This is your first stop. While listening or reading, please look up and catch a glimpse of the clock tower across the street. It is over 100 years old and originally stood atop the Fireman’s Auditorium which was torn down in 1965. The clock was placed in storage for 34 years until it was reinstalled here in 1998. Three clock faces are on the clock above. The fourth clock face adorns a wall in the Portabellos Restaurant just a few doors from where the Firemen's Auditorium once stood.
At this stop we would like to introduce you to the Underground Railroad. What follows is a description of how the Underground Railroad worked in this area. It begins to show how successful it was here in Kennett Square and why. This was taken from an essay by Chris Densmore, KURC board member emeritus and retired curator of the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College. We are so lucky to have his understanding and insights into the UGRR.
The Landscape of Kennett and the Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad was a network. When Harriet Tubman guided freedom seekers from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to Pennsylvania, she wasn’t just following the North Star. She was heading for Thomas Garrett’s home in Wilmington, Delaware. From there, she frequently led her charges north along Route 52 to known places of refuge in Chester County. She moved from safe house to safe house through Chester County before heading toward Philadelphia, and from Philadelphia to Canada.
In the secret world of the Underground Railroad, you needed people you could trust. But, who better to trust than someone who shared not only anti-slavery convictions but Quaker connections, and who was a brother-in-law or cousin in the bargain? Quakers had particularly strong connections. Kennett, Unionville and Marlborough Friends Meetings were all part of Western Quarterly Meeting, which included most of Chester County. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting included all of Delaware, the Eastern Shore of Maryland, southeastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. This means that a Quaker who normally attended meeting in Kennett Square, probably had a good idea of what was going on among Quakers a few miles or many miles distant.
Similar connections existed in the African Union Church, founded in Wilmington, Delaware. There were member churches in Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A member of an African Union Church in Wilmington would have connections, or could easily make connections, with churches in New Garden, Kennett, Pocopson, Fallowfield and elsewhere in Chester County.
What we have in southeastern Chester County is an interconnected landscape. The houses of the area abolitionists, black and white, are part of that landscape, but so are the Quaker meeting houses, the African Union Churches and other denominations. The very roads are part of the Underground Railroad story. Next time you travel Route 52 south toward Centreville or Wilmington, remember that you are passing over the same route and through the same landscape as Harriet Tubman traveled to assist the enslaved to freedom.
Your next stop is at the corner of State and Union Streets. You won’t need to cross any busy streets, but please be careful of the traffic. Enjoy!