Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, September 26, 1993, pg. 1
Coming up on Sunday, October 24 at 2:00 p.m. at the Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek is the dedication of the Underground Railroad monument, which has been underwritten by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. Albionites should take note, as our own Barbara Gladney has been serving as coordinator for the project. The monument has been sculpted by Ed Dwight of Denver, Colorado. It is 28 feet long, 14 feet high, and weighs over 7 tons. Press releases have been appearing in area papers with complete details, so I encourage Albion representation at this event.
The Underground Railroad is the term applied to the practice of transporting fugitive slaves from the South into Canada and freedom during the 1830s to the 1860s. Battle Creek served as a major "hub" in the route, which followed the Michigan Central Railroad and the Old Territorial Road (C Drive North, to the North of Albion) and/or present-day Michigan Avenue.
Erastus Hussey served as the stationmaster at Battle Creek, and through his efforts, one-thousand people were secretly transported, fed, and protected under his care. Fugitives were often hidden in barns, attics, cellars, and in the woods during the daytime. Traveling was done at night. The reason the fugitive slaves had to be hid even after escaping from the South was the Fugitive Slave Law (1793, and 1850) which allowed slaves to be pursued and taken back to their slave owners. The famous Crosswhite slave case of 1847 in nearby Marshall is an example of that practice. For details, you can read about it in Richard Carverís newly published masterpiece A History of Marshall.
My purpose for writing this article, however, is to try and document Albionís participation in the Underground Railroad network. The literature on the subject specifically states that Albion was a stopping point, but the question remains: WHERE?
This is very hard to document, as no one would put in the local news column, "Weíre hiding people in our house; come and see." One very probably site in Albion was the home of David Taylor (1774-1851) and his son, Rev. Charles B. Taylor (1804-1848). The Taylorís were one of the areaís original settlers, and built their home at 1400 Jackson Road/Michigan Avenue, or old U.S.-12 (take your pick) at "Five Points" just outside the village limits, in the late 1830s.
The Taylorís owned 160 acres of land, which extended on both sides of Michigan Avenue: northwards to the future Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad line, southwards to the Kalamazoo River, and westwards to what is now Clark St. and the east city limits.
Their house was constructed with wide pine boards, and the support beams held the original bark. It is theorized that the wood was cut at Tenney Peabodyís sawmill, located in the Market Place on the site of todayís Stoffer Plaza.
Rev. Charles Taylor served as the local stationmaster and his house contained a small closet-sized room over the stairwell that was accessible only by a narrow ledge. It is surmised that this closet space was used to hide the fugitive slaves as part of the Underground Railroad.
Following the death of the Taylors, the land and large acreage were sold off to developers, the majority to Benjamin Clark, after whom Clark Street was named. The house was purchased in 1924 by George Bushong, an in the 20th century was known as the Bushong House. Unfortunately, the owners decided that the home was not worth repairing, and it was demolished in the early 1960s. The Albion Historical Society had been offered the house for use as a museum if they would move it, but the offer was turned down. And so Albionís "known" Underground Railroad site is "no more."
Octagon houses were "popular" places to hide people. Albion had several of them, but all are now razed except for one, the home of Robert Gildart at 416 E. Erie St. (It was un-octagoned many years ago). But just because it is an Octagon house, doesnít automatically mean that it was actually used in the Underground Railroad. Neither does the fact that a home may be "old" and dates back before the Civil War make it an authentic Underground Railroad site.
This writer knows of no post-Civil War interview with former participants who either went through Albion, or volunteered their houses or property for use in the Underground Railroad. Perhaps an entry in an old family diary somewhere could give some enlightenment to this topic. I have heard that perhaps the Babcock house up the hill west of the former Babcock School southwest of Albion was possibly one of the areaís sites. And of course we all know of a couple of locations in Homer, south of Albion. But why have no Underground Railroad sites been discovered, uncovered (anyone have a tunnel under their house?), or disclosed in Albion?
Perhaps the reason is that the Underground Railroad was secret, and rightfully so. The Underground Railroad did not need informants for slave owners infiltrating their ranks, nor did they need local citizens acting as informants either. The Federal Fugitive Slave Law passed by the U.S. Congress in 1850 attempted to make slave catchers of every citizen of the free states. All persons were charged with the duty of assisting in the capture of excaped slaves. It is an historical fact that there were some prominent Albion citizens who subscribed to the "Copperhead" political philosophy: Northerners who were sympathetic to the South during the Civil War.Among prominent Albionites who subscribed to that philosophy were school teacher William V. Morrision, and local hardware merchant Augustus Porter Gardner.
The Underground Railroad in Albion remains as mysterious today as it was secretive back then in the 1850s. From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of the Charles B. Taylor home before it was razed. This was perhaps Albionís only "known" stop on the Underground Railroad. Does anyone have actual documentation of others?
So when the new monument is dedicated in Battle Creek in a few weeks, we here in Albion can take pride in the fact that our community was part of the network of the Underground Railroad.
The Charles Taylor Home.
Next: PEOPLE WHO NEVER DIED
All text copyright, 2016 © all rights reserved Frank Passic