Crossing to Freedom: The Marietta Stop on the Underground Railroad

Discover the real-life history of Marietta, Ohio, the setting for Guideposts new fiction series, Secrets of Wayfarers Inn.

by - Posted on May 24, 2018

By Roseohioresident [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Guideposts’ new fiction series, Secrets of Wayfarers Inn, is set in historic Marietta, Ohio. This southern Ohio town is known as the birthplace of the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses for those escaping slavery. Because of the necessity of secrecy, it’s hard to know the exact courses and buildings that were used on the Underground Railroad, but Ohio was a free state, home to many abolitionists, and a safe haven for many.  A historic hotel now known as the Levee House buildings is believed to have been one of the “stops” on the Railroad.  

Honoring the true history of the area, the thrilling mystery series Secrets of Wayfarers Inn follows three retired best friends who find a historic hotel (inspired by the Levee House) for sale in Marietta and turn it into a bed and breakfast. When mysterious events start happening at the inn, the three friends discover secret passageways used by abolitionists and people escaping slavery and believe their new home might have been an Underground Railroad safe-haven. 

Though the Levee House is now closed for business in Marietta, the building still stands, along with another historic house believed to be a stop on the Underground Railroad named The Anchorage is still open for visitors.

Though there’s no way of knowing for sure whether specific local homes such as the Anchorage were used on the Underground Railroad, some clues in the house’s history and location explain why historians believe it was. 

Slavery was outlawed in Ohio, which is just across the river from Virginia and Kentucky, former slaveholding states. Marietta, Ohio, known as the “Riverboat Town,” is located where the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers meet—the boundary between slavery and freedom—making it a prime stop among the places offering help to enslaved people seeking freedom.  

Advertisement for runaway slaves, which appeared in the Marietta, Ohio newspaper The American Friend, on August 21, 1813.

 

Ohio, then seen as the western frontier, did not permit slavery due to a federal statute known as the Northwest Ordinance, and white settlers from New England states brought with them free black abolitionists, who had already begun assisting self-emancipated people to find freedom. The Putnams were one family that relocated to Marietta.

Douglas Putnam built the Anchorage and Douglas’s wife Eliza, an ardent abolitionist, was active in planning the design of the house. Three features in particular have convinced many historians that it was a stop on the Railroad.

The first piece of evidence of the Anchorage’s Underground Railroad involvement is a network of large tunnels in the basement leading into the surrounding hillsides; many believe they originally went as far as the riverbank, where runaway slaves from Kentucky or Virginia might enter them. Otherwise, their purpose is unknown.

The second mysterious feature is a tiny room directly beneath the kitchen in the basement. To enter the room, one would have to squeeze through a concealed opening. The space is just over five feet high and only big enough to stand or sit in. 

Finally, the mansion’s imposing tower, with windows on all sides, could be seen from both the Ohio and the Muskingum Rivers and would have provided the perfect place for a candlelight “beacon” to those seeking freedom.

Were places such as the Anchorage and the Levee House truly stops on the Underground Railroad? We might never know for certain, but it is clear that Marietta played a critical role in helping thousands of once enslaved people escape to a life of freedom and is a most interesting setting for people today to discover and honor historical struggles of the past.    

Order your copy of Secrets of Wayfarers Inn!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

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