On his 200th birthday, we honor William Still (born October 7, 1821) and all those freedom seekers who came before us with an interactive guided hike and lunch discussion in West Fairmount Park.
The 3.5 mile loop hike will visit places of historical significance, some with connections to the Underground Railroad. Stops include: Ridgeland Mansion (c.1762) Boelsen Cottage (c.1684), Belmont Mansion (c.1742), and physical remnants of the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, which was a means of clandestine conveyance for freedom seekers in the mid-19th century.
Preview of the hike route HERE.
The walk will begin at Ridgeland Mansion's sheep barn at 9 AM and return there for a 12 PM lunchtime discussion. Boxed lunch provided by Joshua's Catering available for $15 per person.
The program is led by historic storyteller and “Conductor” Dionne (Dee) Patterson of UGR3DAY Underground Railroad Experiences Inc. Conductor Dee will lead walk participants on an interactive and immersive experience that will evoke the past by activating all of your senses to engage with the landscape. At Boelson Cottage, we'll meet Cornelia Wells, a woman who obtained her freedom and became an independent entrepreneur. At lunch, an interpreter portraying William Still will present a reading of his own words sourced directly from primary Underground Railroad records. And Conductor Dee will facilitate a group discussion and reflection on the experience of walking in the footsteps of freedom seekers.
COST: FREE! Please RSVP in the "Tickets" section of this page. First 50 registrants will receive complimentary UGR Experience "Freedom Seeker Bag" with a variety of items relating to the walk!
- $15 per person for boxed lunch (sandwich, side, dessert, & drink) from Joshua's Catering
MORE ABOUT WILLIAM STILL: William Still (1821-1902) is one of the most important yet largely unheralded individuals of the Underground Railroad. Still was chairman of the Vigilance Committee of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society who risked his life shepherding people to freedom via a complex network of abolitionists, sympathizers, and safe houses that stretched from Philadelphia north to Canada. Over the course of fourteen years, he helped nearly a thousand enslaved Africans escape bondage, which is why he’s considered the “Father of the Underground Railroad.”
In 1872, Still published the Underground Railroad, sourced from the secret notes and meticulous records of the many freedom seekers who passed through the Philadelphia "station.” The book is the only first person account of the Underground Railroad written and self-published by an African-American. It was also the only African-American achievement exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in West Fairmount Park. To this day, the book contains some of the best evidence we have of the workings of the Underground Railroad, detailing the freedom seekers who used it, including where they came from, how they escaped and the families they left behind.
MORE ABOUT THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD’S CONNECTION TO PRESENT DAY FAIRMOUNT PARK: Freedom seekers on the Underground Railroad traveled by foot, by wagon, by boat, and by train, including the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, an actual above ground railroad that passed through present day Fairmount Park. William Still coordinated with William Whipper and Stephen Smith, African-American businessmen who regularly shipped lumber from Columbia to Philadelphia. They built special boxcars with false ends to conceal freedom seekers on frieght cars of trains that carried both cargo and passengers. In 2013, the National Park Service designated the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad (now part of Amtrak's Keystone Corridor) as an official site on the "National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom." This railroad traversed the Belmont Plateau via an "inclined plane" and continued over the Schuylkill on the Columbia Bridge, terminating at Broad & Vine Streets. Some historians contend that when the city-bound trains came to a stop to be pulled down the inclined plane, this was the time and place for freedom seekers to furtively escape into the woods and farmlands of the Belmont Plateau before the Vine St. Depot, where bounty hunters awaited.