July 30, 2014

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Reflecting Lorain’s history

Underground Railroad tribute hoped to spark interest

LORAIN — This Saturday, the city officially will have another historical landmark — this one paying homage to the abolitionists who risked their lives by helping slaves escape to Canada when they arrived at Underground Railroad station No. 100.
The dedication ceremony for a reflective garden and historical monument along the Black River Landing will begin at 9 a.m. The Cleveland Ecumenical Disciples Choir and gospel singers will perform during the ceremony.
Artifacts from the period will be on display during the dedication ceremony, including quilts that were used as signals to help escaping slaves know when the coast was clear.
“The reflective garden is a place where people can sit and think about what it means to be a citizen,” said Sylvia DuVall, president of the Lorain Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club. “Also, we wanted to commemorate Lorain’s involvement with the Underground Railway.”
DuVall spearheaded the operation, securing funding from non-profits and a small plot of land from the Lorain Port Authority. She estimates the total cost of the project will top $60,000.
Although the Port Authority supplied the land, DuVall will have to find the funding to maintain it. So far, organizations such as the Community Foundation of Greater Lorain County’s African-American Community Fund and other non-profits have chipped in, as have private donors.
“I think the garden is a perfect tie-in for the site,” said Richard Novak, executive director of the Lorain Port Authority. “We have a long history we want to honor and respect.”
The project earned an official historical marker from the state, which DuVall says will be an asset to economic development in Lorain by adding another destination point for those interested in the history of the region.
She hopes visits to the garden will spur interest in other aspects of Lorain’s past. DuVall said she wants both visitors and locals to become more passionate and informed about the industries and labor unions that fueled Lorain during its glory days.
“Lorain will rise again,” Duvall said. “We were once the seat of powerful labor movements and our quality of life was improved by the unions.”
DuVall said she has been amazed by the interest in the project.
“We have had support from the Lorain County commissioners, churches, non-profits,” Duvall said. “It spiraled. When you have an idea that is good for the community, there are no enemies.”
Contact Ben Norris at 329-7119 or bnorris@chroniclet.com.

061407history.jpgCarl Sullenberger / Chronicle
Sylvia DuVall, president of the Lorain Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club, shows off the nearly completed reflection garden Wednesday in Black River Landing in Lorain.