Western New York’s many stops toward the terminus of the Underground Railroad

Black History Month

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Built in the 1800s, the Michigan Avenue Baptist Church is located on Buffalo’s African American Heritage Corridor. It was a safe house for runaway slaves on their journey to Canada.

They would hide in a room above the sanctuary, and inside a hole in the wall on the first floor of the building.

“They packed them in like sardines, but there were no fatalities and there was no any type of outburst or signals that would alarm the bounty hunters to locate them,” said Larry Goins, a church elder.

In Niagara Falls, right where trains pull into the Amtrak Station, Harriet Tubman helped runaway slaves ride a train to freedom. She took slaves across the suspension bridge to Canada. Today, there is only one piece of the bridge still standing.

“Niagara Falls was a critical location on the underground railroad, geographically, we’re located right here on the Niagara River,” said Ally Spongr, Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Center. “The gorge is right outside the windows here of our Heritage Center and it was basically a funnel for freedom seekers escaping slavery in the south getting to freedom in Canada.

Part of that route to freedom included a safe house about 25 miles away from the train station in Niagara County. It’s the old McClew farm, located just outside of Newfane.

It’s now the site of Murphy’s Orchards, a fruit farm, but in the 1800s, it was owned and operated by abolitionist Charles McClew. McClew would hide runaway slaves inside the barn, just a few yards away from the main house.

“One of the reasons that New York becomes so prominent in Underground Railroad activity is that New York was a major slave holding state,” said Cordell Reaves, a history expert with the New York State Parks Department.

“New York, at one point, was only second to South Carolina in the amount of enslaved people that were held in bondage here. You have this huge population here, and many of them become active in assisting others after 1827.”

Another reason why New York State played a key role in the Underground Railroad is and because of the sentiment of residents who lived here.

“People in New York City remained fairly pro-slavery right up until the Civil War, but a lot of upstate is very anti-slavery there are hot beds of anti-slavery sentiment in Central New York, all through Madison County, Western New York, in the Capital Region.”

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