The Underground Railroad at University Circle

8:26 PM, Feb 2, 2007   |    comments
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The Cozad-Bates House is the only pre-Civil War structure still standing in the University Circle area. Its historic past could now give it a future as a place of learning. Although it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places, few Clevelanders know the significance of the Cozad-Bates House. Most don't even know it exists. "Cleveland was this vibrant underground railroad station and yet many people don't know the history," explains 78-year-old Joan Southgate, founder of Restore Cleveland Hope, leading the charge to get this part of Cleveland's history told. "We certainly don't celebrate that history like Oberlin, or Springbrook or the different cities in Ohio," says Southgate. There's no documentation that the home actually harbored runaway slaves, but the Cozads who built and owned the house in the 1850's were active abolitionists. They owned other documented "safe houses" in the University Circle area. The Cozad-Bates House is the last reminder of the era when abolitionists made University Circle their home. "So that's what we're going to do," promises Southgate. "Restore the hope, restore the spirit of the underground railroad and all of that." Getting to this point has taken many twists and turns. The house, which had been owned by University Hospitals has been vacant for more than 20 years. As the building fell into disrepair the hospital considered tearing it down. But after hard fighting by historians and preservationists, U.H. last year donated it to University Circle Incorporated, which plans to turn it into a public use facility. "It was essentially a gift to the Cleveland community recognizing its history and its drive and interest in using this house for some form of public purpose," says Chris Ronayne, president of University Circle, Inc. Deanna Bremer Fisher of the Cleveland Restoration Society says the Cozad-Bates House cannot be lost. "Buildings tell a story and historic places tell a story, but in order for it to be part of our everday life we need to preserve our historic places." Joan Southgate couldn't agree more. She hopes the house will become an underground railroad learning center - a place where young and old can share in "Cleveland's story.

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