railroad importance. The first gateway is the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Ind. The second gateway is Eleutherian College. The third gateway is the Levi Coffin State Historic Site in Fountain City, Ind.
Lytle said the booklet and the driving tours took years to develop. She, along with others involved in the project, believes this Underground Railroad initiative will not only bring attention to the area’s historic legacy in the anti-slavery movement, but it will have a definite impact on tourism.
The Underground Railroad project was also planned to increase awareness of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, located on the riverfront in downtown Cincinnati. Opened in 2004 and just a short drive from Madison, the center highlights the importance and relevance of struggles for freedom around the world and throughout history. The location of the Freedom Center was chosen because during the 1800s, the city served as a major hub of activity on the Underground Railroad.
In another event related to the Underground Railroad project, on June 27, Hampton Inn’s Presidential Award winning ‘Save-A-Landmark” program designated more than $10,000 and an estimated 160 hours of manpower toward restoring Eleutherian College, a National Historic Landmark. Volunteers from the company from three states cleaned, painted, landscaped and restored the college, the Lyman Hoyt House on the site and the accompanying visitor centers.

Booklet Spread

The new booklet features a two-page
spread on the history of Lancaster’s
Eleutherian College, located 10 miles north
of Madison in Jefferson County, Ind.

The college also was recently added to the list of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “11 Most Endangered Historical Sites.” Because of a lack of funding for years, the structure is in desperate need of assistance due to the prolonged effects of neglect and vandalism.
“The listing of Eleutherian on the list makes it available for various grants that will help rehabilitate it,” Breitweiser said.
Recently, the historic site, which was the first college in Indiana and one of the first in pre-Civil War America to admit students regardless of race or gender, received $850,000 in Big Grant money. The funding came from numerous sources, including “Save America’s Treasures.” But, Breitweiser said, “It will take $2 million to complete the project, so we need much more to restore the historic buildings.”
Another historically significant site in Madison, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, has received a variety of grants, matching funds and private donations in a project to turn it into an Underground Railroad memorial museum.
The AME Church is located in the historic Georgetown district and owned by Historic Madison Inc., a preservation organization. The district is an African-American neighborhood prominent in the Underground Railroad and the fight for freedom. It is also listed on the “Network to Freedom” and is featured on the driving tour in the Madison area.
“The project is planned to celebrate and educate visitors about the Underground Railroad and it’s significance to this area,” said John Stacier, executive director of Historic Madison Inc. He said the AME Church project, which has not set a date for opening the memorial, has just finished the restoration phase and is in the process of researching exhibits to include in the museum. A ceremony for the memorial’s opening will be finalized later.

Freedom Map

This map in the booklet
shows the driving route
for Jefferson County.

Much of the funding for the rehabilitation and restoration have come from both federal and state grants, including the National Park Service’s “Save America’s Treasures Fund,” and Indiana’s Community Focus Grant and matching funds. The Community Foundation of Madison and Jefferson County, the Schroeder Foundation and the River Valley Financial Bank have also supplied funding for the project.
Stacier said the rehabilitation of the AME Church, built in 1850 and is the earliest remaining church of its kind, has definitely benefited the neighborhood in which it is located.
“It was an eyesore for years, but now it really stands out because of the restoration efforts,” Staicer said. The sewer and storm water upgrades that were done to help the building have helped the neighborhood, too.
Stacier believes the rehabilitation of the AME Church has provided an incentive for other property owners in the neighborhood to also work on rehabilitation. He said these efforts increase economic activities in the area as well, and the new museum will be a boon to area tourism.
Representatives from 15 Indiana counties formed the Indiana Underground Railroad Coalition to draw attention to Indiana’s role in the Underground Railroad, and to develop exhibits and tours highlighting Indiana’s connection to the Underground Railroad. The coalition is currently made up of representatives from Bartholomew, Clark, Decatur, Dearborn, Floyd, Franklin, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Ohio, Ripley, Rush, Switzerland and Wayne counties.

• For more information on the “Southeast Indiana Trails to Freedom” driving tour and booklet, contact the Madison Convention and Visitors Bureau at (812) 265-2956 or visit: www.southeastindianatrailstofreedom.com. For information on Eleutherian College, call (812) 273-9434 or visit www.eleutherian.us. For information on the AME Church and historic Georgetown district, call Historic Madison Inc. at (812) 265-2967 or visit: www.historicmadisoninc.com.

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