Cleveland February 14, 2018
8 Places Around Cleveland That Were Once Part Of The Underground Railroad
Following the opening of the Ohio & Erie Canal, Cleveland became a major player in the Underground Railroad. The city was codenamed “Hope,” and it was an important destination for escaped slaves on their way to Canada. Today, some of the city’s most notable stops on the Underground Railroad still stand.
1. The Cozad-Bates House, 11508 Mayfield Road, Cleveland
The Cozad–Bates House is a remarkable structure in University Circle, as it's noticeably the oldest. It's the only surviving pre-Civil War structure in its neighborhood; University Circle was a region overflowing with abolitionists, with the Cozad family taking particular interest in assisting runaway slaves. Their stunning Italianate home must have provided plenty of places to hide.
2. Unionville Tavern, Madison
The oldest parts of this structure date back to 1798, making it the oldest surviving tavern in Ohio. What is truly incredible about this structure, however, is its collection of stories that have taken place on the premises. Once upon a time, it was an active station on the Underground Railroad. From the tavern, the slaves would be taken to the Ellensburgh docks where they could taste freedom as they crossed the border to Canada. It is said that when Harriet Beecher Stowe lodged at the site, she heard the story of two fugitive slaves, Lewis and Milton Clarke, that spoke at a nearby abolitionist rally. Milton was captured and beaten, but, fortunately, local abolitionists freed him from his captors. The abolitionists then swore that no fugitive slaves would ever be captured again in Lake County. It's said that Stowe was inspired by Milton and based the character George Harris in
Uncle Tom's Cabin after him.
3. Don's Pomeroy House, 13664 Pearl Road, Strongsville
This stunning building dates back to 1835, and it has maintained a long history of welcoming guests. Though a restaurant today, it was once home to a family of abolitionists. Justice of the Peace Alanson Pomeroy, who built the house, would open it as a station on the Underground Railroad just a handful of years later. Runaway slaves would hide in the cellar, and they were often transported via a load of hay to a boat that would take them to Canada.
4. Rider's Inn, 792 Mentor Avenue, Painesville
This stunning structure looks exactly like the kind of place you'd expect to find a mystery or two, and that is thanks in part to a long history that dates back to 1812. It's also partly because this site was seemingly involved in every early social movement, operating as a safe haven on the Underground Railroad and even a speakeasy during Prohibition. This stagecoach stop must have had plenty of places where fugitives could stow away.
5. Hubbard House Underground Railroad Museum, Lake Avenue and Walnut Boulevard, Ashtabula
This home-turned-museum is just like any other early 1840s home, and that made it an unsuspecting site on the Underground Railroad. William Hubbard and his family moved to the area and became involved with the Ashtabula County Anti-Slavery Society almost immediately. William's brothers had already been active in the area, and they had jointly helped establish the abolitionist periodical
Ashtabula Sentinel. William, eager to help out, established him homestead as a station on the Underground Railroad. Eyewitness reports from the era explain that fugitives visited the homestead all day and night seeking help, and the Hubbards were always welcoming and willing. Since the house is so close to Lake Erie, this was a final stop for many slaves before they finally made their getaway to Canada and found their freedom.
6. St. John's Episcopal Church, 2600 Church Street, Cleveland
This stunning structure, which dates back to the 1830's, is considered to be the oldest consecrated church in Cuyahoga County. According to local legend, runaway slaves hid in the bell tower and awaited signals from the lake alerting them to a safe passage. The Episcopal Church, however, did not split between Northern and Southern issues. It simply stayed out of the conflict, so one must wonder what member of this congregation opened the church to refugees. Soon after the Civil War concluded, the wooden interior of the church was largely destroyed by a fire.
7. Spring Hill Historic Home, 1401 Spring Hill Lane NE,Massillon
This stunning structure is unlike any other in the area, and its stand-out architecture and special events make it a site of congregation to this day. This charming site was built in 1821 for a Quaker couple that was known to be active on the Underground Railroad. The Rotch family hid slaves in the basement of their kitchen and in the second story. Despite attempts, no slaves were ever captured during their stay at Spring Hill.
8. Rush R. Sloane House, 403 East Adams Street, Sandusky
The Rush R. Sloane House is gorgeous, even in this picture as it looked prior to its restoration (it's yellow now). When Sloane purchased the house in 1854, it was already a few years old. While in Sandusky, Sloane studied law and frequently worked with abolitionist lawyer F.D. Parish. In one of Sloane's more daring abolitionist acts, he challenged local law enforcement after they arrested fugitive slaves at the demands of men claiming to be their owners. Law enforcement sided with Sloane, and they let the fugitives go. When one of the men displayed ownership papers, Sloane was tried in court and fined $3,000 plus $1,330.30 in court and attorney fees. Long after the Civil War concluded and after his picturesque home was used as a station on the Underground Railroad, Sloane was elected Mayor of Sandusky in 1879.
Northeast Ohio is overflowing with history, and much of it is preserved in local legend. If walls could talk, the stories we’d hear of the Underground Railroad would be incredible. Few conductors ever kept records or notes hinting at their activities, so many sites on the Underground Railroad and the true numbers of how many fugitives they assisted remain a bit of a mystery.
Love local history? You’ll love these