The Oneida County Freedom Trail Walking Tour
Features historic sites that tell the story of the Underground Railroad and the struggle for freedom in Utica, New York
The Underground Railroad was more than a route to freedom; it was a movement that transcended the lines of race and gender -- not just nationally, but here in Oneida County. The county's efforts along the freedom trail highlighted the cooperation of free and enslaved groups -- Black, white, men, women who pushed New York state and the nation one step closer to universal freedom. Visit the Oneida County History Center to see this unique exhibit about the Underground Railroad. This exhibit highlights how abolitionist sentiments emerged and grew in central New York with the Oneida Institute while also spotlighting a few of Utica's own developments in the freedom struggle, including the Utica Riot, Utica Rescue, and Post Avenue settlements.
Welcome to the Oneida County Freedom Trail walking tour. This tour was developed by the Oneida County History Center in partnership with the Oneida County Freedom Trail Commission.In eighteen thirty six, ninety eight North Genesee Street was home to the private law office of County Judge Chester Hayden, who held two enslaved men in his office awaiting their recapture to Virginia. Hayden was a known foe to local abolitionist and his office is now officially recognized as a Network to Freedom Underground Railroad Site by the National Park Service. The complex of brick buildings is also on the National Registry of Historic Buildings, and stands as the oldest row of contiguous buildings in the city of Utica.Fifteen years ago the Hayden Building was in desperate need of repair with a leaking roof, no electricity, unstable foundation, broken windows, no water or sewage. Eventually a local developer purchased it from the City of Utica and completely restored with much of the original brickwork which is beautifully preserved. Today, the plumbing and electricity remain installed, the basement and foundation are stable, there are two loft apartments, a roof top patio, and commercial space on the first floor.
In eighteen thirty six , one hundred and ten North Genesee was the site of Spencer Kellogg’s dry goods store, which was just few doors south from the Hayden Building. Spencer Kellogg was a dedicated Abolitionist and a charter member of the New York State Anti-Slavery Society who later became the mayor of Utica. The original building was only four stories tall and matched the rest of the buildings on the block. This building is listed on the National Register as part of the oldest contiguous brick structure in Utica. The site of his store is now occupied by the Genesee Tower Apartments.
Alvan Stewart’s law office was located in the building that is now the Great Rentals store. Stewart played a central role in the Utica Rescue at Judge Hayden’s Law Office after Spencer Kellogg summoned Stewart to Hayden’s office to represent the two captured freedom seekers, Harry and George. Stewart argued that the two captives were in fact free men of color, and he was prepared to defend their interests. Judge Hayden decided to resolve the issue later after work at the Oneida County Courthouse. That day-long delay was enough time for African-America residents and local abolitionists to gather in front of the building. That evening they broke into Hayden’s building and rescued the runaways.
Although the home no longer stands and it has been replaced by the Broad Street Warehouse Corporation, there is still a plaque on the building that says "Near this spot was born March sixth, seventeen ninety seven Gerrit Smith, pioneer and patriot, abolitionist." Smith was born in Utica and later moved to Peterboro in Madison County after inheriting land and money from his father. Because of his wealth, Gerrit Smith was arguably the most influential abolitionist of the entire movement.
Here stood the old Second Presbyterian Church, also referred to as the Bleecker Street Baptist Church. This is where the meeting took place that led to the formation of the first New York State Anti-Slavery Society in October of eighteen thirty-five.The building was later home to a Baptist Congregation that lasted up until eighteen eighty seven when the congregation disassembled and the building was sold. It was once home to the Utica YMCA. The building was later home to a Baptist Congregation that lasted up until eighteen eighty seven when the congregation disassembled and the building was sold. It was once home to the Utica YMCA.
In eighteen thirty six, most of Utica’s two hundred and forty Black residents lived on Post Avenue, today Post Street, just a few blocks away from Genesee Street where Hayden's and Stewart's offices stood along with Kellogg's store. Post Avenue was an active Underground Railroad Station. In the nineteenth century it was home to mostly boarding houses and taverns. The Black residents of the avenue were no strangers to the freedom struggle since slavery had been abolished in New York only nine years earlier. African American residents on the avenue understood what bondage meant as some had likely been enslaved themselves.
Although the structure of this building no longer stands, here stood William Blaikie's apothecary in nineteenth century Utica. An apothecary is synonymous with what we now call a pharmacy. Blaikie's store was more than a drug store as it was also a station on the Underground Railway. Blaikie's family was once forced evacuate their home because of threats from anti-abolitionists.