Paddlers get river view of Underground Railroad sites

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information provided by Tom Shepherd

CHICAGO, Ill. (July 24, 2022) – The Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project hosted the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association (NWIPA) for a paddling event on the Little Cal on Saturday, July 16, putting in at the boat launch at Beaubien Woods Forest Preserve on the far edge of the city of Chicago. Approximately twenty members from the NWIPA and from the Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project paddled in kayaks and canoes to accommodate Professor Larry McClellan and Tom Shepherd, lead organizer.

Underground Railroad
Professor Larry McClellan (center) greets members of the Northwest Indiana Paddling Association on Saturday, July 16, 2022. (Photo provided)

Participants said it was a perfect day for the paddle — partly cloudy and not hot. Nature sightings included a variety of birds and a Northern water snake on a log in the river.

From a canoe on the river, Prof. McClellan gave a presentation about the Underground Railroad “station” that existed at the spot that now is home to Chicago’s Finest Marina, at roughly 134th Place and St. Lawrence Avenue in this remote corner of the city. The Ton Farm Site was recently accepted to be listed on the National Park Service’s “Network to Freedom Program,” as one of only two Chicago sites that have achieved the distinguished designation.

Underground Railroad
From a canoe on the river, Prof. Larry McClellan (facing camera) gives a presentation about one of the Underground Railroad “stations.” (Photo provided)

The Ton family and other abolitionists in the region were instrumental in assisting “Freedom Seekers” — escaped slaves from southern states — who came through this area on their journeys toward liberation in the northern states and Canada.

The Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project — a 501(c)3 non-profit organization — has recently received a grant that will allow for the creation and installation of signs, markers, and other improvements that will depict the stories of both the Freedom Seekers and the local abolitionists who assisted them. “It is a remarkable, little-known bit of local history,” said Shepherd.

The organization conducts educational hikes and presentations, both on land and on the water for groups and individuals. Shepherd says the Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project was also the inspiration for the recently created African American Water Trail — the only one of its kind in the US.

More information can be found at the Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project Facebook page:

or by contacting Tom Shepherd via email:

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