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Retracing the Route to Freedom

Madison sites part of
Underground Railroad marketing effort

National campaign fueled by opening
of Cincinnati’s Freedom Center

Eleutherian College, George-town area of Madison
among sites recognized as authentic

By Debra Maylum
Staff Writer

(December 2004) – The Underground Railroad refers to the organized system of cooperation among African American slaves, free African Americans, abolitionists, sympathetic whites and Native Americans to help slaves escape bondage and claim freedom in the mid-1800s.

Madison Cover

Madison Edition
December 2005 Cover

Once slaves crossed the Ohio River, they were on Northern soil, making Indiana an important destination for freedom seekers.
The network of Underground Railroad sites is extensive, and research is revealing that Madison, Ind., played a large role in the story. Work is currently under way to draw attention to the area’s Underground Railroad significance and to attract visitors to the sites.
It is important to Madison because it may help draw an entirely new market of tourists to the area, said Linda Lytle, executive director of the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Many people don’t yet realize just how big this is for Madison,” she said. “But soon, they will be hearing more about it as the promotional effort gets under way to promote all the sites in the region as part of the overall Underground Railroad story.”
Numerous sites are intertwined with one another, revealing that the Underground Railroad was truly a national and international network of people and places working together toward a common goal. The U.S. Congress in 1998 and 1990 passed legislation to create the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act, which initiated an effort to collect and coordinate this history with various museums, historical sites and educational facilities throughout the country. The program is administered through the National Park Service, whose representatives visited Madison in October to take part in a historic marker dedication ceremony for the Georgetown community and its African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, which is part of the Underground Railroad story, along with nearby Eleutherian College in Lancaster, Ind.
In August, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati. This expansive new museum details various aspects of Civil War-era slaves’ flights to freedom to the north. Driving tours are being created that will direct tourists visiting the center to places such as Madison and Lancaster.
“We’re hoping that the opening of this center so close to Madison is really going to help put Eleutherian College on the map,” said Elbert Hines, a board member of the historic college, located about 10 miles north of Madison.
Historic Madison Inc., meanwhile, is raising money to renovate and create a museum out of a former A.M.E. Church located in the Georgetown area of downtown Madison. Recently, a grant was awarded to help create a driving tour that will establish Madison as one of three major hubs on the tour. All of these separate but related efforts are described below.
n The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. First proposed in 1994 and incorporated in 1995, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened in August in Cincinnati as the centerpiece of a $2 billion riverfront development initiative.
Its purpose is to recount the powerful American story of freedom from slavery and oppression. It serves not only as a museum but also as a monument to this country overcoming the institution of slavery to build a society valuing the equality of all its citizens.
“The emotional connection that Americans have to personal stories of freedom, combined with innovative and imaginative methods of storytelling, will make this one of the nation’s most memorable museum experiences ever,” said Dr. Spencer Crew, the Freedom Center’s executive director and CEO.
All of the exhibits feature fascinating stories, history lessons and common themes. Through them, guests experience their way through the roles of victim, oppressor, bystander, freedom seeker and ally.
Most scholars estimate that as many as 40 percent of all freedom seekers crossed the Ohio River’s “Freedom Corridor,” spanning from Madison, Ind., to Maysville, Ky., positioning Cincinnati as an ideal site for the Freedom Center.
In its mission to promote history relating to the Underground Railroad, the Center has created a list of heritage sites recommended around Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. Included are many sites near Cincinnati along the “freedom corridor,” and including Eleutherian College. The college’s board members have signed a contract with the Freedom Center making Eleutherian College a “Freedom Station.” The two have been and will continue to work together exchanging information and promoting one another, officials said.
n Indiana Department of Commerce Quality of Place Grant. Several heritage sites in Indiana have already come together to promote the history of Indiana’s Underground Railroad activity. This effort received significant assistance when Indiana Lt. Gov. Kathy Davis in October announced that a state grant had been awarded to the “Indiana Underground Railroad Coalition Interpretive Centers.” The $89,600 grant is part of a $600,000 Quality of Place Initiative announced by Davis to help support Indiana tourism projects.
With the grant, Orloff Miller, a consultant who worked on the development of the Freedom Center, has been hired to develop a driving tour and promotional literature to attract visitors to three main sites known as “gateways” into the State for freedom seekers. In addition to Eleutherian College, the other two sites are the Carnegie Center in New Albany, Ind., and the Levi Coffin House in Fountain City, Ind.
One goal is to place displays at the individual sites that will tie them together into a larger story, said Jae Breitweiser of Historic Eleutherian College.
The Madison area sites are hoping to reap national exposure from their connections with Cincinnati’s Freedom Center, the distribution of the literature there, the inclusion on the center's interactive computer systems and their inclusion on its recommended list of area heritage sites.
“We want the number of visitors to our site to increase dramatically,” Breitweiser said. “This is the kind of boost we need.”
n Historic Eleutherian College. Eleutherian College already has seen visitors because of its collaboration with the Freedom Center, said Breitweiser. The College is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been named a National Historic Landmark.
It has been recognized by the Network to Freedom as an Underground Railroad historic site. The college, the Lyman Hoyt House and the Tibbet House that sit on the property are part of the Indiana Historic Marker Program, marked for their significance in history, specifically to the Underground Railroad.
As the anti-slavery movement began across the nation, the Hoyts and the Tibbets were at the center of it in this area, according to Breitweiser. She said documents confirm that these families were active in housing runaways as well as helping them move from one location to the next.
In the same community, in the midst of the anti-slavery activity, the Rev. Thomas Craven built Eleutherian College, a school that educated with no regard to race or gender. Craven and others involved felt that the best way to help African Ameri-cans was to give them an education. He trained them as teachers and ministers so that they could go on to educate others. In 1848, the first school year at Eleutherian College began, and by 1858, 100 graduates of the school were qualified to teach.
Earning the credibility associated with the national designations at these sites is not easy, but it goes a long way in attracting attention to the sites.
“Everything that goes into receiving a historic marker has to be proven before anything can happen. It is a huge job,” Breitweiser said. This community is fortunate to have saved so many documents that when pieced together aid in a larger understanding, she said.
n Madison’s Historic Georgetown District. Recently included in the Underground Railroad’s Network to Freedom and the Indiana Historic Marker Program is Madison’s historic Georgetown district. It has been nationally recognized for its significance in Underground Railroad activity.
The old neighborhood, centered at Walnut and Fifth streets, houses a number of buildings that have been owned, built and occupied by African American families dating to the early days of Madison, said John Staicer, executive director of Historic Madison Inc.
Several important structures still exist today in the neighborhood – so many, in fact, that for the first time, a district earned approval for a historic marker, said Breitweiser. No single structure could have provided a complete picture, but as a district it has a lot of strength, she said.
Among the remaining buildings are the former homes of abolitionists Elijah Anderson and William J. Anderson, as well as the A.M.E. Church, one of the most prominent structures in the Georgetown district.
Located at 309 Fifth St., the building was purchased for $67,000 in 2002 by HMI, and plans are under way to turn the 1,200-square-foot former church into a museum. Restoration is set to begin in 2005 after the city in July received a $362,713 grant from the Indiana Department of Commerce to help fund the project. HMI also received a $99,000 “Save America’s Treasures” grant last year that it will use to meet the required 10 percent match of the state grant. HMI also has received private donations and a $2,000 grant in June from the Community Foundation of Madison-Jefferson County. The entire restoration could reach $750,000, Staicer said.
The result will be an Underground Railroad memorial to the families who lived there and were heavily involved with the activities, said Staicer. “It will help orient people to the area, and the role that the church and the neighborhood played in the Underground Railroad,” he said.
The museum will house exhibits about the building, the church, the congregation, African American heritage and the overall contribution the community made to the anti-slavery movement. The A.M.E. Church drew the attention of Indiana Gov. Joe Kernen, who visited the site this past summer.
Staicer said that in addition to a museum, the church will be a place where community members can host lectures, concerts, meetings and other public programs.
n Continuing Research. The next project presenting itself is the need for research on South Hanover Landing, a site that has recently emerged as having had activity in the flight to freedom, said Breitweiser. In the near future, Hanover Landing will likely become another part of the Underground Railroad story because of recently discovered documents, she said.
Collaborating with the Freedom Center, the newly established Rivers Institute at Hanover College is researching this area. The Haq Center Multicultural Center at Hanover College already is involved in the research, said Molly Dodge, director of external relations at the Rivers Institute. The Haq Center’s mission is to support international and minority students and programs.
Meanwhile, Madison tourism officials have asked Hanover College’s Haq Center to consider creating a program for tourists based on a student trip organized several years ago and led by professor Ted Farrell. Starting from Preston Plantation in Trimble County, Ky., Farrell led students across the Ohio River on pontoon boats to Hanover Beach. They then boarded buses for a trip to Eleutherian College for a tour. Farrell is organizing another student trip next spring and has invited tourism director Lytle to go along.
“Something interactive like this would be a great tourism attraction, but I don’t know if we could pull it off,” Lytle told the tourism board at its December meeting. “It’s certainly something worth looking into.”
n As research reveals more, each site is continuing to connect to the others, making it increasingly important that everyone involved work together. Every piece of this story is slowly coming together, officials say, however, information keeps surfacing.
Researchers say the Underground Railroad sites in southern Indiana will fit nicely with the historical programs already in place and are likely to attract more visitors as interest in the topic increases.
“The neat thing about Underground Railroad is that it’s a story that’s still unfolding here in our area, so from a tourism standpoint, I think that’s exciting,” said Staicer. “And with the grant money and support we’re getting from the National Park Service, there’s no telling how far we can go in promoting it.”

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