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Underground Railroad Freedom Station

Galesburg Colony at Knox College

The Underground Railroad was an informal network of people who helped thousands of African-American slaves escape to freedom. Anti-slavery organizations and Underground Railroad activities were the first integrated social movements in American history.

Home of the Underground Railroad Freedom Station at Knox College
The old Knox County Jail is home of the Underground Railroad Freedom Station at Knox College.

The Underground Railroad is a general term that describes the multi-faceted system and efforts of enslaved African Americans to achieve freedom by escaping bondage before the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. In the middle west, one primary course that fugitives followed headed north, moving up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, taking freedom seekers through Western Illinois toward Lake Michigan and Canada.

Galesburg and Knox College, located in West Central Illinois, were founded in 1837 by anti-slavery advocates who came to Knox County from upstate New York. The town and College, from their inception, were perceived as most likely the leading down-state center of abolitionism and Underground Railroad activity in Illinois. Though other down-state communities could lay claim to significant anti-slavery and Underground Railroad involvement, what made Galesburg unique was the fact that the overwhelming majority of its citizens, for the first 20 years of its existence, were opposed to the institution of slavery. The anti-slavery influence and Underground Railroad involvement of many Galesburg citizens gradually affected numerous people and communities in a wide circle surrounding the college town.

Galesburg Colony Underground Railroad Freedom Station at Knox College

Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, has been designated a "Freedom Station" by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Knox joins a nationwide network of more than 60 stations, with Underground Railroad heritage, that are affiliated with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. The national center is developing a network of sites in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean, devoted to research and education about the Underground Railroad and anti-slavery movements.

The Galesburg Colony Underground Railroad Freedom Station was recognized in 2006 by the National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program. This designation recognizes the Galesburg station's program as making a significant contribution to the understanding of the Underground Railroad in American history.

Knox has created exhibits on the history of the Underground Railroad in the region and is gathering and preserving documents about the Underground Railroad.

The director of the Underground Railroad Center at Knox College is Owen W. Muelder.

The Knox College Underground Railroad Freedom Station, as viewed from Old Main, the site of the fifth Lincoln-Douglas debate.
The Knox College Underground Railroad Freedom Station, as viewed from Old Main, the site of the fifth Lincoln-Douglas debate.

Address:

Old Knox County Jail
337 S. Cherry Street
Galesburg, IL 61401

Hours:

September-May: Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
June-August: Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Closed Saturday and Sunday
Meeting with director -- by appointment only

Contact:

Owen W. Muelder, Director
309-341-7757
omuelder@knox.edu

Exhibits:

  • Informational displays about local and regional Underground Railroad activities
  • Slave block exhibit
  • Map detailing underground railroad routes in Western Illinois
  • Map detailing underground railroad sites in and around Galesburg
  • Memorial table to escaped slave Susan Richardson
  • Exhibits on Old Main and Lincoln-Douglas Debate, plus Cincinnati National Underground Railroad Freedom Center affiliation
  • Display on Galesburg Colony Underground Railroad Freedom Center news stories
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