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On the Trail to Freedom: The Underground Railroad in Oberlin, OH

On the Trail to Freedom is a cultural excursion through civil rights history in Oberlin, OH.
Difficulty: Easy
Length: 3 miles
Duration: Full day
Family Friendly

Overview :  African-American Heritage in Lorain County, Ohio
Lorain County’s rich African-American heritage spans two centuries of an organized,... more »

Tips:  Wear comfortable clothing and walking shoes. Bring a camera and some spending money. Recommended places to stop for a bite to eat:... more »

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Points of Interest

1. Westwood Cemetery Tour

Here lie many of Oberlin's Faces of Change, abolitionists, former and fugitive slaves.

2. Westwood Cemetery: Mary Kellogg Gravesite

Mary Kellogg: A Louisiana slave who was willed to the wife of President James Fairchild, by her father who was a wealthy plantation owner in the South. Mary and Professor James Fairchild immediately emancipated her and she lived with them as their servant. She was 43 when she was emancipated. Her tombstone in the Westwood Cemetery reads "Born a... More

3. Westwood Cemetery: Jeremiah Fox Gravesite

Fugitive slave who took part in the rescue of the fugitive slave, John Price. He joined the Fifth United States Colored Heavy Artillery and served a year in Vicksburg. He died penniless in 1909 at age 79.

4. Westwood Cemetery: Henry Johnson Gravesite

Fugitive slave who was said to have been a servant of Andrew Jackson. He first escaped to Canada but later moved to Oberlin and assisted fugitive slaves along the Underground Railroad by serving as a decoy while the real escaping slaves left town. He lived to be around 110 years of age.

5. Westwood Cemetery: James H. Fairchild Gravesite

Student, tutor, professor, and later president of Oberlin College. Reportedly, his best-known role in the anti-slavery movement was the hiding of fugitive slave John Price in his home for three days.

6. Westwood Cemetery: Simeon Bushnell Gravesite

Oberlin clerk and printer who was known for his involvement with the Underground Railroad. HE participated in the rescue of fugitive slave John Price. He died of consumption December 8th, 1861, shortly after the trials and the death of his six year old daughter. They are buried next to each other in Westwood. The inscription on the joint monument ... More

7. Westwood Cemetery: Sabram Cox Gravesite

Born a slave, he was later released and worked with prominent abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy who published an antislavery paper. Lovejoy was eventually killed and his press tossed into a river. Cox retrieved the press. He came to Oberlin in 1839 for an education. he was an active member of the Oberlin community and served as street commissioner.

8. Westwood Cemetery: Marie DeFrance Gravesite

The only single, black woman who owned her own business at the time (it opened in 1896). Named Millinery Md. DeFrance, the shop was located at 24 South Main Street. She operated it for 35 years while living with her mother.

9. Westwood Cemetery: Henry Lee Gravesite

Born of slave parents in 1836, he escaped in 1858 by Underground Railroad. He was well known for trouble he had on several railroads while he was fighting against discrimination and for equality. In Indianapolis he was thrown from a train and beaten by three policemen. Following that, he pursued a two year lawsuit against the railroad and won... More

10. Westwood Cemetery: Reverend John Keep Gravesite

President of the Oberlin Board of Trustees in 1835 when he cast the deciding vote to allow blacks to enter the college.

11. Westwood Cemetery: Henry Evans Gravesite

Oberlin cabinetmaker and undertaker. Freeborn black, native of North Carolina. Brother of Wilson Bruce Evans. Took part in the rescue of fugitive slave John Price.

12. Westwood Cemetery: Solomon Quinn, Winifred Carter Quinn Conner Gravesite

Solomon Quinn: Born free in North Carolina in about 1836, he served a brief time in the 17th US Colored Troops during the Civil War.

Winifred Carter Quinn Conner: Born in North Carolina as a "free person of color," Winifred migrated to Ohio in the 1850s with nearly 50 members of her family. Most were property owners in the South but were driven... More

13. Westwood Cemetery: Allen Jones Gravesite

Oberlin blacksmith who purchased his and his family's freedom from slavery for a total of $5,000. He was a strong believer in education, building a freedman's school in the south that was burned out three times.

14. Westwood Cemetery: James Steele Gravesite

He was among the "Lane Rebels" who left Lane Seminary due to his anti-slavery convictions. He was one of a group of missionaries who escorted the Amistad captives back to Africa in 1841. (See Sarah Margru Kinson, #1).

15. Westwood Cemetery: Chambers Family Gravesite

Freed from bondage, the family of 16 came to Oberlin where they entrusted their manumission papers to the president of Oberlin College. Descendants of the family still live in Oberlin.

16. Westwood Cemetery: Wilson Bruce Evans Gravesite

Oberlin cabinetmaker and undertaker. Ardent abolitionist. His home is located across the street from the memorials to the rescuers and Harper's Ferry. Brother-in-law of Lewis Sheridan Leary. Served one year in the army during the Civil War. Took part in the rescue of fugitive slave John Price.

17. Westwood Cemetery: James Monroe Gravesite

James Monroe: Graduated Oberlin College in 1846, he was Oberlin's leading political abolitionist. He had a personal libert law enacted in reaction to the Fugitive Slave Law in 1856. It provided a loophole that enabled an alleged runaway slave to apply for a writ of habeas corpus, thus freeing the suspected fugitive and preventing a return to the... More

18. Westwood Cemetery: Reverend Charles Grandison Finney Gravesite

Came to Oberlin to minister to college students to "secure their sanctification." He became pastor of First Church. Although Finney believed slavery was a sin and he belonged to the Oberlin Anti-Slavery Society, he preached against controversy in the matter, believing instead that the conversion of the people would end slavery. Finney died August ... More

19. Westwood Cemetery: Giles W. Shurtleff Gravesite

Ardent abolitionist and Oberlin College graduate. Fought int he Civil War and commanded Ohio's first regiment of black troops (which was organized by John Mercer Langston). A neo-classical statue stands in front of Shurtleff cottage, his former, at 159 South Professor Street.

20. Westwood Cemetery: Lewis Clark Gravesite

His life was said to have formed the basis for the character of George Harris in the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin. He risked a daring escape from slavery and recapture by appearing as a speaker at abolitionist meetings in the free states. When he died, the governor of Kentucky ordered that the body lie in state in the city auditorium so that people... More

21. Westwood Cemetery: Reverend John Bardwell Gravesite

Reverend John Bardwell: A missionary and abolitionist. Came to Oberlin in 1843. His home is the most well-documented Oberlin Underground Railroad structure. After the Civil War, John Bardwell went south to organize schools for black freedmen. In 1866, he was seized in Mississippi and beaten by a former slave owner, backed by a white mob.

22. Westwood Cemetery: John H. Scott Gravesite

John H. Scott: Freed slave who became a harness and trunk maker in Oberlin. He took part in the rescue of fugitive slave John Price. He led the group that stormed the attic of the hovel where Price was being held. He joined the Fifth Ohio Cavalry in 1865. He became known for being a fervent temperance man and, in one instance, became incensed when... More

23. Westwood Cemetery: Henry Thomas Gravesite

Henry Thomas: Former slave who came to Oberlin and worked for the wealthy Johnson family. He is buried behind the Johnson mausoleum in Westwood.

24. Memorial to the life of Lee Howard Dobbins and all fugitive slaves who came to Oberlin

This memorial is located in the front of Westwood Cemetery. Lee Howard Dobbins was a four year old slave child who, in 1853, died in Oberlin on his way to freedom in Canada. His mother died in slavery. Before she died, she entrusted her son tot eh care of another slave woman, who treated him as her own. His adoptive mother was forced to leave him ... More

25. Underground Railroad Sculpture and Healing Garden

Just outside Talcott Hall on the Oberlin College Campus. Healing Garden includes plants representative of those used by slaves on the road to freedom.

26. First Church in Oberlin

Built in 1842, the First Church was the meeting site for the Oberlin Anti-Slavery Society and the site of the funeral for Lee Howard Dobbins, the four-year old fugitive slave buried in Oberlin.

27. Oberlin Underground Railroad Marker & Garden

Tribute to Oberlin's participation in the Underground Railroad. The garden and marker sits on the northeast corner of Main Street and Lorain Street in Oberlin. Healing garden and stone walkway. In 2009, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison visited Oberlin and dedicated a bench in the park as part of her "A Bench by the Road" project.

28. Bardwell House

Former home of missionary and abolitionist Reverend John Bardwell. Fugitive slaves hid under the eaves the house where sliding panels opened into dark passageways. The home is not open for public tours.

One of the finest college or university collections in the United States, comprising more than 12,000 works of art from virtually every culture. Important and exciting works by African and African-American artists.

30. Apollo Theatre

Mainstream, independent, foreign, and cult films.

31. Underground Railroad Quilt

Housed at the Oberlin Senior Center (Neighborhood Alliance), the quilt was completed by a group of Oberlin women in 1983, commemorating the city's sesquicentennial and Oberlin's prominent role in the Underground Railroad. The squares are based on symbols, people, events, and other items to do with the Underground Railroad.

32. Ade's Place and Alake Gallery

Oils and incense, nag champa, Afrikan masks, Afrikan antiques, textiles, tapestries, rugs, and ethnic skin care.

33. Ginko Gallery & Studio

A working fibearart studio and contemporary craft gallery.

An independent, non-profit art organization dedicated to enhancing public appreciation of and participation in the visual arts through exhibitions and related educational and community activities. FAVA presents changing exhibits of high quality artwork in a variety of styles and media.

35. Evans Home

Former home of cabinet maker Wilson Bruce Evans. Built in 1856. Evans was a prominent black leader in antebellum years. The home is a National Historic Landmark. Not open to the public.

36. Martin Luther King Jr. Park

Three monuments stand in the park. The first monument was erected for the three Oberlin men killed as a result of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Another monument pays tribute to the Wellington–Oberlin rescuers and a third is a unique monument to Martin Luther King, Jr.

37. Oberlin Underground Railroad Center-Gasholder Building

The city of Oberlin is well into the process of restoring this historic Gasholder Building structure and developing an Underground Railroad Center. The structure will serve as a visitors center and a park and ride facility serving cyclists.

Three historical homes comprise the Oberlin Heritage Center. The Monroe House is a red brick, Italianate-style house built in 1857 for General Giles W. Shurtleff, the leader of Ohio's first African-American regiment to serve in the Civil War. The home was later owned by James Monroe. 73 1/2 South Professor Street. Call for hours and admission... More

39. Rust United Methodist Church

Lorain County's first black congregation. Founded in 1872 by freedmen who had settled in Oberlin over the previous two decades as a result of the Underground Railroad. The first edifice was built by members and lasted until 1915, when the current brick structure was erected.