Aboard the Underground Railroad

Grant money to launch
Indiana Underground Railroad campaign

By Don Ward

MADISON, Ind. (November 2004) – Eleutherian College, a National Historic Landmark in Lancaster, Ind., will become one of three major hubs in a new initiative to promote the Underground Railroad history in southern Indiana. The 17-county effort received a financial boost Oct. 28 from the Indiana Department Commerce when Lt. Gov. Kathy Davis announced that the “Indiana Underground Railroad Coalition-Interpretive Centers” had been awarded a $89,600 grant to help fund the project.
The money was part of a $600,000 “Quality of Place” initiative announced by Davis to help support 11 tourism projects statewide.


Photo by Don Ward

Eleutherian College

“Tourism plays a significant role in Hoosier communities and the state’s economy,” said Davis, who leads the Indiana Department of Commerce, in which the state’s tourism department is housed. “As we raise the profile of Indiana as a travel destination, we must help communities make needed improvements and additions that contribute to their quality of life.”
The college, founded in 1848 and recognized for its part in educating and harboring free blacks in the pre-Civil War period, will join the state-owned Levi Coffin House in Fountain City, Ind., and the Carnegie Center for Art & History in New Albany as hubs on the Underground Railroad tour route, officials said.
The eight-room, Federal style brick Levi Coffin House harbored runaway slaves on their way to Canada. It was purchased in 1967 by the state and is now a National Historic Landmark. The Carnegie Center is a contemporary gallery and history museum offering many exhibits in a variety of media.
With the grant money, a coordinator can now be hired to organize and develop research into promotional literature and a driving tour to help attract people to the sites, especially those visiting the newly opened Underground Railroad Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati, said Melanie Maxwell, who wrote the grant.
Maxwell began meeting with representatives from each site, along with southern Indiana tourism directors Linda Lytle of Jefferson County, Katherine Taul of Ripley County, Susan Walters of Jennings County, plus Elbert Hinds, an Eleutherian College board member, Betsey Vonderheide, special projects administrator for the City of Madison, and others.
“This is great news for everyone involved,” said Maxwell of Greensburg, Ind. “It means we will now have the money to move forward on promoting these sites and give us a solid representation at the new Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati.”
The group has already approached Underground Railroad researcher Orloff Miller of Cincinnati to serve as the coordinator and he has agreed to do so, Maxwell said. Orloff was a consultant on the Freedom Center Museum. The group will also get research assistance from Jeannie Regan-Dinius of the Indiana DNR’s Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology.
The group had requested $92,000 in its initial grant request. The money it received will help get the project rolling but additional fund raising will be necessary to produce literature and exhibits for display at the three hub sites, Maxwell said.
Lytle agreed to have the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau serve as the financial agent for the project. She attended the grant award ceremony in New Albany.
“We’re absolutely delighted,” said Hinds. “By tying in with the Freedom Center in Cincinnati, we hope to bring even more exposure to the college.”
He said the college already had received some visitors who had learned of the site through the brochures at the museum in Cincinnati. “Things are beginning to happen and this is a great start for us.”
In addition to the Underground Railroad grant, Jefferson, Switzerland and Ohio counties will benefit from another grant of $48,750 that was announced to support the Ohio River Scenic Route of Southern Indiana to help establish and market “Hoosier Crafted” artisans.
This effort, similar to the Kentucky Crafted marketing program, will brand items made by Hoosier artisans and encompass 13 counties along the Ohio River Scenic Byway.

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