Almost everyone has heard of the Underground Railroad. But where in Pennsylvania did the routes become history? Practically right in our own backyard.
Join me as I follow a self-guided driving tour called: Riots, Rumors & Stories: The Underground Railroad Period in Pennsylvania's Heartland, produced by the Susquehanna Heartland Humanities Council.
The Underground Railroad was a means of secret ways to aid escaped slaves to traverse from the South to the North and, hopefully, to freedom in Canada or free northern states.
JUDY HAZEL/Sun-Gazette Correspondent
The current Slifer House Museum, also known as Delta Place, once was home to a canal boat builder.
JUDY HAZEL/Sun-Gazette Correspondent
A historical marker identifies the site of a stable once used as sleeping quarters for slaves.
Pennsylvania Legislature passed a law in 1780 to gradually abolish slavery. If you were a slave at that time, you could not be freed unless your owner decided to release you. Children of slaves would remain slaves until they became 28 years old.
It took until 1847 for slavery to become completely abolished in Pennsylvania.
While the South still fully participated in the ownership of slaves to work their crops and serve in their homes, those slaves seeking freedom escaped and traveled North via networks of people secretly sheltering them during the day so they could travel at night.
Discover rural heritage, activities at annual event
LEWISBURG - The Rural Heritage Days will be held at the Dale/Engle/Walker House on Aug. 15-18.
Visitors can enjoy homemade ice cream and a chicken BBQ; while listening to live music. Woodworking, masonry, metalworking and large stone moving demonstrations will be offered. Some events will be hands-on.
A walk with an architect and stonemason will be held in the evening on Aug. 16.
Visit www.unioncountyhistoricalsociety.org for a list and times of events. Some events do not occur every day.
It was illegal to do this, so secrecy was of the utmost importance. Those caught aiding in their escape were in very grave danger.
There are 11 stops on this tour, starting in Lewisburg and traveling to South Williamsport, Williamsport, Pennsdale and Muncy.
However, these stops do not have to be explored in any particular order. Here are some highlights:
Stop 1: Delta Place
Now known as the Slifer House Museum, the Delta Place location near the banks of the Susquehanna River was crucial to the movement of slaves. The Susquehanna River runs from New York to the Chesapeake Bay. Travel by canal boats or trails along the river provided a northward course to freedom.
As a young man, Eli Slifer worked as a canal boat builder. Later, with a close friend, he started a business building canal boats by the river.
Slifer, a strong abolitionist, became active in politics and served as secretary of the commonwealth during the Civil War.
Stop 3: Bucknell University
Since its beginning, Bucknell University had been supportive of abolition, which is the elimination of slavery.
Its first president resigned to support the freedom of slaves. A later president was active in the Underground Railroad and eventually his property was recognized with a historical marker.
Drive down 63 University Ave. in Lewisburg to see the marker in front of the property of George Bliss. From the street - the property is not open to the public - you can see the stable at the back of the property where slaves probably were hidden during the day.
Stop 5: Dale/Engle/Walker House
Now to trick the mind. Not everyone helped slaves escape. At the turn of the 19th century - from the late 1700s until 40 years into the 1800s - about 50 families in Union and Snyder counties owned slaves. These slave owners usually were Anglican - immigrants from the British Isles.
Two miles west of Lewisburg at 1471 Strawbridge Road, Irishman Samuel Dale bought a 303-acre "plantation" in 1789.
Four years later he finished building a Georgian-style home made of local limestone with floors of American chestnut.
Now called the Dale/Engle/Walker House because of its three owners, the farm once was a slave site.
It has been reported that the Dales owned a slave named Dinah. Because Dinah was born 1 1/2 years before Pennsylvania's gradual abolition, she was a slave for life and never was freed by her owner.
Visit the original kitchen where Dinah worked, see Dale's book collection, learn about the architecture of the house and hear stories about the Underground Railroad during house tours that occur every Sunday afternoon starting in June and continuing through October.
Outside, the wagon shed is full of period tools, carriages and farm implements.
The Dale/Engle/Walker House now is a working farm of about 137 acres.
Stop 9: Freedom Road and Cemetery
This area, renamed the Freedom Road in the 1900s, was the reported site of the Underground Railroad during the 1800s.
Daniel Hughes was living on Freedom Road, working on lumber rafts on the river, which would have made it easy for him to transport slaves. A historical marker near the cemetery recognizes the man.
For more information, seach for "Underground Railroad" at www.visitcentralpa.org.