Underground Railroad

Detroit’s trail heritage runs deeps, from the Native American footpaths that shaped our road network to today’s greenways. Also part of that heritage are the Underground Railroad routes from across the U.S. that came through Detroit during the 1800s.

Upper Canada (now Ontario) passed the Act Against Slavery law in 1793 legislated a gradual end to slavery. While it did not free existing slaves, it prohibited new slaves being brought into Upper Canada and children born to female slaves would be freed at age 25. This drew the interest of those enslaved in Southern U.S. states and helped birth the Underground Railroad as a pasageway to freedom.

Detroit became a major destination on the Underground Railroad given its proximity to Canada and its local supporters.

Of course the Underground Railroad wasn’t actually railroad. It just borrowed its terminology with stations (i.e., safe places), conductors (i.e. those helping freedom seekers move between stations), and stockholders (i.e. those who provided financial help.)

Underground Railroad Tours

We developed a local 14-mile bike tour of Detroit’s Underground Railroad sites. For years this tour has been available offered through Wheelhouse Detroit.

We’ve now made it available for free through RideWithGPS. You can use their phone app and follow the route with turn-by-turn navigation. There are 24 stops along the way, each has a marker describing this location’s significance in the Underground Railroad and struggle for freedom.

Bike rentals are available at Wheelhouse Detroit and through MoGo. Those interested in walking instead might consider doing the Elmwood Cemetery portion of the tour.

The Black Scroll Network also offers their own Underground Railroad tours.

Underground Railroad Bicycle Route

The Detroit Greenways Coalition worked with Adventure Cycling and many regional historians on a bicycle route that connects Underground Railroad historic sites.

The initial Underground Railroad Bicycle Route began in Mobile, Alabama, headed north to Ohio, then took an unfortunate turn east to enter Ontario via Buffalo. Now there’s a Detroit Alternative route. Once in Ohio, the Alternative route goes west through Adrian, Ann Arbor, Downriver and Detroit. As there is no current bicycling connection between Detroit and Windsor, the route continues north to the ferry service in Marine City.

Maps for the entire route can be purchased from Adventure Cycling.

Additional Reading

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