UGRR Detroit Alternate Highlights - Section 1: Oberlin, OH to Marine City, MI

Medina, OH

  • Blake House was an Underground Railroad station which harbored freedom seekers in the barn. Tours by appointment.

Oberlin, OH

  • Oberlin Heritage Center showcases the abolitionist and Underground Railroad history of the community. Guided and self-guided walking and biking tours available. Includes tours of the Monroe House, Jewett House, and Little Red Schoolhouse which tell the story of this community from 1833-1930.
  • Downtown Oberlin — A historic district full of beautifully preserved homes and businesses, many with direct links to the Underground Railroad.
  • First Church in Oberlin* — Built in 1842, this church served as the meeting place for the Oberlin Anti-Slavery Society and was the site of the memorial service for John Copeland and Shields Green who were hanged for their participation in John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Call 440-775-1711 for tour.
  • Oberlin College was the first college in the United States to regularly admit African American students (1835) and is also the oldest continuously operating coeducational institution. Learn the history of this college dedicated to equality in education based upon Christian values.

Sandusky, OH

  • City of Sandusky, OH. Because of its location on Lake Erie, Sandusky was a major terminal on the UGRR. It is known by the code name "Hope."
  • Follet House Museum , 404 Wayne St. Was a famous safe house and is now an UGRR museum and on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.
  • Second Baptist Church315 Decatur St. Was founded in 1849 by a group of seven former slaves as the Zion Baptist Church. Prior to the Civil War the church was reorganized under the name First Anti-Slavery Baptist Church. As one of the most active stations in Sandusky, many refugee slaves were hidden, fed, and clothed here. The present church (circa 1930) is constructed around the original church's wooden framework and, along with the parsonage, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Many homes in the Sandusky area served as Underground Railroad stations.
  • Sloane House* at 403 E. Adams St. A judge and abolitionist, Sloane was instrumental in helping slaves escape even at his own peril.
  • George Barney House* at 422 E. Washington St. became well known as a safe house around 1858. Many believe Barney employed fugitives at the foundry he co-owned.
  • Goodwin House* at 327 Hancock St. Goodwin was a local lawyer and active agent on the Underground Railroad.
  • McGee House* at 536 E. Washington St. Captain Thomas McGee was a master on several ships sailing on Lake Erie and was instrumental in helping fugitive slaves escape to Canada from the Sandusky Docks.
  • Merry House* at 330 E. Adams St. Henry Merry was a master builder and contractor who began employing slaves in 1836, and his home, built in 1852, was a well know safe house.
  • Reynolds House* on the northeast corner of Jackson St. and Madison St. An African-American carriage maker and Underground Railroad conductor, he once drove fugitives across frozen Lake Erie in a sleigh.
  • Root House* at 231 E. Adams St. Root was a radical abolitionist who served as mayor of Sandusky, state senator, and later congressman.
  • Big Four Dock* is one of the major launching points for freedom seekers going into Canada. The dock sits at the foot of Lawrence St., near present day boat ramp at the Sandusky Docks. Many slaves hid in rail cars. The dock is described in Uncle Tom's Cabin.
  • Path to Freedom Sculpture* in Facer Park on the corner of Hancock Rd. and Shoreline Rd. This is a life size representation of an Afro-American man, woman, and child. Eight hundred feet of chain was used in the creation of the sculpture.

Sylvania, OH

  • Sylvania Historical Village & Heritage Center Museum is a living history museum with costumed interpreters working in a blacksmith shop, rail depot, 1840s log home, schoolhouse, and museum.
  • Lathrop House at Harroun Community Park is managed by the Metropolitan Park District of Toledo. The Friends of Lathrop, the City of Sylvania, and countless volunteers have worked to preserve the house. Lathrop, as a representative to the Ohio State Legislature, pushed to revise Ohio school laws so black children could receive an education. Furthermore, he worked to establish laws that gave slaves the right to appear in court and other legal protections. Secretly, he took action to assist slaves in finding freedom in Canada.

Blissfield, MI

  • David Carpenter House (now The Hathaway House restaurant) was home to one of the Carpenter brothers who were members of the Blissfield Anti-Slavery Society, part of the Underground Railroad network connected to Toledo. The Blissfield Anti-Slavery Society officers constituted what was called a "Committee of Vigilance."

Adrian, MI

  • Lenawee County and Adrian, MI, are part of a region known as the Old Northwest, and in the 1830’s, with a growing Quaker, Presbyterian, and Baptist population, embraced the antislavery movement and remained a stronghold up to the time of the Civil War. Though not all of the following homes and markers are on the route, all are worth learning about while you’re in the region.
  • Lenawee County Historical Museum houses thousands of documents relating to business, government, religion, education, railroads, the military, the Underground Railroad, prominent citizens, and many other subjects of local interest.
  • Thomas and Elizabeth Chandler Home*Hazelbank Farm, near Valley Rd. on Breckel Highway was home to Thomas Chandler, who served as the President of the Michigan State Anti-Slavery Society several times and was involved in Lenawee and Michigan radical antislavery activities in the 1830s and 1850s. He worked for The American Freeman. His younger sister, Elizabeth, authored the poem “Slave Ship” at age 18. She also wrote for the "Ladies’ Repository" section of the Genius of Universal Emancipation, wherein she demanded better treatment of Native Americans and the emancipation of slaves. Chandler introduced one of the most famous abolitionist images, "Am I not a Woman and a Sister," which William Lloyd Garrison adopted for his abolitionist paper, The Liberator, and which Sojourner Truth adopted as the slogan for her famous 1851 speech. Her articles, poems, and letters were gathered together by Benjamin Lundy into two books, the proceeds of which went towards abolitionist causes.  She founded the first women’s antislavery society, the Logan Female Antislavery Society in 1832.
  • Warren Gilbert Home* on Gilbert Highway. Warren Gilbert settled on the Gilbert homestead in the 1840’s as a staunch abolitionist, a champion of women's rights and an advocate of temperance. He strove to advance these causes. His home was one of the stations of the Underground Railroad, and the family helped many fugitives on their way to freedom.
  • Dr. Woodland Owen House, 405 N. Winter St. Currently the location of the Lenawee Sheriff's office and jail. Dr. Woodland Owen was an Englishman who immigrated to America and settled in Adrian in 1848. His Italianate home was more than likely a station on the Underground Railroad towards the end of the Civil War. Dr. Owen’s entire family was active in the antislavery cause. Woodland and Jane Owen were listed as "Constant Anti-Slavery worker[s]" in the register of supporters of the Michigan Anti-Slavery Society from the 1850s.
  • Laura Haviland statue, 100 E Church St. Haviland was so effective in her abolitionist activities and work for the Underground Railroad that Southern slave owners offered a $3,000 reward for her capture. In 1834, she and the other leading antislavery Quakers of Raisin Township, including her husband Charles, her father Daniel Smith (later elected as one of the Vice-Presidents of the Michigan Anti-Slavery Society), her mother Sene Smith, and fifteen others withdrew from their Quaker meetings over differences regarding slavery. She later joined the Wesleyan Methodists. Haviland and her husband founded a free school for the children of former slaves and helped establish the Refugee Home Society, which offered temporary housing to freedom seekers in Windsor, ON.
  • Raisin Valley Friends Church & Cemetery is home to a historical marker recognizing the first pastor of the Adrian Friends Meetinghouse (1835-1841), Daniel Smith, whose Quaker abolitionist daughter Laura Smith Haviland is interred in the church cemetery. The congregation was part of the New York Yearly Meeting until 1869 and then became part of the Ohio Yearly Meeting. Friends worshipped in this building for the first time on June 11, 1835. This Raisin Valley Congregation is Michigan’s oldest surviving Friends Organization.
  • Sutton House*, 3301 Sutton Rd. A small room in the basement of this red brick house was used to hide runaways in the 1840s, when it was owned by farmer Samuel Brown. There was a false door used to get into the basement, and another to let people into the house from the outside. Fugitives were hidden underneath the wooden floorboards. This house is now owned by Wacker Silicones Corp.

Albion, MI (off route)

  • Albion* would make a nice side trip as it was a major stopping point on the Underground Railroad with several homes that served as stations and many anti-slavery activists in residence.
  • Juliet Calhoun Blakeley House* no longer stands, but Juliet Calhoun Blakeley (1818-1920) allowed her home to serve as one of the local hiding stations on the Underground Railroad. The entire Blakely family was involved in the operation, hiding fugitives in the bottom of their wagon, under bags of grain or covered with ears of corn, and transporting them along the predetermined route.
  • Samuel Snyder House* on the north side of the 800 block of Irwin Ave. Samuel Snyder (1811-1857) and his wife Deborah Whipple (1819-1908) were Methodists and supporters of the anti-slavery movement. They allowed their land -- surrounded by woods and swamps ideal for hiding -- to be used as the very first stop for the Underground in Albion.
  • Charles Taylor House*, 1400 E. Michigan Ave. This was the house of local "stationmaster," Rev. Charles Taylor (1804-1848). It is believed that this house was used as an Underground Railroad site with the help of Taylor's father, David. The house contained a small closet-sized room over the stairwell that was accessible only by a narrow ledge, where it is assumed fugitive slaves would hide before venturing to Detroit and Canada.

Marshall, MI (off route)

  • Crosswhite Marker* at E. Michigan Ave. and E. Mansion St. is off route but might be worth a side trip due to the significant history associated with Adam Crosswhite. In 1847 Adam Crosswhite (1799-1878) and his family were tracked to Marshall by the local Sheriff and four armed Kentuckians, one of which was his former owner. While the court proceedings were ongoing, the Crosswhite family escaped to Buxton, Ontario, Canada via the Detroit railroad. A lawsuit based upon the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 ensued, resulting in the former owner awarded damages of $1,926. In response, George DeBaptisteWilliam Lambert, and many other prominent abolitionists became even more committed to the Underground Railroad cause.
  • Oliver C. Comstock, Jr. House*. Dr. Comstock, Jr. (1806-1895) is perhaps best known as one of the abolitionists involved in the Crosswhite Case. In 1847, he and several other prominent Marshall citizens were convicted and fined for the conspiracy to harbor the fugitive slave family of Adam Crosswhite.
  • Other sites include the Jabez Fitch House* at 310 N. Kalamazoo St. and the Charles T. Gorham Marker* at 124 W. Michigan Ave.

Saline, MI

  • First Presbyterian Church*. Pastor J.G. Kanouse was the first pastor of this church, founded by a group opposed to slavery. Kanouse was an Underground Railroad operator.
  • Lodi Cemetery* at corner of Ann Arbor Rd. and Textile Rd. John Lowry burial site, a noted abolitionist and Underground Railroad station agent. 
  • W. W. Harwood House and Cemetery* is a private residence that was a station on the Underground Railroad, along with several neighboring houses.  Many freedom seekers traveled along this road to safety in cities such as Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Detroit, or on to Canada. The cemetery is located behind the house at the intersection of Textile Rd. and Campbell Rd. The original 1840s William Harwood Farm remains in the family and has a hiding place in the basement. Listed on the NPS Network to Freedom. Located off route 2.3 miles east of the intersection of Textile Rd. and Lohr Rd. 

Ann Arbor, MI

  • Michigan Anti-Slavery Society Historical Marker. Five years before becoming the home of the Signal of Liberty, Ann Arbor hosted the first meeting of the Michigan State Anti-Slavery Society on November 10 and 11, 1836 at the First Presbyterian Church. Seventy-five antislavery activists from six Michigan counties attended.
  • Guy Beckley Housea private residence, was the home of the Reverend Guy Beckley, one of Ann Arbor's most important Underground Railroad sites. Reverend Beckley lectured across the state, published the Signal of Liberty newspaper, and served on the Executive Committee of the Michigan Anti-Slavery Society. An Underground Railroad conductor from Wisconsin led Caroline Quarlls to Beckley's house on her escape to Canada. Other self-emancipators were helped by the Rev. Beckley, including Robert Coxe. 

Ypslanti, MI

  • Elijah McCoy Commemorative Marker at the Ypsilanti Public Library commemorates Elijah McCoy, famous African-American inventor who had more patents than any other black inventor up to that time. His emancipated father and enslaved mother escaped with help from Underground Railroad conductors and then settled in Ypsilanti before the Civil War.
  • Leonard Chase House* behind the Thompson Block building. Leonard Chase housed freedom seekers and Mrs. Eurotas Morton brought bread for them from her house in the 200 block of N. River Street.

Romulus, MI

  • The White Church was associated with the Underground Railroad. Built in 1854 by the Romulus Union Church Society, it is known locally as the "White Church" because of the color of the building. The church is now called Romulus Wesleyan Church.
  • Samuel Kingsley House, across the street from the Romulus Historical Museum at 11120 Hunt St., was built in 1855 and was originally located on Ozga Rd. near Pullens Corners, known today as Five Points. Kingsley is known for having hidden fugitive slaves in an underground cellar. The home offers a glimpse into the past, featuring original artifacts, furnishings, household tools, and kitchenware.

Detroit, MI

  • Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the largest museum in the world dedicated to the struggles and perseverance of African Americans. Founded in 1965 by Dr. Charles Wright, the museum explores the diversity of African-American history and culture. The core exhibit traces the history of the slave trade from Africa to the Americas and Detroit's participation in the Underground Railroad movement. The Ring of Genealogy in the rotunda contains the names of many of the prominent members of Detroit's Underground Railroad organization.
  • Historical First Congregational Church is also known as The Living Museum and offers the Underground Railroad Flight to Freedom Program Tour. This is a “storytelling” simulation of a slave’s journey to freedom.
  • Detroit Historical Museum. Explore Detroit's role in the Underground Railroad in an exciting exhibit, walk the streets of Old Detroit, learn about how cars built Detroit and Detroit built cars, or view special exhibitions on a wide variety of topics.
  • Finney Barn Marker at the northeast corner of State St. and Griswold St. Seymour Finney conducted one of the principal passenger depots of the Underground Railroad in the Detroit area. Finney, a hotel-keeper, assisted fugitive slaves in the era prior to 1861. In 1850 he purchased a site where in later years stood the Finney Hotel, and also erected a large barn, which he operated along with his tavern. This marker is for the barn Finney used to hide freedom seekers fleeing to Canada on the Underground Railroad.
  • Gateway to Freedom Monument at Hart Plaza on the Detroit Riverfront marks the crossing point of thousands of freedom seekers into Canada. Runaways referred to the Detroit River as their "River Jordan," and Canada as their "Land of Canaan." Sculpture created by Ed Dwight.
  • Second Baptist Church served as a safe house for freedom seekers and a meeting place for abolitionists and UGRR operatives in Detroit and Canada.
  • Frederick Douglass - John Brown Meeting Marker. Downtown Detroit at E. Congress and St. Antoine St. Eight months before the Harper’s Ferry raid, Frederick Douglass and John Brown met with several Detroit residents at the home of abolitionist William Webb on March 12, 1859, to discuss methods for ending slavery in America; while Douglass sought an end to slavery through political means, Brown believed revolution was the way to end the system; on December 2, 1859 Brown would die for his beliefs after the famed Harper’s Ferry Raid in West Virginia.
  • George DeBaptiste Marker at E. Larned St. and Beaubien St. recognizes George DeBaptiste as a long-time Mason and one of Detroit's most active and impassioned African-American community leaders. He lived on this site during the 1850s and 60s. He owned the ship "T. Whitney" that transported runaways across the Detroit River to freedom in Canada.  It would stop in Amherstburg, Ontario on the pretense of getting lumber, while actually shuttling fugitive slaves to freedom. A white man, Captain Atwood, a proven abolitionist (he became involved in the Underground Railroad and was forced to leave Madison, IN because of his anti-slavery activities), was hired by DeBaptiste to run the boat, since African Americans were not allowed to run steamboats at the time. DeBaptiste became the personal valet of General William Henry Harrison, whom he accompanied to the White House as a steward.
  • William Lambert Home Marker at the northeast corner of E. Larned St. and St. Aubin St. A black leader in Michigan, Lambert was active in the antislavery movement and served as the head of the Detroit Vigilance Committee. In 1843 he helped organize the first State Convention of Colored Citizens and served as its chairman. He was one of those present at the meeting between John Brown and Frederick Douglass at the home of William Webb where he made a financial contribution to the Harpers Ferry Raid led by John Brown in 1859.
  • Elmwood Cemetery offers a brochure at the visitor’s center listing burial sites of the most famous and influential African Americans of the 19th century including abolitionists George DeBaptiste, Dr. Joseph Ferguson, and William Lambert, as well as Civil war veterans from the 1st Michigan Colored Infantry.

The following sites are within a day’s bike ride from the Detroit Alternate route in Michigan.

  • Nankin Mills*, 33175 Ann Arbor Trail, Westland, MI. For a time the Underground Railroad followed along the Lower and Middle Rouge River, through what was then Nankin Township.
  • Greenmead Historical Park*, 20501 Newburgh Rd, Livonia, MI. This 95-acre park was the 1820's homestead of Michigan pioneer Joshua Simmons, and includes the original farm complex, historical village, picnic facilities and recreational areas. Together, the buildings tell the story of farm life in rural Michigan. The Simmons family were related to the abolitionist Power family of Farmington.
  • Philbrick Tavern*, West 11 Mile Rd. at Power Rd. in Farmington Hills. In the 1830's and 40's the home was a tavern operated by Nathan Philbrick and was one of the finer hostels in southern Oakland County and also served as a meeting place for the early Township government. In the 1850's, according to a strong and persistent local legend, the place served as a station on the Underground Railroad.
  • Freedom Acres - Wilson Home*, West 11 Mile Rd., between Middle Rd. and Orchard Lake Rd. in Farmington Hills. Ellen Wilson was born a slave and in 1850, she and her husband, Aaron, came to Michigan, and then went on to Canada and remained there for three years, obtaining Canadian citizenship and, as a result, their freedom. The two returned to Farmington.
  • James B. Wells Farm*, Sections 12 and 14 of Franklin Township. The Wells Farm was a station on the Underground Railroad.
  • Emmendorfer House*, 4121 Pontiac Trail in Orchard Lake. An 1830’s house built by William Gilmour contains two hidden chambers, one accessible only through a small opening hidden behind built-in drawers in a bedroom; the other, through the rear of a closet. The house was in a strategic location on the Pontiac Trail, one of the few early roads in Oakland County, halfway between Farmington and Pontiac.
  • Waterford Mill*, 16580 Northville Rd. in Northville. This 1800’s grist mill harbored runaway slaves and gave them employment through the efforts of mill owner and abolitionist, Samuel Pettibone Mead. Robert Wallace one of the runaway slaves jumped from the mill after it was suspiciously set on fire in 1850.  He settled in the Village of Waterford (now Northville) and became the first black Wesleyan Methodist Minister. You can find Mead’s final resting place at the Waterford Village Cemetery 16170 Franklin Rd., Northville, MI. It is the first integrated cemetery for its time. It is also part of the extinct Village of Waterford that sent the largest contingent of volunteers to the Civil War in the State of Michigan. 
  • Spring Hill Farm* at the end of Hamlin Rd. in Utica. This is the location of the "Beacon Tree," which was planted in 1850 by the Lerich family and neighbors. Fugitive slaves were told to look for it 24 miles north of Detroit City Hall and twelve miles east of Pontiac Courthouse in Macomb County. The Lerichs fed, clothed, and housed the runaways and devised a way for fugitives to slide down to the spring in order throw dogs off the freedom seeker’s tracks. The Lerichs also ferried fugitives along the Underground Railroad in the family wagon, hidden between bags of hay. They had many visits from Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and Peter Jaxson.
  • The Malinda Robinson Paris Story* (PDF), St. Clair County. Born in Kentucky to a free black woman and a slave father, Malinda’s mother finally had to flee north to avoid enslavement of her children, leaving her husband behind.  Malinda married William Paris when she was 18 years old, and the couple eventually moved to Canada, then to Detroit. William had escaped to Canada through the Underground Railroad; he was born free and had been captured and put into slavery several times before the move to Canada. Malinda lived the reminder of her life in St. Clair, Michigan.

* Denotes a site not listed on the map.