Wayne County has always celebrated the contributions of African-American residents and abolitionists who have shaped its proudly diverse community. Now, visitors have a new way to follow in the local footsteps of these groundbreaking groups and leaders thanks to a recently launched Black History Trail. Amid 17 stops that cover historical markers, murals, museums, an early black settlement, restaurants and cemeteries, these are just a few of the highlights you won’t want to miss.
In Fountain City, the Levi and Catharine Coffin House and Interpretive Center (also known as the “Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad”) provided shelter to more than 1,000 Freedom Seekers in the decades that led up to the Civil War. These days, the Indiana State Historic Site delivers an unforgettable immersive visitor experience. Former resident William Bush, a North Carolina slave who shipped himself to Coffin in a wooden box to escape bondage, is buried in the Fountain City cemetery, the wooden shoes he once wore are on display at the Interprestive Center. To the north is Longtown, the earliest known settlement of free Blacks in Indiana/Ohio founded around 1818. Approximately 900 people populated the farming community at its height, remnants of which still exist today.
Several prominent Abolitionists like long-time Centerville resident, lawyer and U.S. Representative George Washington Julian and Quaker “Righteous Samuel Charles,” an Underground Railroad conductor whose home still stands at Glen Miller Park, made their homes in Wayne County during the first half of the 1800s. Representing the first independently Black religious denomination in America, Bishop William Paul Quinn helped to establish Richmond’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in 1836.
Gennett Records put Richmond on the musical map during its early 20th century heyday, bringing in some of the most notable jazz, blues and gospel artists of the era — Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver — to cut records in its humble recording studio. Learn all about it at the Wayne County Historical Museum’s “The Birthplace of American Recorded Music” exhibit, then stroll along the medallions that line the Gennett Records Walk of Fame in the Whitewater Valley Gorge. A soaring mural at 911 N. E St. pays tribute to Gennett artists; Delta blues guitarist Charley Patton is depicted through his own commemoration at 901 E. Main St. in downtown Richmond.
Also, in 1918 Richmond was home to the all-black Giants baseball team. Richmond hosted traveling Negro League teams who played more than 125 games at McBride Stadium and Exhibition Park.
Swing into the Historic Depot District to appreciate the “Blind Lemon” Jefferson (blues man and Gennett recording artist) mural that graces the entrance of Firehouse BBQ and Blues. And time your trip to enjoy a mouthwatering meal of ribs, chicken or fish at Black-owned C&W BBQ, a local dining landmark open Friday and Saturday evenings only.
Download a free digital pass for Wayne County’s new Black History Trail here, or stop in the Old National Road Visitors Center for a printed brochure. Check into participating locations through the digital platform to earn points that you can later redeem for prizes.