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Many of the anti-slavery men banded together secretly to aid runaway slaves to escape to Canada and the land of freedom.
The slaves traveled by night and remained in hiding during the day. Some used rowboats and so for hundreds of miles left no tracks for the keen senses of blood hounds, or the more dreaded slave catcher. Some reached the land of freedom by being sent in boxes as merchandise.
When the runaway slaves reached the Ohio River and the free states beyond they found friends who hid them away by day and helped them on their way by night. Pursuers declared there must be an underground railroad somewhere, and so the name came into common use.
The "stations" of the railroad were farm homes, the farmers were the conductors as well as the engineers. The farm horses and the wagon were the train which would take the slaves to the next station.
There was a fine of $500.00 for harboring a slave or aiding in his escape so it was necessary the trains run by night. Every man who was connected with the system kept it a secret.
Such a movement began in Illinois as early as 1818.
Hiding places usually were cellars, the attic, a secret room, a haystack, or the wood pile. In Galesburg, Illinois the belfry of the church was used as a hiding place.
The first resident pastor of the Millburn Church, the Rev. Mr. William Bradford Dodge, came to the area with his family from Massachusetts in 1844. In his home town of Salem he had been the president of the First Anti-Slavery Society.
He entered heartily into all reforms as they claimed his attention, and the work of the Underground Railroad especially interested him, and had his sympathy.
He was elected president of the Anti-Slavery Society in Antioch, Illinois in 1846. (February 17).
It is known his home, about one mile south of the village of Millburn, was one of the "stations" where slaves on the road to freedom, were harbored and then sent on to some other place a little nearer the land of liberty.
Rumors have it the Payne home near Ivanhoe was a "station" south of here. The nearby cabins of Coon (Kuhn) and Heydecker were also "stations" on the way north to the land of freedom.
The huge glacier rock in Section 21, Newport Township is said to have been a landmark guiding the slaves to the Michael Coon (Kuhn) cabin 200 yards away. Another "station" farther north was in Somers, Wisconsin.
The glacier rock in Newport Township is in the field just west of the tollway, north side of Kelly Road. It measures fifteen feet by ten feet, six feet high. It is now nearly hidden by a growth of box elder trees and undergrowth. It was known that "Father" Dodge's home was a "station" on the Underground Railroad.
Some years ago when the home was torn down (by Mr. Karr then the owner) spectators saw there were two cellars with stone walls. One had been used for the storage of vegetables and fruit. The other had a small entrance from the fruit cellar, just large enough to crawl through. There were no windows and the entrance was camouflaged.
The dirt floor was still covered with straw and the walls were lined with layers of newspapers. This is supposed to be the place the slaves were hidden by day.
"Deacon" William Bonner, a neighbor of "Father" Dodge's, furnished the transportation by team of horses and wagon, by night, either from Ivanhoe to Millburn or Millburn to Somers, Wisconsin.
The morning after Mr. Bonner had been out on such a trip, it was the responsibility of his son, John, and his nephew James, to curry the horses and clean them, especially if it had been muddy. All these doings were kept as secret as possible, and done to avoid any questions. Farm horses would not be used in the fields if it were muddy and especially at night. (Picture of the rock and a picture of Jack Irving and Mrs. Bess Bower Dunn, Lake County Historian, beside the rock, Oct., 1958. (See next page.)
The glacier rock in Section 21, Newport Township (north side of Kelly Road, and a short distance west of the tollway) is 15' by 10' and 6' tall. It was said to be a guide to runaway slaves, for within two hundred yards, shelter could be found in Michael Coon's (Kuhn) cabin.