Posted: 12:00 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2013

WAYNESVILLE

Tunnels may have helped slaves

Group researches passages beneath the village.



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Tunnels may have helped slaves photo
Waynesville residents Jeff Richards, magistrate for the Village of Waynesville Mayor’s Court, and Rod Richards, Waynesville Underground Railroad Committee member, enter a large chamber located inside a tunnel. Some believe these tunnels may have served as passage ways for escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad. CONTRIBUTED

By Lisa Knodel

Contributing Writer

WAYNESVILLE —

An old, stone-lined tunnel possibly used in the Underground Railroad has been uncovered under Waynesville.

Construction crews stumbled across the tunnel while working to replace the Main Street water main.

This newly discovered tunnel is one of a series of passages beneath the streets of the Village — tunnels that may have helped runaway slaves gain their freedom.

“We knew of several underground tunnels, but we were not aware of this one,” said Dolly McKeehan, curator of Museum at the Friends Home and a member of the Waynesville’s Underground Railroad Committee (WURC). “Years ago, people would go through the tunnels frequently.”

WURC members have talked with longtime residents in an attempt to locate the tunnels and then map them. They plan to study county maps to see which, if any, underground tunnels have been documented.

WURC is a joint effort by the Museum at the Friends Home, the Mary L. Cook Library, representatives from Harveysburg and the Caesar’s Creek Pioneer Village and interested citizens to research Waynesville’s role in the Underground Railroad movement. The Underground Railroad was the name given to the informal, early 19th century network of routes, safe houses and allies that helped guide enslaved Africans and African Americans during their escape from slavery to freedom.

The group meets monthly to compile a comprehensive history of area homes, family histories and lore and local people who were involved in the Underground Railroad. The committee has identified more than one hundred homes that were built prior to 1864 within Waynesville and the surrounding area that may have been hiding places for escaped slaves on their way north to Canada and freedom.

Last summer WURC began researching the tunnels below the village.

“The tunnel that was discovered on the north end of Main Street was not one we have researched, but the section opened is nearly identical to one in another tunnel. Both have stone walls and floors and, in some sections, have domed brick ceilings,” McKeehan explained. “The WURC group has not been able to determine who made the tunnels or when they were made, but it is obvious they are very old. As Waynesville was once a favorable stop for escaping slaves using the Underground Railroad, the WURC group is trying to determine if the tunnels were possibly used by UGRR conductors or slaves.”

McKeehan noted that the these tunnels may simply have been storm sewers, but the large size – about 3 feet high by 3.5 feet wide – seems to suggest other uses. A tunnel explored by WURC members in July 2012 along Main and Chapman streets included a chamber about 11 feet long, 4.5 feet tall and 4 feet wide.

“Any time you have part of your history that isn’t uncovered, it is important to learn more about it,” McKeehan said. “It is important to locate these tunnels and safe houses before they disappear completely.”

WURC recently applied to be recognized as part of the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. If recognized, Waynesville would be the first location to be approved in Warren County. The national program recognizes local educational programs and historical sites for their contributions to understanding the history of the Underground Railroad.

WURC meetings are held at the Mary L. Cook Library at 11 a.m. on the third Monday of the month. Contact the Museum at the Friends Home or the Library at 897-4826 for more information.

 
 

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