Underground Railroad, Westfield: Indiana’s Proud and Secret History
The story of the Underground Railroad in Westfield, Indiana is an ephemeral one. Due to the clandestine nature of the Underground Railroad itself, there is little concrete proof of its existence in Westfield.
Clues and rumors abound, however, and it is generally agreed upon that Westfield, founded by anti-slavery Quakers and Methodists, was indeed an important stop along the escape route.
Interestingly, only six towns in the state of Indiana have the distinction of participating in the Underground Railroad: Akron, Fountain City, Greensboro, New Albany, Orland and Westfield. State capital Indianapolis does not appear on the list.
Westfield’s Underground Railroad was part of what was known as the central route of the system, which wound through Madison, Columbus and nearby Indianapolis before going through Westfield, then wended northward.
One of Westfield’s early settlers who helped hide and care for slaves on their way to Canada was Asa Bales. Westfield now contains a park named for this humanitarian, who opened the town’s first business, a general store near Main Street.
Those who joined the Underground Railroad would provide not only safe houses but also, at times, intricate hiding places within them that were virtually invisible to scrutiny. Slaves on the run would be fed, clothed and helped on their way to freedom.
It is estimated that more than 30,000 slaves used the Underground Railroad during the period of 1810 to 1850, mostly escaping into the free states of Canada. The loosely knit escape network was a kind of resistance movement by Abolitionists. Interestingly, the safe homes and rest stops along the northward route of the Underground Railroad were referred to as “depots” or “stations.” The system even had “conductors” to guide the “passengers” along the way.
Still in good repair, the Anti-slavery Friends Cemetery was established in Westfield in 1845, during the height of the Underground Railroad’s run.
Eight historic houses in Westfield are believed to have been active “stations” on the Railroad, which ran during the 1820s and into the 1830s. Some of these stations, or “depots,” as they were also called, are still extant, greatly enriching the history of Westfield.
The Underground Railroad gave a new life to hundreds of slaves, many of whom escaped all the way to Canada, to lead productive and free lives. Westfield folks can be proud of their heritage and the part they played.
For a complete listing of all the homes that participated in Westfield’s Underground Railroad, visit the website of the Westfield Washington Historical Society.