Lost City: Underground Railroad Sites

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For our February 2017 “Lost City” issue, we remember what time, disasters, and the wrecking ball have taken away

For decades, Abolitionists and former slaves operated a covert resistance network by using their resources, residences, and places of worship to shelter and transport slaves escaping to freedom. You may know of well-documented sites like the Rankin House in Ripley, but the Underground Railroad had far deeper roots in our region.

Wilson House
1502 Aster Place, College Hill, 1849–1852*
A fervently abolitionist couple, Samuel and Sally Wilson moved their family from Reading to College Hill in 1849. Their new home became a crucial stop on the Underground Railroad, as upwards of 10 Wilson family members assisted hundreds of escaped slaves in the antebellum years, though the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 weakened the Wilsons’ ability to harbor runaways.

Allen Temple
Multiple private Bucktown abodes, 1808–1865
One of Cincinnati’s senior African-American churches, Allen Temple was established in 1808 as Mill Creek Church. Between 1812 and 1815, the church was torched on three separate occasions because of its efforts in aiding runaway slaves. Undaunted, Allen Temple members continued the church’s anti-slavery endeavors through the end of the Civil War.

Union Baptist Church
A Third Street home, then Western Row (now Central Avenue) near Second Street, 1831–late 1850s
Founded in July 1831 by 14 African-American members of the Enon Baptist Church who grew tired of their former denomination’s intolerant ways, Union Baptist Church is the second oldest African-American church in Ohio. The church served as a shelter for runaway slaves and also set up a fund to aid runaways prior to the Civil War.

Zion Baptist Church
Plum Street, also Third Street between Race and Elm, 1842–unknown
Founded in 1842 by one-time attendees of Union Baptist Church, Zion’s members were immersed in Underground Railroad proceedings, which included the sheltering of slaves in the church’s basement at its Third Street location. Zion Baptist deacon John Hatfield once organized a mock funeral that shrouded the escape of 28 slaves.

Zebulon Strong Home
Hamilton Ave., College Hill, antebellum era
Strong was an abolitionist who used two of his residences to hide and aid runaway slaves. The areas in and around Strong’s wooden house at 5340 Hamilton Ave. contained useful hiding spots, while the brick house at 5434 served as a safe house. Strong would also use his wagon to ferry slaves to the next station.

John Van Zandt Home
Near Oak Road, Evendale, Late 1830s–1842
In the late 1830s, Van Zandt, a former slave owner in Kentucky, moved to Evendale and became an abolitionist farmer after he had a dream that God admonished him for owning slaves. In 1842, he was caught transporting runaway slaves; his case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. Van Zandt and his home appear (under different monikers) in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The Ladies Anti-Slavery Sewing Society
Sixth and Elm Street, downtown, 1847–1865
The Ladies Anti-Slavery Sewing Society was founded by renowned abolitionist Levi Coffin and his wife Catherine after the couple moved to Cincinnati in April 1847. Many local women who had been making clothing for runaway slaves were organized into this group, which also raised money to educate African-American children. Some society members (and their families) assisted escaped slaves.

Homes of Charles B. Huber and Dr. Leavitt Thaxter Pease
160 and 180 Gay St., Williamsburg, 1830s–1850s
Charles B. Huber and Dr. Leavitt Thaxter Pease assisted escaped slaves over multiple decades. Huber was the chief “stationmaster” in the area—one estimate claims that he aided as many as 500 runaways in his life—with Pease assuming command upon Huber’s death in 1854.

Butterworth Home
9929 Sibcy Rd., Maine-ville, unknown–1850
Henry Thomas Butterworth, one of Benjamin Butterworth’s 13 children, pioneered his family’s anti-slavery efforts by housing fugitive slaves—runaways hid among sweet potatoes in the family’s root cellar—while also transporting them to other Quaker establishments. Their efforts ceased with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act.

Thomas Carneal Home
405 E. Second St., Covington, 1815–unknown
Thomas Carneal’s 1815 mansion is the oldest home in Covington. One of the architects of that city, Carneal reportedly housed runaway slaves, and a tunnel on the property concealed escapees who crossed the Ohio River.

*All time frames are approximate.

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