The Underground Railroad was a journey that impacted many. And today, the impact of this pathway to freedom lives on, even in Clermont County.
Clermont County is rich with Underground Railroad sites, as many slaves traveled from the southern states through Ohio to gain freedom in the North.
The sites, which aren’t extraordinary to the human eye, are steeped in history, and they are what brought the National Underground Railroad Conference to the county June 14-18.
Guests from across the country attended the conference, which featured a multitude of speakers, educational sessions, tours, receptions and more.
“I didn’t know about the abolitionist work or the sites,” Olivia Cousins, PhD and owner of a historical site in Oberlin, Ohio said about Clermont County. “I am amazed at the breadth of the work of the abolitionist movement in Ohio.”
Cousins said the conference not only provided her with information about how to improve her site and tourism in the area, but also connected her to many people who shared a passion for preserving the Underground Railroad.
“You can have a wonderful story,” Cousins said. “But it is just a story if it’s not shared.”
Sites like Ulysses S. Grant’s birthplace in Point Pleasant and the Cranston Memorial Presbyterian Church in New Richmond, both in Clermont County, have been preserved as historical locations that are visited each year.
Local historical societies as well as the Clermont County Convention and Visitors Bureau have helped preserve the county’s sites and share the stories that go along with them. Guests at the conference were able to visit the sites on a tour June 15.
“I am very impressed,” Kathy Mackel, director of tourism for Carolina County, Md. said during the June 15 tour. “This is a lovely place for heritage tours. I have never been here and it’s great to begin this conference with a bus tour.”
The tour took guests along the Ohio River and through Clermont County June 15. In addition to Point Pleasant and New Richmond, guests took a ferry ride across the Ohio River from Higginsport to Augusta, Ky. and also visited Ripley, Ohio. They even made a stop at the Cardboard Boat Museum in New Richmond for some local flair.
For one guest, the sites on the tour recalled old memories, because his interest in the Underground Railroad began at the exact same sites years ago.
“I was exposed after taking a day trip from Cincinnati to Ripley,” Ronnie Harris, of Chicago, said about the sites in Clermont County. “I came across markers and was very interested.”
Harris investigated the sites and said he was immediately impacted by the discovery. After he arrived home he organized a group of people to return to the area so they could experience it as well.
“The Freedom Center was a taste tester,” Harris said. “To walk them along the shores of the river banks brought some of them to shakes, to sit in the church floored some of them. It was most impactful.”
Harris wishes those same experiences for other people, which is what brought him to the conference and back to the place that started it all for him.
“I think it is a calling out,” Harris said. “I don’t think you could experience this rich history in Clermont County and not be called to respond.”
Harris said the conference was life changing. He was able to re-connect with folks he met in the county years ago, learn more about how to educate others and got to connect with historians and many other people who shared a common goal and bond.
This is what organizers, like Dallas Howard, chief technology officer of the Clermont County Convention and Visitors Bureau, wanted to see.
“Building those relationship and community channels is really what this is about,” Howard said.
He said the conference went smoothly, and he received an abundance of positive feedback about how well everything was organized and about how well the county has preserved its historical sites.
“It’s an excellent opportunity,” Howard said about hosting the conference. “It validates the work our historians and researchers have done. What people are impressed with is the energy and work these people have put in.”