Map of the “Underground Railroad” from Wilbur H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom, The Macmillan Company, 1898
For a country founded on the principles of freedom, many had to unjustly battle to gain theirs in the United States. Annie Londonderry’s cycling trip helped with the women’s suffrage movement back in 1894 and now people can cycle another “freedom trail,” The Underground Railroad.
This month the Adventure Cycling Association revealed a new map section for their 2,000-mile Underground Railroad Bicycle Route (UGRR) created five years ago. You can read the full press release here.
Running through many smaller communities in northwestern Ohio, southern Michigan, and southern Ontario, the Detroit Alternate creates a cultural heritage corridor that not only offers education and recreational opportunities for people of all ages, but also promises increased tourism to the communities along this iconic corridor.
According to Jenn Milyko, cartographer, the Detroit Alternate will create numerous options for wonderful one and two week loop rides.
Highlighted stops along the Detroit Alternate include:
- The Oberlin downtown historic district, Oberlin College, and the Oberlin Heritage Center, which showcases the abolitionist and UGRR history of the community.
- In Adrian, Michigan, visit the Lenawee County Historical Museum, which houses thousands of documents relating to the UGRR, and the Laura Haviland Statue (100 E. Church St.).
- In Detroit, cyclists can explore the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the largest museum in the world dedicated to the struggles and perseverance of African Americans, the Historical First Congregational Church, also known as The Living Museum, which offers the Underground Railroad Flight to Freedom Program Tours, a “storytelling” simulation of a slave’s journey to freedom, and the Gateway to Freedom Monument at Hart Plaza on the Detroit Riverfront, which marks the crossing of thousands of freedom seekers into Canada.
- A partner monument in Windsor, Ontario, is visible across the river. Known as the Tower of Freedom Underground Railroad Monument, this sculpture depicts the refugee’s arrival into Canada and their overwhelming emotion upon encountering freedom.
- In Chatham, Ontario, visit the First Baptist Church Chatham where American abolitionist John Brown held the last in a series of clandestine meetings to plan his “slave rebellion. At the Chatham Kent Black Historical Society you can experience a self-guided exhibit containing numerous artifacts, an audio-visual presentation, and an interactive display honoring black residents.
- Cycling on to Dresden, Ontario, you can visit the Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site/Josiah Henson House, which was the home of Rev. Josiah Henson and houses exhibits, period buildings, and an interpretive center. Rev. Henson, a fugitive slave who found freedom in Ontario in 1830 via the Underground Railroad, established the Dawn Settlement. Henson’s experiences were the reference for the title character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
- Between Sombra and Owen Sound, there are only a few historic landmarks, however cyclists can enjoy the beautiful Lake Huron waterfront for many of these miles. The historic highlights along this stretch include the Wilberforce Settlement Plaque found at the Lucan post office, which commemorates the establishment of the settlement in 1830 by a group of fugitive slaves with the assistance of Quakers from Oberlin, Ohio.
- In Owen Sound, be sure to visit the Grey Roots Museum and Archives, and its exhibit, FromSlavery to Freedom, African Canadians in Grey County. Established in 1856, the BME Church (241 11 St. W.) served the needs of former slaves arriving on the Underground Railroad and parishioners are considered the founders of the Annual Emancipation Day Celebration http://www.emancipation.ca, which is held the first weekend in August each year. In August 2012, the celebration marks its 150th Anniversary, making an attractive end-date for cyclists touring the new alternate or the main Underground Railroad route, which also terminates in Owen Sound.
NPR did an interview with a group of cyclists that completed the 2,100 miles along the Underground Railroad from Mobile, Ala., to Ontario, Canada. The tour was six weeks long and the average age of participant was sixty, proving one is never to old for adventure!
You can listen to the audio of the interview below:
There is also a nice article from the National Parks Conservation Association about a group of students making the trip.