Thursday, September 4, 2014

Remarkable Lake County -- Civil War 150th Redux

The Civil War remains a signature moment in our country's history.  Passions still burn on both sides and the years have yet to temper the many moments that individually or collectively span that era in our history.  As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War begins to wind down, many programs specific to this celebration are coming to an end.  Ohio has had a long and well documented chapter in this story of America.  And it is therefore no surprise then that this story reaches into Lake County history.  The Civil War had many deep seeded causes but one of its best known chapters but least examined is that of the Underground Railroad and Ohio.  Ohio (1803) and Lake County (1840) were in the forefront of this piece of Civil War history.  In 1793 our neighbor to the north Canada outlawed slavery.  By the year 1860 it has been reported that nearly 30-40,000 slaves emigrated and nearly 40% of all slaves passed thru Ohio.  The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 only inflamed the hotbed that was Ohio for the previous 40 years.  Ben was the first fugitive slave saved in 1806 in Cleveland by Lorenzo Carter.  Samuel Butler, lighthouse keeper and Phineas Root of Fairport Harbor were known Lake County abolitionists.  Eber Howe, noted Painesville newspaper founder was another abolitionist.  James A. Paine, Seth Marshall, Uri Seeley and Hawley Drake stood tall in this pre-Civil War county history.  The Clarke brothers incident in Madison is yet another tale to be shared.  The Riders Inn, Unionville Tavern, Dock Road and the Fairport Harbor Lighthouse all had moments in this era.  It is widely agreed upon that no 'slave' was caught or detained in our county.

What is known in this era is that four principal routes led fugitive slaves toward Lake County.  It was a path that wound 17 miles NW from Akron, Cuyahoga Falls, Akron heading another 16 miles towards Chagrin Falls, followed by 20 more miles NE to Chardon and then 13 more miles into Painesville / Fairport Harbor.  Was the Underground Railroad directly responsible for this path towards freedom?  Was it more the fugitive slaves guiding their own destiny on this trek thru Ohio?  Herein reaffirms the premise that the UGRR is one of the best known stories from the Civil War Era but also the least examined.

A Lake Metroparks program offers a brief glimpse into this journey with a lantern tour hike at Liberty Creek later this month.  However one can navigate their own Liberty Line Legend UGRR tour by following the route below.  It spans Concord, Painesville, Painesville Twp and Fairport Harbor in Lake County and is an easy one tank trip.
  • Begin at Big Creek at Liberty Hollow 
  • Uri Seeley House, 969 Riverside Drive
  • Moodey House, 208 S. State St & 172 E. 5th St.
  • Judge Hitchcock site, 254 S. State St.
  • House Home, 311 S. State St.-Bank & State St.
  • Seth Marshall Home, 375 Bank St.
  • Mathews House, campus of Lake Erie College
  • Eber Howe's other home, corner of N. State & Jackson St.
  • Morley House, 231 N. State St.
  • Sidley House, 463 Casement
  • First Church Congregational, 22 Liberty St.
  • Fairport Harbor Lighthouse, 129 Second St.  (museum open seasonally)

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