Journeys to the Heartland: Re-Experiencing the Iowa Underground Railroad

Imagine traveling under the cover of darkness, trying to sleep during the day, hiding from bounty hunters, hoping to find a safe haven. It was the life of runaway slaves who fled from the south, following the rivers and other roads north in the hope of gaining freedom. In the mid-1850s, two Heartland communities stopped along the Underground Railroad.

The Hitchcock House in Lewes and the Todd House in Tabora are among five Iowa monuments preserved as part of the Underground Railroad’s history. Others are the Jordan House in West Des Moines (2 hours east of Omaha), the Lewelling House in Salem (4 hours east), and the Pearson House in Keosauqua (4.5 hours east).

Using railroad jargon, the Underground Railroad was a network of shelters that provided support and shelter for escaped slaves. A few freed blacks will find their way to Canada, and the American system will help the movement.

Hitchcock House – Lewis, Iowa

Tim Trudell / The Backpackers

It took three years to build the Hitchcock House on the outskirts of Lewis, Iowa. Photo by Tim Trudell

About an hour east of Omaha, slaves fled, traveling along the Nishnabotna River. People waited for nightfall before approaching the house. A lit candle in the upstairs bedroom warned people to stay away. Most likely, the guests of the house were not supporters of the abolition of the death penalty.

Tim Trudell / The Backpackers

A lit candle in Hitchcock’s house signaled runaway slaves to stay away from the house for their safety. Photo by Tim Trudell

Once inside, the escaped slaves remained in a secret room in the basement. His entrance was covered with a black curtain and shelves, blocking out light and preventing others from seeing into the room.

About 200 former slaves have found their way into the Hitchcock House, a National Historic Landmark, located on the outskirts of Lewes, a town of about 400 people. The stone house belonged to the Reverend George B. Hitchcock and was completed in about three years. years.

properties are offered seasonally. Walking through the territory, it is easy to travel back in time and imagine what life must be like for people traveling on the Underground Railroad. Walk towards the wooded area along the river, close your eyes and be transported to the late 1850s. It will offer a new perspective on what people have gone through for their freedom.

Tim Trudell / The Backpackers

Church services were held in the living room of the Hitchcock house. Photo by Tim Trudell

Inside the Hitchcock home, the family held church services in the main room, enjoying their meals in the dining room with the kitchen to its side. The second floor contains the bedrooms used by the Hitchcock family and guests. It was believed that some African American escapees also slept in rooms when opportunity allowed.

Todd House – Tabor, Iowa

Tim Trudell / The Backpackers

The Todd House was the third building built in Tabor and housed hundreds of escaped slaves as part of the Underground Railroad. Photo by Tim Trudell

A devoted follower of the famous abolitionist John Brown, the Reverend John Todd opened his home in Tabora to travelers traveling on the Underground Railroad. The two-story house was famous for storing about 200 rifles and ammunition in the basement, which were used during the battle for the freedom of the slaves.

Tabor was founded by graduates of Oberlin College in Ohio, known as one of the first institutions of higher learning in the country to accept women of color as students. The early inhabitants of Tabor supported the abolition of the death penalty and.

The Todd House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was the third building built in Tabor. Because Todd’s family supported the Underground Railroad, the movement changed over the years, from helping a few people at a time to helping larger groups of refugees after the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, when large groups of runaway slaves were driven north.

Tours of Todd’s house are available by appointment, information found.

Escaped slaves often spent only a few hours, a day or two, at Hitchcock’s house and Todd’s house because bounty hunters were often nearby, as were sheriffs and marshals trying to arrest them.


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