included the home of Edward “King” Bennett (born c.1805), an African
American community leader and a coordinator of Underground Railroad
activity in the town. This location was nicknamed Judystown, for Judy
Richards, a community matriarch. Her daughter Mary Ann married Bennett,
who built a successful chimney sweeping business. Judystown was Harrisburg’s
first distinct African American community, and as such was probably
the first place in the town in which organized Underground Railroad
activity took place. It was the spiritual center for Harrisburg’s African
American population, housing the Wesley Union A.M.E. church, on the
southeast corner, from 1829 until it moved several blocks away in 1839
(see “Tanner’s Alley”). Bennett, found in the 1850 census, was a church
leader, listing his occupation in 1850 as “preacher.” His neighbors
in Judystown, in 1850, included George Galbraith, an ordained minister
in the A.M.E. church, and David Stevens, a young preacher who would
serve as a chaplain to African American regiments during the Civil
War. Bennett’s URR involvement has been cited by nineteenth century
historians William Henry Egle and George H. Morgan.
This site is now
occupied by the Mulberry Crossing Apartment Complex. (More)
The Tanner’s Alley
site is the only place in Harrisburg recognized by the state Historical
and Museum Commission with an Underground Railroad historical marker.
Located in the notorious Eighth Ward, a mixed-race, multicultural district
located between the capitol building and the railroad and canal, Tanner’s
Alley was the center of the neighborhood that included Short Street,
Cranberry Street, Filbert Street, Angle Alley, and South Street. So
many African Americans lived in this portion of the ward that the entire
neighborhood, seen as a distinct African American community, became
known as Tanner’s Alley.
This African American
neighborhood began to develop in the late 1830’s, and in 1839 the Wesley
Union congregation relocated to a lot at the corner of South Street
and Tanner’s Alley. From this point on, the Tanner’s Alley community
began to assume increasing importance in the provision of aid for fugitive
slaves. Another church, the Bethel A.M.E. Zion, began as a small congregation
on Short Street about 1858. They later relocated to a lot on State
Street, still within the Eighth Ward.
of Tanner’s Alley to the URR is well documented. In September 1849,
a family of fugitives was rescued from slave catchers who had brought
them to Harrisburg, and the fugitives were hidden in the homes of African
Americans on Short Street. A neighborhood watch was then set up on
Short Street to guard against raids by local authorities to recapture
the fugitives. Joseph Bustill, a Philadelphia URR activist, moved to
this neighborhood and began operations in the spring of 1856. His correspondence
during this period, with William Still, chairman of the Vigilance Committee
of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society, has been preserved and documents
his activity in receiving and forwarding fugitives along the network.
along with much of the rest of the Eighth Ward, was razed from 1912
through 1936 for the expansion of the Capital complex. Nothing remains
of this neighborhood.
of William W. Rutherford and Rudolph Kelker
(9 and 11 S. Front Street, Harrisburg)
Dr. William Wilson
Rutherford, a member of the large and actively anti-slavery Rutherfords
of Paxtang, was a physician living and practicing in Harrisburg. As
president of the Harrisburg Anti-Slavery Society, Rutherford had arranged
for Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison to visit Harrisburg
in 1847. His home, at 11 S. Front Street in Harrisburg, is generally
accepted as an URR station. Located near the end of the Market Street
bridge, Rutherford was said to shelter fugitives, who crossed the river
from Cumberland County either at that point, or at the railroad bridge
further south, in his home until they could be sent out what is present
day Derry Street to the farms owned by his relatives in Swatara Township.
Local lore says that a tunnel ran from Rutherford’s home to the riverbank,
providing covert access to and from his home for fugitives. There is
no evidence to support this claim.
a successful hardware merchant, lived at 9 S. Front Street, next door
to Dr. Rutherford. A prominent abolitionist, Kelker owned a barn at
Barbara Street and River Alley, to which he was rumored to send fugitives
who arrived at his door. The corner of River and Barbara Streets was
also the location of a small African American neighborhood that included
the home of William M. and Mary Jones, two active conductors on the
The block that included
9 and 11 S. Front Street was torn down in 1945 to build the present
day Dauphin County Courthouse. (More)
and Barbara Streets, Harrisburg
This location, where
Rudolph Kelker sent fugitives, and near the home of William and Mary
Jones, URR conductors, still exists and a portion of it may still consist
of structures from the time period of the URR. The south side of the
intersection is a modern office building, but the north side has structures
that appear to be nineteenth century structures. Unfortunately, we
don’t know the exact location of the URR sites, although historian
Howard Wert identifies the home of William Jones as “a frame building” (wood),
and no such structure still exists at this location. The older existing
structures may or may not be significant.
Family Home and Restaurant, Harrisburg
George and Marie
Chester operated an oyster house and restaurant on the north side of
Market Street near Third. Now marked with a state historical marker
for the birthplace of Thomas Morris Chester, a son of George and Marie,
the site was a gathering place for anti-slavery and abolitionist activists.
Abolitionist newspapers The North Star, The Liberator and
others could be found here. Only the obituary of David Chester, son
of George and Marie, notes Underground Railroad activity, although
it is a widely held belief that the Chester home and restaurant was
a station. After George Chester died in 1859, his wife Marie purchased
a home at 69 Chestnut Street and moved the restaurant there. It later
relocated to 305 Chestnut Street. Neither of these later locations
have been associated with URR activity.
The Market Street
location is now the site of Whitaker Center. (More)
Caton Woodville's "Politics in an Oyster House" captures
the atmosphere and intimate setting--the booth curtains could be drawn
for privacy--of this type of establishment. The Chester family
restaurant was an oyster house, the interior of which probably saw
many scenes such as the one illustrated by Woodville. Politics
and the issues of the day, particularly abolition, the Fugitive Slave
Act, recent incursions by slave catchers, and other items of interest
to its patrons, would have been passionately debated in its booths. It
is also possible that Underground Railroad activities were planned
behind drawn curtains.
Rutherford, Sr. Farm, Swatara Township
The Thomas Rutherford
family owned about 400 acres of land in present day Swatara Township
and Paxtang Borough in 1755. The original family farm was divided between
two sons, William and Samuel, upon Thomas’ death in 1804. William’s
portion was located where the Lawnford Acres Development now stands.
This original farm was one of the first URR stations operated by whites
in the area, and may have been operating as early as the first decade
of the 1800’s. A barn, built by William Rutherford in 1805, was standing
until the late 1990’s, and was a documented hiding place for fugitive
slaves in the 1840’s. William Rutherford Sr. died in 1850.
Rutherford Farm, Swatara Township
Located on the west
side of present day Derry Street, in the vicinity of 61st Street, Abner
Rutherford’s farm was used as a secondary station, when the other Rutherford
farms were being watched by slave catchers. Abner, Samuel S. and William
W. were all sons of William Rutherford Sr.
Because of the realignment
of Derry Street and the construction of the Rutherford Railroad Yards,
no traces of Abner Rutherford’s farm exist today.
W. Rutherford sent fugitives from his Front Street home to the farm
of his brother Sam, in Paxtang. They may also have traveled further
east on the turnpike (now Derry Street) to one of the other Rutherford
farms, mentioned above. Two structures from this farm are still standing
today. The mansion house, built in 1858, is visible from Interstate
83 and is owned by the County of Dauphin, which maintains it as a senior
center. The springhouse is located on Paxtang Parkway, beneath the
Interstate 83 overpass. While it is possible that slaves were sheltered
in the springhouse at one time, it is more certain that a barn, which
is no longer standing, was used instead. There are no stories or evidence
that mention the use of the mansion house as a shelter for freedom
seekers. The barn that was used was torn down when the highway was
constructed in the 1960’s.
Images of Other Sites
The structures below
are no longer in existence.
of the two main bridges into Harrisburg in the 1840s through the 1860s.
At left is the Camel Back Bridge, with the western span still intact,
and the eastern replacement span.
Both bridges were
utilized by fugitive slaves to cross into Harrisburg. (More)
Image from The Harrisburg
Board of Trade, Industrial and Commercial Resources of the City
of Harrisburg, Dauphin County, PA (Harrisburg, PA: Board of Trade, 1887)
opp p. 10.
tollhouse at the eastern end of the Market Street Bridge. The Market
Street Bridge was also known as the Camel Back Bridge, and it carried
the turnpike road from Cumberland County over the Susquehanna River
into Harrisburg. It was designed by Theodore Burr and opened in 1817.
entrance to the eastern span of the bridge, which was built in 1847
to replace the portion washed away by a flood the year before, is shown.
from Civil Club of Harrisburg, Proceedings at the Dedication of
the Market Street Entrance to the City of Harrisburg, PA (Harrisburg,
PA: Mount Pleasant Press, 1906) p. 16. (More)
for the Jones House, on Market Square in Harrisburg.
location was considered one of Harrisburg's finest hotels, and it regularly
hosted visiting Southern slave catchers, politicians, news reporters,
most famous guest was President-elect Abraham Lincoln, who stayed here
on his trip to Washington, in 1861. (More)
from Seltzer and Thome, Directory of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia:
Sherman & Co., 1869) p. 3.
Dauphin County Sites | Who's Who
in Pennsylvania UGRR