Concord Church And The Underground Railroad

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.

Memorial Day

There’s no better time than the present to remember that freedom isn’t free. I found this man in the far corner of a cemetery on Sunday. I don’t know his story but am grateful that there are still veterans organizations and volunteers who make sure that he is remembered.

Have a good day, friends. Let’s all take a moment to remember what Memorial Day is really about.

Mt Zion Church In Black And White

Saturday’s adventure was hampered by the clouds which moved in and settled over the area for much of the day.

I used the gloom to my advantage for some black and white photos at this old church.

It is no longer used and there’s a window broken out. White curtains flutter in the breeze.

This is how they protected the glass on most windows. I like it.

It has a well maintained cemetery and I recognized many names as I wandered through. Here’s another view.

You can see here that the sky was a bit moody – not great for happy adventures but nice for some dark photography!

Wonder What She’s Thinking?

In addition to churches, barns and vintage signs, I have a mild obsession with old cemeteries. This statue is in Grandview Cemetery in Portsmouth, Ohio.

I used to walk regularly in that cemetery and always looked for this statue. She’s lovely and sad, peaceful and thought provoking. There are other statues and interesting headstones but this is the most notable by my estimation.

Some people say that it’s wrong to photograph cemeteries because it’s sacred ground. But the graves are also monuments to people who someone didn’t want to be forgotten. There are people here – sons and daughters, parents, grandparents and friends – who someone wanted to remember. I say remember them. Read their names, imagine lives lived between the dashes and yes, photograph the ones that capture your attention if that’s what you want to do.

Wouldn’t you want someone to remember you?

This One Will Haunt Me

aa.JPGI like to use this space to tell happy stories. There’s so much negativity in the world that I prefer to spend my energy sharing good vibes. Today is an exception to the rule.

Unexpected free time yesterday led me out on a hike and a little drive down a country road where I found a church that will haunt me for a long time.  It’s abandoned. Falling in. Broken and probably beyond repair. To add insult to injury, I suspect there’s no one interested in stabilizing the place, much less fixing it up.

Located on a ridge top with a well tended cemetery in back, the church was once beautiful. Today there’s a padlock on the doors and plywood on the windows.

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I walked through the cemetery and then the perimeter of the church and was able to see inside a broken window from the cemetery yard. There is a beautiful old piano that I’m guessing was too heavy to move when they cleared out everything else. They left the light fixtures but took the cross – you can still see the impression on the wall.

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There are a couple of old chairs and, through the window, I could tell it still smells like church. You know what I mean? Churches always have a unique smell.

It was the saddest thing I’ve seen in a long time.

dd.JPGChurches are the heartbeat of any community, especially rural communities where there’s little else to bring people together. The sign out front says 1848 so you have to wonder what this little country church has seen, the comfort it has given and the joy that once reverberated throughout.

Children were baptized here. They grew up in the pews and maybe knelt in prayer at the altar. Couples cried tears of joy as they celebrated their nuptials on that altar. And families gathered in sorrow at the funerals of people who grew old within these walls.

A lot of living and growing and praying and dying went on here.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not criticizing whoever owns this church or whoever contributed to it ending up in this state. It is a very old building. Plus, I don’t know the circumstances and I’m not in a position to to help so criticism is inappropriate.

I’m just sad.

It makes me wonder about the fate of so many other quaint community churches that are suffering from an aging congregation and dwindling attendance. I see a lot of them in my travels. Many of them are being closed and sold so they can be reinvented as homes and businesses. Others are just abandoned.

I’ve been on the fence about repurposing churches but I have picked a side. I would much rather see a church building given a second chance at life as someone’s home than see it slowly deteriorate and suffer a fate like this.

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