For thousands of escaped slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Underground Railroad represented hope for a new life. This secret network of hidden, safe places relied on abolitionists and kind communities to aid runaways on their journey northward.
Believe it or not, Bucks County was home to many important stops along the railroad, from taverns and churches to privately-owned farms, many of which can still be visited today.
The rise of the heritage and ancestry travel trends has more and more people pursuing places that once defined their relatives’ lives. For Black History Month this year, celebrate your own history and culture with a trip across Bucks County to travel the Underground Railroad and view the extraordinary locations of past men and women seeking freedom.
Some places on the list include:
Continental Tavern: It is believed that the Continental Tavern (the Continental Hotel in the 1800s), the Yardley Grist Mill (a former mill that supplied sorghum and meal to Union soldiers) and Lakeside (one of the earliest homes in the area) were also stops on the Railroad that were connected by an underground tunnel system.
The Archambault House: Most recognizable for the beautiful iron grillwork on its porch, the Archambault House was a station on the Underground Railroad during the Civil War. A dentist, innkeeper, postmaster and former owner of the Brick Hotel, Joseph O. Archambault helped slaves keep moving north.
Newtown Theatre: The Newtown Theatre, the oldest continually operating movie theater in the United States, was known as Newtown Hall in the early 1850s. It was a popular location for town gatherings and anti-slavery meetings. Famous abolitionists, including Lucretia Mott and Fredrick Douglass, are noted as speaking here.
African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church: At almost 200 years old, the AME Church is the oldest African American church in Bensalem and a former Underground Railroad safe station. Robert Purvis, an abolitionist and one of the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society, rowed slaves up the Delaware River from Philadelphia to take refuge at the church and their farm in Bensalem. It is estimated that he aided some 9,000 fugitives in escaping, making him one of the single most important individuals in Bucks County associated with abolitionism. Purvis was also a key figure in enabling the fugitive slave Basil Dorsey to win his freedom in a court trial in Doylestown in the 1830s. A runaway slave from Roanoke, Virginia, Leroy Allen found sanctuary here before joining the Union Army to fight for his freedom. He later settled in Bensalem and is buried at the church.
Harriet Tubman Memorial Statue: While walking along the waterfront, don’t miss the Harriet Tubman Memorial Statue, a must-see among Bucks County’s Underground Railroad sites. Tubman dedicated her life to freedom and is perhaps one of the most well-known conductors on the Underground Railroad. She risked her life a number of times before the Civil War to guide nearly 70 slaves northward.
“Building on the Dream: From Africa to Bucks County” exhibit at the Bucks County Visitor Center: Stop in the Bucks County Visitor Center in Bensalem between Feb. 2-April 5 to see this exhibit presented by the African American Museum of Bucks County, which pays tribute to the lives, culture, accomplishments and contributions of African Americans in Bucks County, from their origins in Africa through the 21st century. Three speaker series events will also be put on, one each month.
1870 Wedgwood Inn: During the revolution, armaments were stored in the cellar of this Victorian bed and breakfast’s original structure. However, during the time of the Underground Railroad, it was used to hide people on their journey north. There is a hatch in the gazebo on the property that leads down to the underground tunnel system that people would use to get to the canal and continue on to Lumberville.
Richard Moore House: Due to the distance between stops – up to 10 miles – Richard Moore’s stone house became one of the most important stations on the Underground Railroad for slaves traveling through Bucks County. A local potter, Moore became noted for his hospitality and many were directed to his home. Former slave Henry Franklin drove the wagon that transported pottery, coal and the secret slaves under cargo, for Moore. The two helped more than 600 escaped slaves find freedom.
Visit visitbuckscounty.com/things-to-do/planning-ideas/underground-railroad/ to view the entire list of locations.