VERSAILLES, Ind. (March 2004) In 1949 Ripley County received
its first Indiana historical marker. This May, 55 years later, the
county will receive its fifth and sixth. The Indiana Historical Bureau
in December approved two markers commemorating the countys role
in the Underground Railroad.
The first marker, to be dedicated at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 15, will
be placed next to the canon on the Ripley County courthouse square.
The second will be dedicated later the same day at 2 p.m. and will
be placed next to the flagpole at the Union Baptist Church on Flat
Rock Road in Jackson Township.
Larae with a sign she designed.
Both markers have also been approved by Indiana Freedom Trails, a
community-based, statewide organization established to complete the
archival research necessary to identify the sites, structures and
individuals involved in the Underground Railroad.
Its been a long process but well worth it, said
project director Diane Perrine Coon, who along with more than 100
people from Ripley County worked for several years on the project.
A prospectus featuring six possible sites was submitted to the IHB
in September 2002, but over the course of a year, all but two were
rejected. This was because the criteria for Freedom Trails is stringent
and requires authenticated documentation of each site, according to
Coon. Much of the history relating to the Ripley sites was through
oral tradition, passed along from generation to generation but not
verifiable by traditional research methods, she said.
Research and funding for inclusion of the Indiana heritage markers
in Ripley County was made possible by a grant from the Rising Sun
Regional Foundation and the Gilmore and Gilda Reynolds Foundation.
Also involved with the project has been the Ripley County Tourism
Now being engraved, the markers will look the same as other historic
markers throughout the state, except for the insignia, designed by
Anitra Larae Donahue, that identifies them as part of Indiana Freedom
The marker to be placed at Union Baptist Church will commemorate the
Union Church at Flat Rock, which was founded in 1843 as an anti-slavery
congregation affiliated with the Freewill Baptist denomination. On
one side the marker will read: August 12, 1843, Union Church organized
as Freewill Baptist church at home of Harvey Marshall. Church covenant
states: We cannot receive slaveholders into this church nor
those who believe that slavery is right. First church building
completed 1859 near here. In 1914, members changed denomination and
name of church. New Church built here 1921.
The opposite side will read: Strong anti-slavery stance of Freewill
Baptist churches contributed to end of slavery and freedom for those
enslaved. The Underground Railroad refers to a widespread network
of diverse people in the 19th century who aided slaves escaping to
freedom from the southern United States.
The marker to be placed at the courthouse will commemorate the leadership
of Stephen S. Harding of Old Milan, Franklin Township, in organizing
county, state and national anti-slavery political movements.
One side will read: Born 1808 Ontario County, New York. Moved with
family to Ripley County, 1820. Prominent abolitionist and orator,
delivered powerful anti-slavery speeches throughout the area, often
against public sentiment. Was active in Liberty Party and Republican
Party. Received several appointments from President Abraham Lincoln.
Died February 12, 1891.
The opposite side will read: Harding was an early leader in the opposition
to slavery, helping to bring freedom to enslaved people in U.S. Stephen
Selwyn Harding, an attorney in Versailles whose home in Old Milan
was stop No. 7 on the Underground Railroad route from Aurora, was
appointed Governor of Utah Territory and later Chief Justice of the
Colorado and Utah Territorial Supreme Court by Abraham Lincoln. Several
artifacts from Hardings home and office are displayed in the
Ripley County Historical Society Museum.
In conjunction with the historic marker dedication, the Ripley County
Historical Society will open in its museum a Stephen S. Harding room,
which will contain artifacts collected by the society relating to
the historical figure.
Were hoping it will be ready on May 15 at the time of
the dedication, said Coon. Also being prepared are automobile
tour routes from Versailles to Flat Rock and from Versailles to Old
Milan. The tours will be marked by signage, and available will be
accompanying brochures and CDs describing in narrative form the areas
Underground Railroad events and people.
Other southern Indiana Freedom Trails sites include in Jefferson County
Historic Eleutherian College and the Lyman-Hoyt House in Lancaster
and the Georgetown district in Madison, Ind.