Sometimes the draw to see a place is just too strong to fight. That was the case yesterday as I had been fighting a gnawing desire all week to visit a specific site.
It’s a church and it was an important station on the Underground Railroad in my region. Yesterday wasn’t an ideal adventure day as it was overcast with threats of rain. However, I went anyway and came home with plans to return for better pictures some blue sky day.
The destination was Concord Presbyterian Church near Frankfort. Technically, it’s a few miles from Frankfort at a little place called Lattaville. The congregation dates back to 1805 and started in a log structure. In 1822, they built this brick building.
Honestly, it is a beautiful church just to look at but the knowledge of what went on here is what makes it truly special in my mind.
Reverend James H. Dickey was an active abolitionist in Ohio. He and two other families from his congregation were Underground Railroad conductors.
They hid fugitives in the church loft.
From here, escaped slaves were either taken into Frankfort or Chillicothe for the next leg of their journey.
Today the church sits at the intersection of two country roads. The church presides over passersby from atop a hill. The carefully tended cemetery is filled with older graves, trees and old fashioned flowers. The birdsong is lovely and I saw a deer in the field behind the churchyard. It’s peaceful. And yet, I had the overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t alone.
You may think I’m crazy but I think that places have life within them long after people leave the building. You’ve heard the phrase “if walls could talk.” They may not be able to speak but I think very old walls hold memories and emotions.
This place exuded feeling for me – both good and bad. I lingered, in no hurry to leave, as I tried to picture all this church has likely seen. Imagine over almost 200 years how many weddings and funerals, christenings, tragedies and celebrations this church has known. How many families have come and gone?
How many escaped slaves found refuge here? And where did they go after they left? What happened to them? Did they make it to freedom?
When I talk history, my mind always shifts to sepia or black and white:
In school, lessons about slavery, the War and the Underground Railroad erred on the side of vague and detached. It didn’t sound so bad the way most of us were taught this chapter in our history. It wasn’t until college where I minored in history that my education on the subject took a deep dive into the realities and horrors of these matters.
In recent years, I have grown to appreciate how different my experiences in this country have been as compared to those who live other places or who look different than me. With that in mind I make an effort to step inside the minds of people different than me and to better understand their experiences.
As hard as I try, there are some events in history and some peoples’ stories that I will never be able to comprehend. But I still try.
I cannot imagine the horror of being considered chattel, valued by an owner as one would value a cow or a horse. I cannot imagine being forced to live and work in conditions designed by someone else or the fear of having my own children ripped from my arms and sold.
I cannot imagine escaping, sprinting for freedom, and the constant fear of all that could go wrong or the terror of going back.
I cannot imagine the physical and emotional exhaustion that comes with such a long journey in an age before automobiles or air travel. I cannot imagine relying on strangers for help.
I cannot imagine the grief of leaving behind family and friends and the only life that you’ve ever known.
I cannot imagine the uncertainty of what the future will hold and how you will make a living if your escape is successful.
I cannot imagine allowing myself the hope that someday freedom will be mine.
Capturing fugitive slaves was a lucrative business. Attempting escape, attempting to help fugitives – this was all incredibly dangerous. What risks did this minister and his flock take to help others?
Why would anyone think that holding slaves is the right thing to do?
We act as though slavery was a long time ago but it really wasn’t.
As you can tell, this visit to Concord Church was more than just a trip to see a neat old church and the timing is no coincidence. With all that’s happening in our country, today, the reckoning that is taking place has me trying to learn as much as possible and to at least attempt to understand someone else’s view of the world.
The history buff in me says the best means for understanding today is to understand how we arrived at this place.
Wherever you are in this world, I’m guessing there are historic sites that are accessible to the public. When it’s safe, I hope that you will choose one to visit. Ask yourself what really went on at this place. Who was here? What was their life like? Don’t just look at an old place. Try to step into another time, into someone’s mind and absorb what this place really stands for and can teach you.
It’s a kind of personal growth that is tough to explain but so rewarding to experience.