Keeping history alive: Wayne County’s connection to the Underground Railroad

February 20, 2018 07:23 AM

People in one local community are working hard to keep a big part of Wayne County history alive.

Thousands of people escaped slavery through New York State by relying on a network of people, places, and things known as the Underground Railroad.

Advertisement – Content Continues Below

There are a lot of clues that tell us Wayne County was a prime spot on the journey to freedom. Now the hard part for historians is piecing together a part of history that was a big secret.

Belinda McElroy and her husband Pat own Maxwell Creek Inn Bed & Breakfast on Lake Road in Sodus.

"Over the years I've collected a lot of clues that led to this possibly being a spot where the Underground Railroad took place," McElroy said.

Working alongside the Wayne County historian, McElroy recently had a marker from the New York Folklore Society placed in front of her bed and breakfast connecting it to the Underground Railroad. Inside of the cobblestone building, you can find a few clues about what happened here.

"There's a little compartment that is behind our fireplace," McElroy said. "Some of the children from the families that lived here told me stories about how they stood behind it to get an idea of what it was like for freedom seekers."

It was very common for runaway slaves to hide in small spaces, like behind fireplaces or under floor boards while they waited for transportation to their next spot on their journey to freedom.

The first owners of the home that is now Maxwell Creek Inn -- the Preston Family -- were abolitionists in the 1840s. It is difficult to trace because everything for the safety of escaped slaves and themselves was done in secret.

Marjory Perez has dedicated decades of her life to this kind of research.

"Every town in Wayne County had individuals that were anti-slavery and abolitionists and at one time assisted a freedom seeker," Perez said. "We just don't have all those facts and figures to say who did what when."

Perez was a former Wayne County historian and now she has written "Final Stop, FREEDOM," which documents the journeys of freedom seekers that traveled through Wayne County.

"Maybe it's the geography of the area that made us so important," Perez said.

Lake Ontario runaway slaves used that waterway to travel by boat to Canada where slavery was illegal.

Even though little documentation exists, this history stays alive because of people like Perez and McElroy who share the stories every chance they get.

"I think it's very important to keep this history alive to show how we have really embraced a culture and helping others...that's what's important," McElroy said.

Historians are now working on getting another marker down the road at Maxwell Settlement. It was once a vibrant community made up of free African Americans and also believed to have been a safe haven for freedom seekers.


Kaci Jones

Copyright 2018 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

Relay Media Amp

We no longer have Facebook comments on this site. Please visit our Facebook Page to join the conversation.