“Of those traveling the Underground Railroad through Chicago, ‘almost all of them were on their way to Detroit and freedom in Canada,’ said Larry McClellan, the Governors State University professor emeritus and author who has devoted countless hours to researching the stories of freedom seekers and the people who helped them along the way.
‘He’s long been associated with the Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project, which helped garner state and federal recognition for the Ton Farm site, and has been invited to be part of a new Illinois Underground Railroad Task Force scheduled to convene in 2024.
“About six months ago, the Chicago Detroit Freedom Trail began to take shape. One of the main goals is to make the corridor a National Historic Trail, a designation administered by the National Park Service that would bring with it guide books, route markings and recognition.
“‘It becomes a very real route that people can follow to commemorate the journeys of freedom seekers, but also specifically be able to visit a number of sites that were visited by freedom seekers,’ McClellan said. ‘That’s the goal.’
“Already, the Ton Farm along the Calumet River and the old Congregational church in Crete, which is being converted into the Crete Historical Museum, have satisfied federal requirements to be listed on the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Other sites have enough historical ties to the Underground Railroad to qualify, McClellan said, but still need some more in-depth research before they’ll satisfy federal requirements.
“One is the starting point to the proposed National Trail, Quinn Chapel AME Church in Chicago, which McClellan called an ‘essential congregation in assisting freedom seekers in the late 1840s all the way to the Civil War.’ ‘We know a good deal about it, but someone now has to do the hard, deep research, assemble the facts, he said.” (Eisenberg, Daily Southtown, 10/1/23)
Preservation Chicago has been working closely with community partners to advance the Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project. We played an important role in the recent recogntion of the Jan and Aagje Ton Farm was the first Underground Railroad site in Chicago in September 2022. We are excited about this project and the progress that is being made.
- Landmarks: A trail that starts in Chicago could ‘connect the dots’ of a powerful episode in African American history, Paul Eisenberg, Daily Southtown, 10/1/23
- Vintage Chicago Tribune: An 1874 Chicago reunion of abolitionists hailed the heroics of the Underground Railroad, Ron Grossman, Chicago Tribune, 10/16/22
- Underground Railroad Site In Chicago Will Be Honored At Historic Dedication Ceremony Saturday; Jan and Aagje Ton Farm on the Southeast Side once provided a safe harbor to people who had been enslaved but escaped to freedom, Maia McDonald, Block Club Chicago, 9/21/22
- Historical marker unveiled during ceremony marking Underground Railroad site on Chicago’s Far South Side, Stephanie Casanova, Chicago Tribune, 9/25/22
- 7-mile water trail explores hidden history, including Chicago’s only Black-owned marina, Gaynor Hall, WGN 9, 9/1/22