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Marker honors role in Underground Railroad

Champaign County was key corridor in slaves’ route to freedom.

The corridor along U.S. 68 in Champaign County has a long history as a former Indian trail once used by pioneers such as Simon Kenton, but a local historian hopes it will soon gain more recognition for its role in helping slaves escape to freedom.

A historical marker will be placed in Urbana this weekend to celebrate a local family that spent decades helping slaves travel north toward Lake Erie and freedom. The marker, which will describe the actions of Lewis Adams and other conductors on the Underground Railroad in Champaign County, will eventually be placed in Freedom Grove, a small park along the highway.

For Mark Evans, a descendant of Lewis Adams, the historical marker is the result of more than a year of research and fundraising. The dedication ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Melvin Miller Park, and Evans said he’s hoping a concert and other events included in the ceremony will help draw the community together. The marker will honor not just Lewis Adams, a freed slave from Kentucky, but other families throughout the county that helped slaves find their way to freedom.

“To me personally it includes everybody,” Evans said. “I think it really cuts across all cultural lines.”

Evans became interested in the story during a trip to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati in 2012. That trip, and a later visit to a historical marker in Findlay, convinced Evans that his family once played a significant role in the Underground Railroad.

With the help of Art Thomas, a family member and historian, Evans discovered that Lewis Adams used his home, farm and the St. Paul AME Church to help shelter escaped slaves. Often, slaves traveled north along an Indian trail known as Bullskin Trace, which later became U.S. 68.

Many residents know the role the Bullskin Trace played when the earliest pioneers settled the state, but its role in the Underground Railroad is rarely discussed, Thomas said.

“The Underground Railroad aspect of it is greatly underplayed,” Thomas said.

In many cases, Thomas noted slaves would travel from Urbana north to West Liberty or Bellefontaine, then further north to Findlay. Many of the records used to study Lewis Adams and his family came from the Wilbur H. Siebert Collection. Siebert was an Ohio State University professor who collected thousands of pages of records documenting the Underground Railroad throughout Ohio.

Information from the Ohio Historical Society shows there are numerous state historical markers that describe significant events and locations throughout Champaign County. At least 33 markers are currently located in Champaign County. There are about 1,400 markers spread throughout Ohio.

Sunday’s dedication will let residents know more about Lewis Adams, Thomas said, but also the role Champaign County and its residents played in the Underground Railroad.

“The family record is great,” Thomas said, “but the story of the Underground Railroad activity and the individuals involved, it’s much bigger.”

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