Above is a monument created by Cameron Armstrong on the campus of Oberlin College that symbolizes the emergence of the Underground Railroad in Ohio. Oberlin was a key junction on the Underground Railroad that connected 5 different routes escaping slaves could have taken. No fugitive living in Oberlin was ever returned to bondage and has been referred to as “The Town that Started the Civil War.”
#1 Ohio was home to over 3000 miles of The Underground Railroad with a Station in our neighborhood: Visit the Kelton House Museum and Garden https://keltonhouse.com
Just around the corner from 588-590 E. Rich St. resides one of the safe houses, known as a Station; The Kelton House Museum and Garden. A majestic Greek Revival and Italianate mansion in the Discovery District of downtown Columbus, Ohio. The museum was established by the Junior League of Columbus to promote an understanding of daily life, customs, and decorative arts in 19th century Columbus and to educate visitors about the Underground Railroad. Fernando Cortez Kelton was a merchant from Vermont who rose to prominence in Columbus as a drygoods wholesaler.
So let’s take a peek at what was happening back in the 1800’s in our neighborhood.
Almost anywhere in Ohio, in almost any community, you could almost count that about half of the population would be pro-slavery, and the other half anti-slavery. This would be especially true in the lower half of the state where citizens were more likely to be former residents of Virginia or Kentucky or be descendents of family from these states. Slavery was a hot issue in Ohio. Pro abolitionists speaking at local rallies could often turn the event into a hostile conflict.
It was under these conditions that caused abolitionists to form secretive networks that could help escaping slaves move along a network that was neither advertised nor written. In fact, most of the people on the network only knew a few of the other members to help protect everyone’s identity. That network became known as the Underground Railroad.
Although there were Underground Railroad networks throughout the country, even in the South, Ohio had the most active network of any other state with around 3000 miles of routes used by escaping runaways.
It’s not clear when the term Underground Railroad was first used, but sometime around the 1830s is when actual railroads first started becoming a form of transportation in the country. Prior to that, information about railroads was not wide-spread. For example, the Internet was around in the 1980s, but most people were not familiar with this technology until much later.
There was of course, no railroad with the Underground Railroad, nor was it under ground. The term Underground was used because this activity of helping escaping slaves was against the law and therefore these activities had to be concealed. The term railroad was used because those people involved in the activities used terms commonly associated with railroads, to describe different aspects of their activities.
Slaves were called cargo or passengers.
Hiding places or safe houses were called stations
Guides leading the escaping slaves were called conductors
People helping the escaping slaves, but not guiding them, were called agents
People providing financial resources for these activities were called stockholders
“Visiting this grand 1852 Victorian home is a worthwhile experience. The new site director welcomed us on an appointment-only tour day. This tourist site is reasonably priced ($6/adult) and the home is furnished with 75 percent of the family’s objects. Some visitors might be interested in the Underground Railroad history connected to the house, but I thought the architecture and furniture were the things to see. Just a great thing to do if you have an hour in Columbus.”