RACINE — The initiative to mark the historic sites of Racine’s Underground Railroad is chugging along, though the end of the tunnel is still pretty far off.
The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses established in the United States during the early- to mid-19th century and used by escaped slaves to make their way into free states and Canada.
Racine has a rich abolitionist history and accounts of smuggling escaped slaves to safety, which the Racine Heritage Museum and the Racine chapter of the Professional Women’s Network for Service have spent decades bringing to light.
Monday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission reviewed a presentation on the 10 proposed locations for the plaques or signs to commemorate the places and people that brought slaves to freedom. The Commission sent the proposal on to the City Council with a recommendation to approve.
At the meeting, Pauline Mitchell from PWNS said that after decades of work, she’s looking forward to seeing the fruits of their labor.
“We still feel passionate about our project,” she said.
The next City Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 18 at City Hall, 730 Washington Ave., room 205.
Marking the sites
A pamphlet outlining the sites on the self-guided walking/driving tour of the Roots of Freedom Underground Railroad Heritage Trail has been available at the museum since 2008. The trail includes 27 sites across the county, 10 of which are in the Downtown Racine area.
Last year the City Council approved a resolution directing city staff to work with the organizations to complete the project. The signs and plaques are to be paid for with up to $48,000 in hotel room tax funds, which are used to promote tourism.
Some of the sites include the First Presbyterian Church, which contains a crawl space where fugitive slaves were possibly hidden; the office of the Racine Advocate, an abolitionist newspaper; and the Colored Union Baptist Church, Wisconsin’s first African-American church.
Two of the sites are already marked — the Joshua Glover Plaque in Monument Square and the Dutton and Raymond Warehouse site — but they are still considered part of the larger project and could have additional signage to contextualize them with the other sites.
The proposed locations for the signs or plaques include:
- Racine Heritage Museum, 701 Main St.;
Joshua Glover Plaque in Monument Square, already marked;
First Presbyterian Church, 716 College Ave.;
Site of the Cartwright blacksmith shop: sign would be posted on sidewalk outside Robert’s Roost, 600 Sixth St.;
Utley and Birch Site: either a plaque on the Wisconsin Avenue wall of Butcher & Barrel Gastropub, 300 Sixth St., or a sign would be posted on Wisconsin Avenue outside the 500 Wisconsin Ave. office building;
Clement’s Newspaper office, a sign would be posted on the sidewalk outside CCB Technology Services, 405 Main St.;
Armour Livery Stable: a sign would be posted on Fourth Street outside the Lake Avenue parking garage, 300 Lake Ave.;
Dutton and Raymond Warehouse site: already marked on the south side of the mouth of the Root River.;
Home of Reverend Kinney, now the St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, 826 State St.: a sign could be placed on the State Street sidewalk;
And the Colored Baptist Union, now the site of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, 1120 Grand Ave: a sign could be placed on the southeast corner of the parking lot, adjacent to the sidewalk.
The Joshua Glover plaque, Dutton and Raymond site and the Racine Heritage Museum are listed on the National Park Service’s official list of Underground Railroad sites across the country. Racine Heritage Museum Director Chris Paulson said that once the other sites are marked with signs or plaques, they could also be added to the list which is promoted nationally.
The next step will be the process of designing and drafting the appropriate wording for the signs and plaques. Concurrently, a group at University of Wisconsin-Parkside is developing an app that would give visitors access to more information, images and archival materials when they visit the locations.
In addition to attracting tourists, Mayor Cory Mason said at the meeting, the markers could be even more valuable to the community.
“We’re really excited about what this could mean for the City of Racine and our heritage,” Mason said.
“That our community and visitors will learn the rich history of Racine’s involvement in the Underground Railroad.”