Cincinnati landmarks added to national Underground Railroad network

Apr 17, 2015

Kerry Wood with the National Park Service hands Cincinnati Vice Mayor David Mann the certificates recognizing three locations for their historic significance in the Undergound Railroad.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU

Betty Ann Smiddy of the Hamilton Avenue Road to Freedom Committee tells the story best:

"On a rainy night of April 3, 1853, 28 courageous African-Americans escaped their bondage in Boone County, Kentucky. Led by abolitionist John Fairfield, they crossed the Ohio River near Lawrenceburg, Indiana and followed him to the mouth of the Mill Creek, where they temporarily hid.

"The group was disguised as a funeral cortege going to Wesleyan Cemetery in Cumminsville. This was the only integrated cemetery and outside of the city limits."

But, Smiddy continues, the group skirted the cemetery and continued north through College Hill, Mount Healthy, Indiana, and eventually made it to freedom in Canada.

Wesleyan Cemetery (now part of Northside) is being recognized by the United States Department of the Interior with a Network of Freedom Designation for its place in history. So is the Kirby Avenue Corridor which the slaves traveled to freedom.

Freedom Center Interim Director of Museum Experiences Richard Cooper says, "The inclusion of these historical sites and their stories into the Network to Freedom program strengthens and enriches the larger national story of the Underground Railroad and champions the unique history of our great city.

"The dedication of these sites will continue to inspire and shine a light on the struggle for freedom that we still face today."

Abolitionist John Van Sandt is buried in Wesleyan Cemetery. Van Sandt was a former slave owner who helped slaves escape along the Underground Railroad. He was eventually arrested and jailed for his efforts. His case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where he was defended by Cincinnati lawyer Salmon P. Chase. Though Van Sandt and Chase lost the case, Chase served as President Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury and, later, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The historical marker where the Chase Law Office once stood at Third and Main Streets in Cincinnati is also now part of the Network to Freedom trail.

Other Ohio sites added to the Network to Freedom

Site of Charles Cheney Home

Site of Rush R. Sloane House

Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum

Site of the original Zion Baptist Church

Historic reenactors sing an abolitionist hymn prior to the designation ceremony.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU