Oneida County Freedom Trail: Tour of the Underground Railroad in Utica

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UTICA, N.Y. (WUTR-TV) — During the 1830’s Oneida County played a significant role in the underground railroad. The Oneida County Freedom Trail Commission conducts tours of various locations throughout the city that were monumental during the Abolitionist Movement.

The tour starts on Bleecker Street at what used to be the Presbyterian Church. In October of 1835, 600 delegates from across the state met here to organize the New York State Anti-Slavery Society. It was soon interuppted by a crowd of Anti-Abolitionists. This went on to be called the 1835 Utica Riot.

The next stop is on post street, where most of utica’s black residents lived well into the 1900’s. A lot of underground railroad activity also took place here.

“There’s a very famous article that was published locally and then picked up by a New York newspaper about a family who came throughout here on the Underground [Railroad], as the article says. [They] found safety here on Post Street before they were given passage and helped to continue north.” – Mary Hayes Gordon, Co-Chair, The Oneida County Freedom Trail Commission

Up next is the Oneida County Courthouse where Judge Chester Hayden, a prominent figure in the Utica Rescue, worked as the county’s judge. Nearby is Devereux Street, where Wesley Bailey, the proprietor and publisher of the aboltionist liberty press, harbored freedom seekrs and produced abolitionist newspapers throughout the region. Then comes 203 Genesee Street which was William Blaikie’s home and apothecary, where he also sheltered runaway slaves despite receiving Anti-Abolitionist threats. Next is mechanics hall, which still stands today, was the civics center of the community.

“Many very famous abolitionist spoke there. Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke there, Frederick Douglass. If you’ve ever seen 12 years a slave, Solomon Northup spoke here after he was rescued.” – Mary Hayes Gordon and Jan DeAmicis, Co-Chairs, The Oneida County Freedom Trail Commission

The tour concludes on Genesee Street at what used to be Judge Hayden’s office. In December of 1836, 2 fugitive slaves from Virginia were being held there and awaiting trail. Later that night a crowd of residents broke into the building and rescued the 2 men to freedom. The National Park Service officially recognizes this as a National Underground Railroad Site.

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