Watch CBS News

New Underground Railroad Historic Designation Hidden In Plain Sight At B&O Railroad

BALTIMORE (CBS) -- The National Park Service recently discovered something that was hidden in plain sight. A train station deep in the southwest side of Baltimore, Maryland, is now being recognized for playing a major role in the Underground Railroad, which helped dozens of enslaved men, women, and children reach freedom.

"We like to say at the B&O, that we tell the story of America because every car we're building is connected to a famous person, place, or significant event in American history," says Kris Hoellen, executive director of the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore.

That includes the steam locomotive Abraham Lincoln used to sneak into Washington for his inauguration after assassination threats, the segregated rail cars with "White Only" signs, and now, a connection to the Underground Railroad.

Hoellen says she feels a responsibility to tell the station's story. She says her team has learned the Mount Clare station was used by at least 20 confirmed freedom-seekers and likely more heading north to escape slavery.

That includes people like Henry "Box" Brown, who stowed away in a wooden container for 27 hours surviving solely on water stored in an animal bladder and a hole drilled into the box to breathe. "Here's a gentleman actually was shipped in a three-foot box, making his way from Richmond, Virginia, to Washington, D.C., all the way up to the Mount Clare station," says Kamal McClain, program director at the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

The organization recognizes nearly 700 sites in 39 states. The Mount Clare station is one of the latest designations. "It's really a plan of action on the part of the government that works to discover and rediscover many untold shared stories," McClain says.

Hoellen says it's equally important to give those stories a home. The museum was granted $200,000 to build out a permanent exhibit highlighting the journeys to freedom. "I really honestly had no idea what hallowed grounds we are on. I mean, it's truly a treasure," Hoellen says.

The B&O Railroad Museum sees more than 150,000 people a year. Hoellen says, like many other places, the museum saw a major dip in foot traffic due to the pandemic, but the downtime gave archivists more time to research the Underground Railroad discoveries. The full exhibit is expected to be open to the public in late spring.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.