|UGRR Pittsburgh Spur
Pittsburgh, PA to Erie, PA
1 Map Set (152.5 mi.)
| GPS | Overview
|PITT SPUR - Pittsburgh, PA to Erie, PA (152.5 mi.)
The Underground Railroad Bicycle Route (UGRR) memorializes the Underground Railroad, a network of clandestine routes by which African freedom seekers attempted to escape slavery before and during the Civil War. This page describes the Underground Railroad Pittsburgh Spur, whichs runs between Pittsburgh and Erie, Pennsylvania. You may also be interested in the main Underground Railroad Bicycle Route (UGRR) and the UGRR Detroit Alternate, or the day-trip rides in Ripley, Ohio (PDF).
Explore Pittsburgh's vital role in the Underground Railroad.
Pittsburgh played a vital role in Underground Railroad history. Due to the many roads leading in and out of the area and the rivers which represented natural landmarks to follow to freedom, the city became an important stop for freedom seekers making their way north. It was also a strong hold for the abolitionist movement and Blacks themselves became active in securing the freedom for enslaved Africans. The route begins at the Senator John Heinz History Center where travelers can view the Underground Railroad exhibit and African American collections before crossing the Allegheny River and following the 3.5 mile North Shore Trail, a portion of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail. Point State Park, the tip of Pittsburgh's "Golden Triangle" where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers join, can been seen as cyclists follow the shores of the Ohio River. The route crosses the Ohio River three times before reaching Monaca then heads north, following the Beaver River through the community of Beaver Falls toward Mercer.
Photo by Dennis Coello
Though you will be riding in several river valleys the terrain in western Pennsylvania is hilly so expect many short and steep climbs and descents.
This route can be ridden anytime from late spring to mid-fall. In places, this spur coincides with stretches
of Bicycle Pennsylvania Routes A and Z. Both are marked on the map. In addition, Route A is well signed on the road. Note that road signage along the entire length of the route is sporadic and at times inconsistent.
Roads will have high traffic levels in Pittsburgh and the surrounding communities as you leave downtown. The farther north you ride the more rural the are becomes and services are farther apart. Campgrounds are mostly off route. Traffic volumes will increase as you approach Erie, especially during commuting hours.
Some campgrounds will charge a cyclist traveling by himself less if they have hiker/biker sites, but often they will charge the price of a regular tent or RV site, and that can easily be $10-$30/night. The maps list churches that have opened their doors to cyclists, but they aren't all that closely spaced. If you're friendly and ask around, you can often get yourself invited to camp in a yard. Our routes sometimes go through national forests (moreso in the west) and you are allowed to camp anywhere on national forest land as long as you "pack it in, pack it out." Many city parks are free to camp in.
You may also wish to sign up with Warmshowers, a reciprocal hospitality site for bicycle travelers, for other overnight options.
- Senator John Heinz History Center has an African American collection and an Underground Railroad exhibit that highlights Pittsburgh’s role in the Underground Railroad and abolitionist movements.
- Martin Delany Plaque. Martin Delany was a writer, scientist, army officer and physician, who founded Pittsburgh's first African American newspaper, The Mystery (1843 - 1847). He was the first black Major in the U.S. Army and among the first African Americans admitted to Harvard Medical School. He was instrumental in helping Pittsburgh during the Cholera outbreak in 1854.
- John B. Vashon’s Barbershop and City Baths. In its day, Vashon’s shop served as a hub for the latest news relating to the many issues of abolition and slavery.
- John Peck’s Oyster House. Peck was a central character in Pittsburgh’s Underground Railroad movement.
- Monogahela House was a prominent hotel during the turn of the century but is now the home of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. This hotel employed over 300 blacks who aided slaves accompanying their visiting masters, occasionally helping them escape on the Underground Railroad.
- Avery College once existed on Nash St. and Avery St., now a plaque recognizes the college. Also known as Allegheny Institute and Mission Church, it was founded by Charles Avery, a wealthy Pittsburgh entrepreneur and ardent abolitionist, as a vocational school open to blacks in the mid 19th century. The church was reported to have a tunnel which led to a canal on the Allegheny River to help escaping slaves on their journey to freedom.
- Thomas Bingham House on Mt. Washington Rd. and Olympia Rd. was a safe house for freedom seekers and was part of one of America’s oldest planned communities called Chatham Village. Having served in the state Legislature, Bingham was known as the "Sage of Mount Washington," and reputedly helped escaping slaves, thanks partly to an African-American family nurse who kept a lookout for runaways.
- Soldiers and Sailors Military Museum. Exhibit that focuses on 19th century Africans escaping enslavement and finding sanctuary in Pittsburgh and other areas of Pennsylvania.
- Bethel AME Church was the first African American church west of the Allegheny Mountains and the first Pastor was Rev. Lewis Woodson, a well-known abolitionist.
- Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church was ministered by Henry Highland Garnet, a well-known abolitionist who spoke in New York after the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation. Today, a society works to honor and preserve his name.
Washington County, PA
- Lemoyne House and Military Museum of Southwestern Pennsylvania* Pennsylvania's first National Historic Landmark of the Underground Railroad, LeMoyne House is one of only seven such sites in the U.S. Stories include anecdotes of slaves hiding in a dumbwaiter, or beneath the bed of Madeline LeMoyne, who "feigned illness to prevent slave catchers from searching the room.” The stately stone house in Washington County is open for tours.
- The North Side*, which was known as Allegheny City, was a significant stop on the Underground Railroad. The mansion of Felix Brunot, where "[r]emains of the old tunnels and entrances [could] still be seen" a century later resided here before being torn down.
New Castle, PA
- Freedom’s Call Standing Exhibit at the Lawrence County Historical Society features the history of the Underground Railroad in Lawrence Co. and the abolitionist movement. Also includes a civil war display.
- Mercer County Historical Society administers numerous Underground Railroad sites in and around Mercer.
- Follow the Drinking Gourd Walking Tour of Mercer’s Historic Underground Railroad and Abolitionist Era Sites and the Underground Railroad Driving Tour. Highlights include: Hanna and Small Houses, a passageway was uncovered under the Hanna house that is believed to have hidden freedom seekers. The Hanna and Small families were ardent abolitionists and close friends. Magoffin House was a site of Underground Railroad activity and during the Civil War, Magoffin was considered a “copperhead” or peace democrat; Old Mercer Graveyard is where James Kilgore and other Underground Railroad conductors are buried; Bethany Presbyterian Church where Rev. William Taggart McAdam lectured on the Civil War; Mercer Co. Courthouse and Civil War Monument; and White Chapel Church at Indian Run was led by ardent abolitionist John Young. This area was originally called Pandenarium and was formed when wealthy slave owner from Virginia, Dr. Charles Everett, upon his death, provided his newly freed slaves with a small plot of land and money to settle. Most of the inhabitants couldn’t sustain a living here and they all eventually left the site.
Sandy Lake, PA
- Freedom Road Cemetery Historic Marker located across from the main gate at the Stoneboro Fairgrounds, US 62, southwest of Sandy Lake is all that remains of Liberia, a fugitive slave town established by the Travis family, free African Americans.
- Bethel AME Church was organized in 1849 and many of its members and trustees were active in the UGRR.
New Richmond, PA
- John Brown Farm and Tannery Museum. Brown aided an estimated 2,500 slaves and his farm was a major stop, marking its place in history from 1825 to 1835. Interpretive displays tell the story of his role in the national events leading up to the Civil War.
* Denotes a site not listed on the map.
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