Underground Railroad at the Cozad Bates House

Underground Railroad at the Cozad Bates House
University Circle in Cleveland Ohio
by Kevin Cronin
January 2022

Cozad-Bates House Historical Marker

Cozad-Bates House Ohio Historical Marker

Cozad-Bates House Historical Marker  - side B

While we turn to 2022, we should note the 2021 addition to the rich array of museums and learning institutions at University Circle - the Underground Railroad Interpretive Center at the Cozad Bates House. And what a welcome it has received.

In 2012, retired social worker Joan Southgate decided the best way to understand the hardship and passion of her ancestors fleeing the slavery of the south was to follow in their path, walking more than five hundred miles from Ripley, Ohio on the Ohio River near Cincinnati, to St. Catherine's in Ontario, Canada. The walk inspired the passion to preserve the Cozad Bates House (located at 11508 Mayfield Road), the only remaining pre-civil war structure in University Circle.

With the support of Cleveland City Council and Key Bank, the house was saved from demolition. University Circle, Inc. took ownership and successfully raised more than $2 million to repair, restore and repurpose the building as a Center for education and story-telling. Joan's efforts are now commemorated on the grounds of the Cozad Bates House, with the Joan Southgate Walk.

The Cozad-Bates House was built for Justus Cozad by his father Andrew. The oldest section was built in 1853 followed by additions in the 1861 and 1872. While many admire the ornate portion of the House facing Mayfield Road, that 1873 portion was uninvolved in any abolition activity. While research has not identified any specific underground railroad activity at the house, we do know that the area we now call University Circle, then called Doan's Corner or East Cleveland Township, hosted a great deal of abolition activity, with the Cozad and Ford families playing prominent roles in providing aid and safety for freedom seekers.

Cleveland's code name on the Underground Railroad was "Hope," while Port Stanley, Canada was called "Praise the Lord." While the distance from Hope to Praise the Lord was short, it was dangerous, with slave catchers on both land and Lake Erie. The Fords and Cozads were violating fugitive slave laws and risked severe penalty to help those fleeing, who risked everything.

The House enjoyed a terrific 2021, with a vibrant opening, steady attendance and a performance by members of the Cleveland Orchestra. Other University Circle institutions are joining in collaborations to enhance the story telling. The Center fills a vital role, reminding Cleveland that there was a place and time when people came together, regardless of race, religion, country of origin, wealth or class, and despite significant risk, took on the central issue of the day: ending slavery in America.

The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and designated as a Cleveland Landmark in 2006. The Center is open every Saturday, from 12-4:00pm. Please check their website due to Pandemic closings

Enjoy these photos by Kevin Cronin from an opening ceremony.

Cozad-Bates House performers

Cozad-Bates House - Finding Hope sign

Cozad-Bates House tour

Joan Southgate and Cleveland Orchestra's Franz Welser-Most at Cozad-Bates House

Joan Southgate and Cleveland Orchestra's Franz Welser-Most

Cozad-Bates House Cyrus Ford

Cyrus Ford

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