Finding Freedom along Carbondale Road: The Underground Railroad Settlement in Waverly

In the 1840’s, it is estimated that many fugitive slaves fleeing from persecution in the Southern states, began to make their way northward. Eventually, many started to
arrive in Waverly. They were welcomed primarily by many abolitionists who readily accepted them and aided them on their journey towards freedom. In this regard, the runaways were provided with shelter, food, and transportation to their next stop. Due to the comfort and solace they found in the area, many of them settled there, obtaining jobs and building properties along a street in the village named Carbondale Road. By the time the Civil War began, many additional runaways arrived with no further fear of pursuit and the total number of African-American residents in Waverly had once exceeded seventy individuals. Over time, these settlers created their own place in the region’s history and are perpetually remembered and commemorated by the community as many of the historic locations built and utilized by them remain in place today.
During the time of the Underground Railroad movement, Waverly’s Carbondale Road contained an undeveloped stretch of land, with many empty lots owned by a couple

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John Stone

named John and Esther Stone. The Stones lived along the road amongst these unoccupied pieces of land until the runaways began to arrive sometime in the 1840’s. Initially, John Stone was a Democrat who opposed abolition; however, it appears that
he eventually became sympathetic to the Underground Railroad Movement sometime after marrying Esther, the daughter of an abolitionist named Rodman Sisson. At some point, the Stones began to divide their  land into parcels which were then leased to the runaways on reasonable terms and installment plans. Stipulations included in the terms asked that the runaways maintain upkeep of the properties. Gradually, a
settlement was built as runaways built and settled into their properties. They also obtained jobs as handymen, housekeepers, and nannies in order to support themselves and integrate into the community. As word traveled along the Underground Railroad system, more fugitives arrived in Waverly with the intention of joining the emerging African-American community. Names of the settlers are listed in numerous documents including the research of local resident William Lewis and are listed as such (in no particular order) : William Johnson, Richard Lee, John Lee, John Powell, George Keys, John Riley, Edward Smith, John Sampson, Samuel McDonald, Tom Williams, Benjamin Mason, John Washington, Thomas Burgette, John Mason, William Bradley, Paige Wells, William Fogg, William Talbot, Ignatius Thomas, William Allen, and William Wilson. Over the years, many more settled down in Waverly and a full list of those names can be found in the Waverly Community House’s Visitor’s Center.

In 1854, another significant development took place in Waverly. This was the year that the African Methodist Episcopal Church was erected along Carbondale Road. The church initially organized in 1844 with approximately twenty members; during this developmental time, services were held in the Fell Schoolhouse on North Abington Road. Land for the new building was deeded to church trustees by John Stone and provided a permanent place of worship, community, and refuge for the congregation members, many of them runaways. A Sunday school was also organized in 1856 with community member Joanna Raymond serving as the superintendent. The Waverly A.M.E. Church also had a literary society as well as a library; many runaways also learned to read and write sue to its creation. In addition to holding services at the church, camp revivals were also held in the woodsy space behind the building known as Fell’s Woods. These revivals were held regularly every summer until the 1900’s and drew crowds from outside the area who came to see the singing, dancing, and preaching activity. The church thrived for many years and is presently occupied as a private residence on Carbondale Road. During the time of its operation, it stood as a symbol of hope and unity for those fleeing from a lifetime of bondage and slavery.

As time passed, residents along Waverly’s historic Carbondale Road passed away and the fugitive population declined; by the year 1920, the A.M.E. Church had gone down to six members and was later sold in 1926. The rich memory of the Underground Railroad in Waverly is not forgotten however, and many of the historic properties presently exist in the form of updated private residences reflecting notions of the past. Furthermore, the Waverly Community House’s Underground Railroad Interpretive Walking Trail Map will shortly be available to those wishing to travel back in time to see the properties of the runaways, and the abolitionists who risked their lives to help them on their journey towards freedom.

 

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