Significant Underground Railroad Sites in Northeastern Illinois
to be Researched and Recognized for the Network to Freedom
from Larry McClellan -- March, 2017
There are close to 50 potential Network to Freedom sites in northeastern Illinois with documentation available. NE Illinois includes Chicago and Cook County, along with Boone, McHenry and Lake Counties, De Kalb, Kane and Du Page Counties, La Salle, Kendall, Grundy, and Will Counties, and Livingston, Kankakee and northern Iroquois Counties.
Top Seven Recommended Sites:
There are multiple site possibilities across the region. However, to increase public awareness on the movement of freedom seekers and the work of radical activists, the following are suggested. Note that there are already several sites listed with the Network to Freedom including two sites in Du Page County, the Sheldon Peck House in Lombard and Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College in Wheaton. Newsome Park in Elgin is a designated site connected to a community of freedom seekers, “contrabands,” who arrived there in 1862, and to an early African American family in Elgin.
Chicago, Graceland Cemetery [on the north side of the City]. Among the key leaders of the African American community in Chicago for decades from the mid-1840s, they welcomed many freedom seekers including those traveling with John Brown in 1859. Their gravesites and stone memorial are a few steps from those of Allan Pinkerton and John’s longtime friend, Lemuel C. P. Freer.
At the south edge of Chicago, on the Little Calumet River is the site of a bridge built in 1837 by the Dolton brothers and used for the major road from Chicago to Detroit. Almost all freedom seekers traveling to Canada overland from Chicago would have used this bridge. A few blocks east of this is the farm of Jan and Antje Ton, built in 1853. The Tons, the Doltons, and their neighbors, provided assistance for freedom seekers.
Two sites could be designated: one at the extreme south edge of the City of Chicago,– at 134th and Evans. This is about 1/4 mile east of Indiana Ave. and the bridge site. The Ton Farm is roughly due south about two blocks along the Little Calumet/Cal-Sag Channel. [Near here, on the channel is the proposed site of the William Tillman Maritime Academy, a charter high school named for a maritime freedom seeker.] The second site is the Underground Railroad Memorial Garden on the grounds of the First Reformed Church of South Holland, approximately two miles south of Ton Farm and Tillman Academy site. The Garden honors the heritage of the Tons and their engagement with the Underground Railroad and the Church.
Crete, Will County – near the corner of Illinois Route 294 and Richton Road, originally known as Beebe’s Grove, this small settlement included the farm sites of the Beebes, Cushings, and Cooks. These families were deeply involved in providing assistance, perhaps to hundreds, including a visit from Caroline Quarlls in 1843, and their Congregational Church issued a strong anti-slavery resolution in 1842.
In Will County, Lockport is the location of the original I & M Canal Administration Building, built in 1837. This site would recognize the movement of freedom seekers traveling on the Canal, e.g. Henry Stevenson, in 1849, the visit of Caroline Quarlls to Lockport in 1843, the Underground Railroad activities of the Hale and Sabrina Mason family and the work of nationally famous orator Ichabod Codding, Sabrina’s brother who used Lockport as his home base.
6. Ottawa – Freedom Seekers and the Underground Railroad
In La Salle County, overlooking the Illinois River, the John Hassock House still stands [privately owned]. Establishing this site, or one in the center of Ottawa, would serve to recognize the role of Hossack and other local abolitionists in the historic “Ottawa Rescue Case” and the journeys of James Gray and others through La Salle County. In addition, Hossack and his children were at the center of a group of activists in the county providing direct assistance to freedom seekers coming overland and traveling on the Illinois River and the I & M Canal.
7. Sycamore & Somonauk -- Freedom Seekers and the
Both of these communities were settled in the 1830s in De Kalb County by strong abolitionists. Establishing these sites at the church locations would recognize freedom seeker journeys and the work of activist abolitionists connected with the Congregational Church in Sycamore and the Presbyterian Church in Somonauk.