Delaware County Homes Revealed As Underground Railroad Safehavens
Delaware County’s historical society has identified several homes that were stations on the Underground Railroad between 1800 and 1863.
Though these are private residences now, the group presented a driving tour map and photos of 10 homes and their hiding places at The Barn at Stratford.
Ohio was a "free" state throughout the Civil War, however, runaway slaves could still be captured and returned to their owners through Ohio’s Fugitive Slave Act.
Many residents of Delaware County risked themselves and their families to house and guide the escaped slaves. They were known as conductors of the railroad, the Historical Society’s website states.
Because of the risks associated with harboring slaves, there were not many documents definitively proving which houses were involved.
The information the Delaware County Historical Society has collected was primarily pieced together through studying residual artifacts and word-of-mouth stories, executive director Donna Meyer said.
“This is something people didn’t talk about at the time,” she said. “Homeowners sure didn’t want other people to know they were hiding slaves because they could be arrested, convicted and lose everything they had.”
Other details are outlined in Quaker documents, due to the anti-slavery stance Quakers had at the time, Meyer said.
During the peak of Underground Railroad activity, homeowners would lay patterned quilts outside their houses to communicate to runaways that they would provide shelter, Meyer said.
Unfortunately, some Ohio properties on the Railroad have been lost to history, said Brent Carson, an avid lover of history and a member of the society’s board of trustees.
One house on the corner of Lewis Center Road and U.S. Route 23 harbored several slaves and protected them from snatchers, Carson said.
When the snatchers came to collect the slaves on one occasion, the homeowner held them off with enough time for the runaways to escape from the loft window, Carson said.
“So by the time the homeowner told the snatchers, ‘there are no runaways here,’ he was technically correct,” Carson said.
While that particular house is no longer standing, those that do still exist make up the historical society’s driving tour.
The locations of the remaining houses can be found on the group's website.