Beaver County’s Pathway to Freedom
Beaver County played a major role in the Underground Railroad. The Ohio River bordered many slave states, and served as a natural pathway for slaves to travel a harrowing journey from the South to freedom in Canada. Slaves would make their way through Hookstown and then up the Ohio River to the Beaver River where Quakers would lead them to various safe houses in Bridgewater, New Brighton, and Darlington.
In the 19th Century, New Brighton had a large population of Quakers, also known as the Society of Friends, and were the original abolitionists in the County. As early as 1774 they officially declared their opposition to slavery. Although the Quakers took an active part in the Underground Railroad, New Brighton’s Churches were also against slavery. The First Presbyterian Church of New Brighton was the first church in the town to open its door to abolitionists who traveled the country to speak on the evils of slavery. Frederick Douglass, the escaped slave, former activist, author, public speaker, and a leader of the abolitionist movement, was a frequent visitor and guest speaker.
Known Stops Along the Underground Railroad in New Brighton
1. Robert Townsend House
1612 2nd Avenue
The present J&J Spratt Funeral Home, provided sanctuary to fugitive slaves as well as easy access to and from the river via a secret room in the basement. Townsend established the Townsend Company, a wire and rivet mill, located in nearby Fallston in 1828.
2. Dr. David Stanton House
1300 3rd Avenue
The son-in-law of Robert Townsend, Stanton, served as a surgeon with the First Presbyterian Cavalry during the Civil War, attended to the medical needs of runaway slaves in his home. At the end of the war, he and his father-in-law found work and housing for returning freed slaves who had passed through New Brighton.
3. Sarah Jane (Clarke) Lippincott House
1219 3rd Avenue
Born in 1823, Lippincott, an accomplished writer, women’s rights advocate, and the first female reporter for the New York Times, lived here as a young girl until her marriage to Leander Lippincott. While spending time on the lecture circuit in the 1850’s she corresponded via letters home to abolitionist Milo Townsend. As a firm believer in the freedom of speech, she wrote and lectured about the immorality of slavery.
4. First Presbyterian Church
119 3rd Avenue
This impressive stone church’s predecessor hosted many abolitionist speakers, including Frederick Douglass, publisher of the abolitionist newspaper, The North Star.
5. David Townsend Flour Mill
Big Rock Park
Although known as the “Father of New Brighton” because he laid out the town’s street plan and was very active in the town’s development, but few of the town’s residents knew that he was also a “conductor” in the Underground Railroad. David built a flour mill along the side of the Beaver River where fugitives were harbored until a “safe house” was available. They would then be hidden in the secret false bottoms of delivery wagons under bags of flour to be taken to their next destination.
6. James Edgar House
1034 5th Avenue
The inn of James Edgar, from 1850-1870, was across from the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne, and Chicago Railroad passenger station, now the Merrick Art Gallery. Light meals were served and bedrooms available for the night. In the basement are the remains of large tunnel that is thought to have led to the train station. It is believed that Edgar, an abolitionist, would transfer the fugitives arriving by train, through the tunnel to his basement, then to his nearby livery stable and finally on to a “safe house”.
7. The Irish Townsend House
1229 7th Avenue
This home was built by Lydia Irish in 1855. She was a leader in the abolitionist movement. A conductor on the Underground Railroad and an early advocate of women’s rights. In 1863 the home was purchased by industrialist William P. Townsend and enlarged into its Italianate style. It is now the home of the New Brighton Historical Society.
8. William Penn Townsend House
1205 Penn Avenue
Following in his father’s ideology, William too was an ardent abolitionist. The third floor of his stately 1850 home contains a secret room. This area could give refuge to as many as 10 runaways at one time. From the rear of the property fugitives were brought to the house from the Beaver River via Blockhouse Run which was hidden in the trees.
1750 Valley Avenue
This cemetery, incorporated in 1859, is the final resting place of many notable New Brighton residents, including several who were involved in the Underground Railroad. Many members of the Townsend family are buried here, as well as Sarah J. Lippincott and James Howard Bruin, a freed slave who served as a sergeant in Company H of the 45th United States Colored Troops during the Civil War.
The people of Darlington were strong supporters of the abolitionist movement, as was demonstrated on January 28, 1836, when town leaders passed an anti-slavery resolution during a meeting at Greersburg Academy. The primary abolitionist force in this area was the Reverend Arthur Bullus Bradford, minister of the Darlington Reformed Presbyterian Church, whose home, Buttonwood, served as a stop for runaways on their way northward.
Many runaways passed through this area on their way to freedom. One route led from Darlington northward to Canada via Salem, Ohio or by way of New Castle, Pennsyvania. Another route ran from Blackhawk in South Beaver Township, through Cannelton (near Darlington) to Achor, Ohio and then Northwest to Canada.
Known Stops Along the Underground Railroad in Darlington
1. Darlington Reformed Presbyterian Church
140 First Street
The Darlington Reformed Presbyterian Church, formerly known as the Free Presbyterian Church, was formed in 1845 by Arthur B. Bradford and others after strong disagreements with the Presbyterian Church over the issue of slavery. The church itself was built in 1847. Following the Civil War, in 1867 they merged with the Reformed Presbyterians, who still worship here.
2. White House
235 Second Street
This nondescript home was believed to have served as a safe house after a hidden cellar was discovered.
3. Greersburg Academy
710 Market Street
Established by Reverend Thomas E. Hughes, Greersburg Academy was built in 1802 and chartered by the state legislature in 1806. The first academy west of the Alleghenies, it served as a forum for antislavery town meetings, and provided young men with advanced classes in astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy. Notable alumni include abolitionist John Brown; future Pa governor and first mayor of San Francisco, John W. Geary; textbook pioneer William McGuffey; and Civil War soldier and physician Col. Daniel Leasure. The building, which is one of the oldest in Beaver County, houses a room dedicated to the Underground Railroad and is now preserved by the Little Beaver Historical Society.
4. Martin House
121 Rohrmann Road
Built in 1805, this house served both as a stagecoach stop as well as a safe house where runaways would hide before being transported to the Bradfords or directly to Salem.
5. Sprott Wallace House
115 Wallace Road
Built in 1804, this house served as a destination for runaways, who would hide in caves and mines in the hillside behind the house. The Wallaces, a prominent Darlington family, bought the house in 1839.
6. Doutthit Tavern
321 Hollow Road
The Doutthit family operated an inn on Hollow Road between Enon and Darlington. When Rev. Bradford heard a plan to kill the Doutthits, who were known “Copperheads” or Southern sympathizers, he grabbed an old gun off his study wall and raced to the inn, where he confronted the angry mob. It wasn’t until after the men dispersed that Rev. Bradford discovered wasps had filled his gun’s barrel with mud rendering it useless.
137 Bradford Road
Built in 1840 by Rev. Arthur B. Bradford, Buttonwood served as a station on the Underground Railroad and a meeting house for abolitionists. Rev. Bradford was a founder and pastor of the Darlington Reformed Presbyterian Church. He was also a dynamic speaker who lectured throughout the country for the anti-slavery cause. Bradford’s wife and daughters provided clothes and disguises for runaways; his son transported runaways through Enon Valley and on to Salem, Ohio. In 1861, he was appointed Consul to China by President Lincoln.
8. Morris House
463 Cannelton Road
Located just west of Darlington, Johnathan Morris’ house, built in 1835 was used to hide fugitives.
Welsh Coal Mine
Exact location untold
Near Cannelton, in a coal mine belonging to abolitionist William Welsh, three runaways were suffocated when bounty hunters set the mine on fire after the fugitives refused to come out. The exact location is unknown.