Retracing the Underground Railroad

Rivers Institute sponsors
‘crossing’ of Ohio River

The experience is being studied
for use in heritage tourism

By Don Ward

(June 2005) – A group of students, historians and educators got a sneak preview May 21 of what could become a regular heritage tourism event to promote and interpret the Underground Railroad history of the region.

Retrofitted barge

Photo by Don Ward

This retrofitted barge was used May 21
to carrying the passengers from
Preston Plantation to Hanover Beach.

The Rivers Institute at Hanover College sponsored a day-long educational “crossing” of the Ohio River on a customized barge sent up from Jeffersonville, Ind. The barge, owned by American Commercial Barge Line, was retrofitted with carpet, new paint, and wooden benches surrounded by hand rails to ensure the safety of the passengers, said Chris Primm of ACBL. The barge was powered by the 3,800-horsepower James Nivin towboat, whose normal task is to push 15-16 loaded barges between Louisville and Pittsburgh.
The group of nearly 30 people, including several high-school-aged museum docents from the newly opened National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, gathered at Hanover College early that morning. From there, they were then taken by bus to Paul and Pam Venard’s Preston Plantation farm on the banks of the Ohio River in Trimble County, Ky. There, Hanover College professor Ted Farrell began the program by discussing the history and stories about slave traffic to freedom.
Madison resident and blues musician Johnny Jackson and Helen Ochs, director of Hanover College’s Haq Center for Cross-Cultural Education, provided soulful renditions of African American spirituals that were common during slavery. The Venards talked about life on the river and the history of their farm, which also serves as the site of their annual Civil War Re-enactment in June and another pioneer days event in the fall called “Ghost Roads Homecoming.”

Ted Farrell

Photo by Don Ward

Hanover College professor Ted Farrell
speaks to the group at Preston Plantation
in Trimble County, Ky.

Following the program at Preston Plantation, the group boarded the barge and traveled upriver to Hanover Beach. From there, they traveled to Hanover College where they had lunch. In the afternoon, they visited St. Stephen’s A.M.E. Church in Hanover, where Sue Livers explained its history. The group then traveled 13 miles to Lancaster in northern Jefferson County to visit Historic Eleutherian College, where president Jae Breitweiser spoke about the college’s history while portraying Lucy Nelson, a period figure.

Helen Ochs, Paul Venard and Johnny Jackson

Photo by Don Ward

Taking part in the program were (from left)
Helen Ochs, Paul Venard and
Johnny Jackson.

This invitation-only event was centered on the historical significance of the slaves who escaped to freedom along the secret routes along the Ohio River. Madison and Hanover played key roles in those missions in the 1860s. The program was videotaped and will be studied for refinement by Rivers Institute staff and others via focus groups through the expertise of their individual organizations, said Michelle Purvis, program coordinator for the Rivers Institute.
The Rivers Institute, created last year with a $5 million Lily Foundation grant, is dedicated to the interdisciplinary and collaborative study of rivers using the disciplines of liberal arts. Rivers has three program areas – culture, economics and science.

• Learn more on the Rivers Institute and its programs at: www.riversinstitute.org.

Back to June 2005 Articles.



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