Discover the pivotal role Jackson played in the Underground Railroad through this self-guided walking tour in and around downtown Jackson. On this tour, participants can view sites connected to the secret network, explore the historic point of departure used by two fugitives, stand on the ground that launched an anti-slavery political revolution, and stroll through the final resting place for agents and fugitives alike.
The tour features five sites beginning with Jackson’s Amtrak Train Station (501 E. Mich. Ave.) the oldest, continuously operating, railroad-designed-and-built passenger train station in the United States. Two enslaved Americans used this railway as their “get-away vehicle” to Detroit, ultimately fleeing to nearby Canada, which had outlawed slavery. One of the fugitives, Adam Crosswhite, was the subject of one of the most famous slave cases in Michigan--and perhaps the country (Giltner v. Gorham).
Bucky Harris Park, (West Mich. Ave. and N. Jackson St.) was the site of Jackson’s first newspaper, the Jacksonburg Sentinel, founded by two Underground Railroad agents. The pleasant park, with its water fountain, offers a peaceful setting today, but in the mid-1800s the area was the site of considerable excitement since the paper’s anti-slavery editorials aroused much controversy.
First Congregational Church, (120 N. Jackson St.), across the street from Bucky Harris Park, also was founded by agents and the catalyst for several anti-slavery movements. This Romanesque Revival Church has a long history of supporting civil rights crusades and was one of the first to pass a resolution condemning slavery.
Under the Oaks Park, (W. Franklin and Second St.) represents a small slice of oak covered acreage that served as the birthplace of the Republican Party. The fledgling party, organized by several agents, was founded on anti-slavery principles. The Underground Railroad is specifically mentioned on the park’s historical markers.
Mt. Evergreen Cemetery, (1047 Greenwood Ave.), was the final resting place for seven agents and one fugitive whose trek to Jackson via the Underground Railroad is immortalized on her stone monument. The cemetery, founded in 1843, also includes a Civil War memorial and the grave sites of many soldiers.
Making this self-guided walking tour all the sweeter, several restaurants are clustered along the route, including the historic Wendy’s restaurant, 323 S. Cooper St., itself a restored freight station dating back to the mid-1800s.
Because the locations on this approximately 3-mile tour are spread out over a fairly wide area, some visitors may prefer to drive to the sites. Tabs displaying maps of the general route are available at the Experience Jackson office, 134 W. Mich. Ave. A detailed map and commentary are presented in the book, Hidden In Plain Sight, available online at booklocker.com; and at the Book Cottage, 1901 Horton Rd.
Download the Experience Jackson app. Henry “Rufus” Evans will tell you about his journey on the Underground Railroad as he takes you around downtown Jackson to visit the historical locations.
--By Linda Hass
Linda Hass is a Jackson native who enjoys bringing local history to life. Her books, Michigan’s Crossroads to Freedom and Hidden In Plain Sight, detail Jackson’s pivotal role in feeding, lodging and transporting fugitive slaves who entered this southcentral Michigan county in search of freedom.