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Historical ties proven: Thaddeus Stevens' Lancaster home was on Underground Railroad

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NEWS RELEASE – April 7, 2011
Contact: Thomas R. Ryan, Ph.D. 717-392-4633
Sheri Jackson, Northeast Regional Manager,
National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, Philadelphia 215-597-7050
Randolph Harris 717-808-2941

Thaddeus Stevens Home and Office, Lancaster, PA designated authentic site by National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom

With additional documentation of U.S. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens’ role as a supporter of African Americans seeking freedom from slavery, the National Park Service on Wednesday in Wilmington, NC, approved the Stevens home and office at 45 South Queen Street in Lancaster as an authentic site in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program.

During the summer of 1848, Lancaster attorney Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868), at his property at 45-47 South Queen Street, assisted several freedom seekers from Maryland, guiding the group seven miles east to the next Underground Railroad outpost.

This group of some 16 men had escaped enslavement from Maryland three days before. They were being tracked by bounty hunters hired by the family from whose property they fled. At great personal and professional risk, Stevens, just weeks from entering his first campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives, gave the former slaves a note and instructions on how to get to the farm of his friends and fellow Underground Railroad operatives, Daniel and Hannah Gibbons whose farm was at the Village of Bird-In-Hand.

Historians describe the Gibbons as the most active Underground Railroad “stationmasters” in Lancaster County. By most authoritative accounts, they helped nearly 1000 freedom seekers over the years of peak operations of the Underground. During his 20-plus year residency at 45 South Queen Street, until his death in 1868, Stevens is likely to have sent many others seeking freedom to the Gibbons Farm, in addition to the group he helped on August 23, 1848.

The previous year, 1847, while he was a well-known attorney at this location, Stevens paid agents to infiltrate the ranks of slave catchers operating in Lancaster County. He thwarted their plans by alerting Underground Railroad activists before the bounty hunters arrived to capture their targets.

Also in the late 1840s and 1850s, Stevens’ Caledonia Iron Works in Franklin County, PA provided
employment and support for African Americans through the agency of his superintendent and other Underground Railroad operatives in Franklin and Adams Counties.

As Lancaster County’s U.S. Congressman, Stevens served as co-counsel to defendants charged with treason in connection with the Christiana Resistance, which occurred on September 11, 1851. This tragic incident is described in historical accounts as one of the flashpoints that led to the Civil War.

While serving as Lancaster County’s member of Congress, Stevens was an avowed Abolitionist and Constitutional scholar, playing key roles enacting major civil rights Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The “Old Commoner” was one of the prime movers of Reconstruction and the leading advocate for the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, whom he regarded as too lenient towards the rebellious South.

The Stevens Home and Office is owned by the Lancaster County Convention Center Authority and is now under lease for long-term development, preservation and use by -- Lancaster County’s Historical Society and President James Buchanan’s Wheatland.

“We are delighted by this national designation and believe it adds tremendously to our efforts to tell the Stevens story,” said Thomas R. Ryan, Ph.D., president and CEO of

The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom is the nation’s official register of sites, programs and facilities associated with the Underground Railroad. There are approximately 400 properties or programs in the Network, of which 50 are in Pennsylvania. There are seven overall Network to Freedom resources in Lancaster County and nine in the Commonwealth that are associated with Thaddeus Stevens.*

For sites to be accepted into the Network, applications for properties generally must demonstrate through at least two reliable sources that freedom seekers were given shelter or some kind of important assistance in their flight to freedom.

One of the primary goals of the program is to direct public attention and possibly support to the site owners in order to better preserve and promote the property as a heritage attraction.
Preserved as part of the Lancaster County Convention Center, the Stevens Home and Law Office and the adjacent Kleiss Tavern at 49 south Queen Street were the subject of extensive renovations over the period 2003-2009. Undertaken by the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County, Phase One was unveiled in October, 2009 with the Stevens and Smith exteriors restored to their mid-19th century appearance.

As to the site’s potential as a heritage tourism destination, Chris Barrett, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau said:“ The story of the vital role played by Thaddeus Stevens and other Lancaster County citizens in the Underground Railroad is of great interest to many travelers, and there’s no better time to tell it than as the state and nation gear up to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War over these next four years,” said Barrett.
“We’re honored and excited to further add to that story with the recognition of Congressman Stevens’ home and office as a site in the National Network to Freedom program.”

* Site, programs and facilities now in the National Park Service Network to Freedom that include direct or indirect involvement by Thaddeus Stevens

1) Thaddeus Stevens Home and Office, Lancaster, where Stevens assisted Oliver C. Gilbert and his group find shelter along the Underground Railroad in 1848.

2) McAllister’s Mill, 1.5 mile south of Gettysburg on Rock Creek, off -Baltimore Pike-Underground RR safe house and site of formation of Adams County Anti-Slavery Society (1836) in which resolutions were passed reportedly ghost-written by Stevens.

3) Bethel AME Church’s Living The Experience, an NPS content authenticated program – live performance, in which Stevens and Lydia Hamilton Smith are interpreted as key people involved in UGRR activities in Lancaster.

4) Stevens’ Grave and Memorial, Shreiner Cemetery, Lancaster, location of his famed epitaph

5) Caledonia Iron Works Monument, Caledonia State Park, Franklin County- Stevens’ managers and crews gave employment and support to freedom seekers.

6) Amtrak Line-Old Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad, Phila. to Lancaster (Stevens shown as property owner on Front Street, Columbia, directly adjacent to properties of Stephen Smith , William Whipper, Black’s Hotel, etc., all noted UGRR operatives);

7) Kaufmann’s Station, Boiling Springs, Cumberland County – Stevens defended Kaufmann in court case, citing violation of Fugitive Slave Law.

8) Pennsylvania Quest for Freedom-Lancaster County – an NPS-sanctioned program tour and related web-presence that includes sites associated with Stevens and Smith, and others.

9) Zercher’s Hotel and Underground Railroad Visitor Center, Christiana-Stevens defended those accused of treason in the Christiana Resistance.


Covering the history of African Americans in central Pennsylvania from the colonial era through the Civil War.

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