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Cincinnati Parks’ Ties to the Underground Railroad

Map of Underground Railroad routes

Cincinnati Parks’ Ties to the Underground Railroad

There are historical ties to the Underground Railroad in the neighborhood surrounding Cincinnati Parks’ LaBoiteaux Woods Preserve. It’s very likely the ravines within the preserve were used by escaping slaves making their way north towards freedom. While many people today believe that once runaway slaves crossed the Ohio River, they were free. Unfortunately, things weren’t so simple. While Ohio was a free state, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 forcibly compelled citizens to assist in the capture of runaway slaves, denied slaves the right to a fair trial, and increased the penalty for interfering with the process. To make it even more dangerous, there were southern sympathizers living in Cincinnati and many controlled the toll gates and bridges.

Zebulon Strong, a noted abolitionist and stout opponent of slavery, owned property along Hamilton Avenue which neighbored the ravines in what is now LaBoiteaux Woods Preserve. Notified through secret methods, the Strong family was informed when slaves would be coming through the area. It is documented that the Strong children would leave bags of supplies in the ravine for these escaping slaves. Using code and deception the word went out that “travelers,” “parcels,” “horses,” or “guests” were coming, and the family needed to prepare for their arrival. It was against the law for anyone to assist runaways, with hefty fines, jail time, loss of property and even death as added risks. Regardless, the abolitionist community on College Hill was more than willing to assist the escapees. Through a network of teachers, laymen, clergy, and the free black community, secret messages were sent, supplies were shared, shelter was provided, and directions or transportation was given.

There is much more to learn about Underground Railroad ties to our area! Visit the Hamilton Avenue Road to Freedom website, or visit our naturalist at LaBoiteaux Woods Preserve. Although our 2019 program is sold-out, Ravine to Freedom is offered February – March and focuses on the harrowing story of the Escape of the 28, and includes a walk on trails believed to have been used by runaway slaves and other topical activities. Organized group programs may be still be scheduled by calling 513-542-2909 or emailing Lara Wardlow at lara.wardlow@cincinnati-oh.gov.