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Monday, July 17, 2017

The "The Underground Railroad And Lancaster County: Part III" Story

Entrance to the Janice Stork Park
It was an ordinary day.  Walking along the Janice Stork Northwest Corridor Linear Park in the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  The park runs about one-third of a mile diagonally from West Lemon Street, near North Arch Street, to Harrisburg Avenue.  The park was opened in 1994, but just recently a new addition of four markers known as the Signposts of Freedom were added along the trail.  These signs tell the story of what at one time was a narrow stretch of land from here to Harrisburg Avenue that carried the state's first chartered railroad.  This railroad provided a link for Lancaster to share their wealth and goods with other parts of our country.  
The trail winds through the neighborhood as well as under
the road above, much like the trains did years ago.
The 80 mile Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad brought regular passenger and freight service to Lancaster for the first time 
on April 16, 1834.  Six years later the city of York, Pennsylvania was also connected to the line.  The line extended 394 miles across the state of Pennsylvania and was designed to encourage cross-state expansion of private enterprise as well as provide citizens with a safe and convenient means of transportation.  
Along the corridor are many red roses
blooming.  The red rose is the flower
of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
As of now I haven't given you any idea as to where my story is going as far as the "Underground Railroad" is concerned.  Well, along the one-third mile corridor is one historical marker that has been placed here to inform the public of the importance of this corridor as it relates to history and the "Underground Railroad."  The four markers, or plaques, have been placed along the corridor by the African-American Historical Society of South Central Pennsylvania and are meant to tell those that walk the corridor the history of the railroad that traveled this corridor years ago.  One sign is titled "Working The Line" and tells of the 80-mile Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad being the first state-financed and constructed rail line in the U.S.  
One of the signs or plaques found along the corridor.
Cost of this project was $34,500 per mile.  Lancaster's leaders raised money so as to have the line go through the city rather than skirt the city as had been originally planned.  Two prominent Lancastrians responsible for this rail line along the Northwest Corridor were Amos Ellmaker and Henry Willis.  Mr. Ellmaker was a founding member on the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Railroad as well as a candidate for Vice President of the United States in 1832.  
Part of one of the plaques showing a railcar fitted with a secret compartment.
He was a veteran of the War of 1812 and a State Legislator and Attorney General in 1816.  Mr. Willis was a builder of the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad as well as the Allegheny Portage Railroad.  He was also a Lancaster County farmer and "Underground Railroad" activist.  Ah, Ha!  Finally, mention of the "Underground Railroad."  Another of the plaques is titled "Underground Railroad": Deep roots in Philadelphia & Columbia line.  The pictures I posted yesterday of Stephen Smith and William Whipper are also found on this plaque.  
Another photograph showing the corridor.
The story under their photos tells that this former right of way of the railroad was a critical link in the national anti-slavery movement that was a secret passage to freedom.  The passenger and freight cars that moved through the city of Lancaster were privately-owned, not state or national government owned.  That fact allowed Smith and Whipper to modify their box cars with false walls inside one end of them.  Freedom seekers were concealed behind partitions and would reach their destination in Philadelphia about eight hours after boarding in Columbia, Lancaster or York.  One other man who lived in York, Pennsylvania, businessman William C. Goodridge, used this same ingenious secret transport system in his rail cars.  Smith and Whipper were among the wealthiest African Americans in pre-Civil War America who shared their wealth in support of the cause to advance civil rights and social equality.   So, as you can see, The county of Lancaster, Pennsylvania played a huge part in the "Underground Railroad" and the passage to freedom for many Southern slaves who found their way to this northern city.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. 

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