Travel Tuesday: The Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad

Happy Tuesday! This is the second in our Travel Tuesday blog series, and right now I am writing with a 3-year-old on my lap because he wants to be a part of everything Mommy does nowadays. A couple weeks ago he got to be a part of our last Indiana history field trip and gave us a running commentary the entire trip. (We knew every time there was a McDonald’s on the side of the road for instance.)  

Ellie in front of the Levi Coffin home 

Ellie in front of the Levi Coffin home 

But that’s all part of the experience of parenthood and fostering experiences for your kids, and even if he didn’t quite understand the importance of the place where we went, he got to be a part of it and experience it in his own little way. Our destination is somewhere I have been several times and every time I go I am struck by the magnitude of what happened there – the Levi Coffin home in Fountain City, Indiana – also known as “The Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad.”

We went with our neighbors, who have become our homeschool history field trip buddies. They have a 4th grade son, and our daughter is in 2nd grade, so they enjoy experiencing these places together, and I get to have another mom along for the ride!

The Levi Coffin home was a completely different experience this time around for me, as in the last few months they opened their new Interpretative Center. There is a small museum where you can learn about the Underground Railroad in Indiana, and about slavery in the South. The thing that stood out to me the most in that room was the statue of a slave mother and her child, and the poem that went along with it, The Slave Mother by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. It brought tears to my eyes as it was read aloud. History came alive, and the love of mothers everywhere for their children.

The Interpretative Center also has a short film about Levi Coffin, his wife Catherine, and the work they did on the Underground Railroad, with several quotes from his memoir, Reminiscences. I have read the book before, but the film helped bring it to life.

But the most powerful part of the trip is still touring the house. Stepping through the door where runaway slaves came through is an experience in itself, and you can only imagine what went on in the room just inside. The phrase “if walls could talk” kept repeating in my mind as we toured the home, which was built in 1839. Levi Coffin had been an abolitionist from a young age, and the house was built with hiding runaway slaves in mind. There is an indoor well off of the basement kitchen, so they could hide how much water they were fetching, which if it were outside would tell a spy how many people were in the house. There is also a bedroom with a hidden compartment behind it where they sometimes hid up to fifteen slaves. The kids crawled inside and looked around. We heard the story of the young slave girls who were hidden between mattresses in that bedroom who couldn’t stop giggling and had to be separated by Catherine. It reminded me these were real people with real stories who lived and traveled through this house.

Over 2,000 runaway slaves went through this house. Two thousand! And Levi Coffin said as far as he knew, not one of them was caught on their way to freedom in Canada. Touring this house is an incredible way to experience history and learn about a husband and wife who risked everything and resisted the unjust laws of the land to help people in need.

The Levi Coffin home is in Fountain City, Indiana, near Richmond and can be reached easily via I-70. It is well worth the visit, but if you live too far and still want to learn about Levi Coffin, there are several books you can purchase to read with your kids. If your kids are older, I would recommend Levi’s own words in his Reminiscences. If they are younger, there is a biography in narrative called President of the Underground Railroad: A Story about Levi Coffin.

Roman, Ellie, & Micah in front of the Levi Coffin home 

Roman, Ellie, & Micah in front of the Levi Coffin home 

I’ll end with words by Levi Coffin himself, a message that extends to today.

“The dictates of humanity came in opposition to the law of the land, and we ignored the law.”

If you’d like to read last week’s Travel Tuesday, about our trip to the Jackson County History Center in Brownstown, Indiana – click here.

Have a great day, everyone, and may we study our history to be inspired to make history today.

Here are the books I recommend for further reading: