Mar 28 • 5M

Calling for Underground Railroad Stops

Official or not, I want a list of them all

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Appears in this episode

Tamela Rich
Join Tamela Rich for dispatches from all 981 miles of the Ohio River: people, places, history, culture, and more.
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I grew up in Licking County, Ohio, about 20 miles from Ye Olde Mill in Utica, which I had always been told was a stop on the Underground Railroad (URR). Today, the site is home to the Velvet Ice Cream Company, which moved its operations to the former gristmill in the 1960s after outgrowing its original location.

Sign with claim by Velvet Ice Cream Company regarding its property and the Underground Railroad
This sign documents the Velvet Ice Cream Company and Dager Family's claim that Ye Old Mill was a stop on the Underground Railroad

Cloaked in secrecy

There isn’t irrefutable evidence that the property had been a URR stop, despite anecdotal evidence. I imagine there are several disputed depots in the region, after all, secrecy was essential to its operation.

The US Department of Interior’s National Park Service commissioned a study for Congress (published in 1995), documenting Utica’s Ye Olde Mill as a stop. Of course what interests me are the sites along the Ohio River, documented here along with others north of the river. Ye Olde Mill is #52 on the map.

Map of documented "stops" on the Underground Railroad for Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, New York

Is Ashland, Kentucky, another location?

As I’ve mentioned before, I have family in Ashland, Kentucky. The last time I visited there with my great-aunt Buntin, she took me to a home that “everyone knew” had been a stop on the URR, but it does not make the official map in the National Park Service report of 1995. Known as the Culbertson House, it sits on a hill overlooking the river. Aunt Buntin said there was a long tunnel from the basement to the river where the enslaved could hide and then continue their journey across the river. It seems plausible to me.

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Screen shot of the map of Ashland where I am told a house was used for the URR
This map is from the geolocation attached to the picture of the brick house on the hill in Ashland, KY

I followed up with the executive director of Visit AK, who was interested in Aunt Buntin’s claim of the Culbertson House as part of the URR but couldn’t verify it. However, she said there’s a big project underway to discover URR sites in Kentucky.

The Lawrence County Convention and Visitors Bureau/ Lawrence County Economic Development Corporation (Ohio) has been awarded $1.5 million by the Appalachian Regional Commission to create a “regional collaboration of Underground Railroad cultural assets for coal-impacted communities with nearly 20 partners in 9 counties in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio.”

Shawnee State University’s Center for Public History has received over $210,000 of that $1.5 million grant to assist the Appalachian Underground Railroad Heritage Tourism Initiative.

That’s not the only federal agency interested in the URR. The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program was established in 1998 and has made generous grants in several states.

My request

Please tell me all the places you’ve been TOLD were part of the Underground Railroad anywhere within ten miles of the Ohio River, from Pittsburgh to Cairo. I’d love to know the stories and myths that went along with these places, and if they are being preserved for generations to come. Thanks in advance!

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