Significant Underground Railroad Sites in Northeastern Illinois
to be Researched and Recognized for the Network to Freedom
In 2018 and 2019, working with many local folks, we successfully added the Ton Farm, the Bebee's Grove-Crete site, and the Lockport
I & M Canal Headquarters to the national list maintained by the National Park Service's Network to Freedom.
from Larry McClellan -- September, 2023
There are close to 60 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.
Some 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 sites in Du Page County, the Sheldon Peck House in Lombard and Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College in Wheaton and the Boldgett House in Downers Grove. 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. -- this was recognized in 2022 as a NPS NTF site.
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. Just north, in what is now Roseland, was the site of the Kuyper home, at Michigan and 103rd St.
Also needed further recognition is the Underground Railroad Memorial Garden on the grounds of the First Reformed Church of South Holland, approximately two miles south of the Ton Farm. 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 1841.
5. Ottawa – Freedom Seekers and the Underground Railroad
The recently established historic marker honoring the journey of Jim Gray can be reinforced with other interpreative sites. In La Salle County, overlooking the Illinois River, the John Hassock House still stands [privately owned]. Establishing this site, or others in the center of Ottawa, would serve to further 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.
6. 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.