"The Underground Railroad was neither underground, nor a railroad, but a system of loosely connected safe havens where those escaping the brutal conditions of slavery were sheltered, fed, clothed... and instructed during their journey to freedom." Thus begins the text born by each marker placed along the River-To-Lake Freedom Trail in Ohio to memorialize one of the most frequently-used corridors of the Underground Railroad (UGRR).
Ohio had an extensive network of trails used by anti-slavery activists, free Blacks and churches to help fugitive slaves flee from the South to Canada. Ohio had one of the most active UGRR operations in the nation; some sources estimate that 40,000 slaves escaped to freedom through Ohio.
In the year 2000, U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater bestowed a federal "Millennial Trails" designation on Ohio's network of escape routes for runaway slaves. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) took the designation one step further, designating portions of U.S. Route 23 and State Route 4-one of the most frequently used corridors on the Underground Railroad-as a commemorative highway to be known as River-To-Lake Freedom Trail.
The River-To-Lake Freedom Trail generally follows the present day alignment of U.S. 23 from the Ohio River at Portsmouth, north through central Ohio. North of Marion County, the trail follows S.R. 4 to Sandusky on the shore of Lake Erie. In 2004 and early 2005, brass markers-forged in Marietta, Ohio at the Sewah Foundry-were placed in locations of significant local importance along the trail. Each marker bears text on both sides: one side with a general statement of the UGRR's history, and the other detailing the significance of the neighboring community and the contributions of local UGRR conductors. Local historians, the Friends of Freedom Society and the State of Ohio Historic Preservation Office collaborated in the research, writing and authentication of the historic texts.