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Underground Railroad walking tour in Waverly receives new designation

The Waverly Community House's Destination Freedom: The Underground Railroad Walking Tour is now part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
Waverly Community House
The Waverly Community House's Destination Freedom: The Underground Railroad Walking Tour is now part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

The Underground Railroad’s path through Waverly is once again connected to the larger network of routes enslaved African Americans traversed to escape into free states and Canada.

This March, Destination Freedom: The Underground Railroad Walking Tour became a part of the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The tour, managed by the Waverly Community House, joined 16 new listings representing sites and programs in 11 states across the country.

“We're now part of a national park service program. So that's just in and of itself is a huge benefit," said EJ Murphy, project coordinator for Destination Freedom.

In 1998, the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act created a National Park Service program to recognize Underground Railroad sites throughout the country. There are 695 locations featured in the national network.

The walking tour, which began in 2017, highlights Waverly's role in the underground railroad and features 25 stops along and off of North Abington Road in Waverly in Lackawanna County. There is also a gallery that accompanies the tour on the second floor of the Waverly Community House, also known as the Comm.

“One thing that's unique about our site is that if you look at Northeastern Pennsylvania, and then really into Central Pennsylvania, and even really kind of going down to like the Stroudsburg area ... we're really the only program that's on the map there," Murphy said.

While the tour isn’t an actual National Park Service site and will not receive regular federal funding, it does give the Comm more opportunities to apply for federal grants, Murphy said.

"If we have projects that we want to work on, let's say there's a structure or an area that we want to maybe renovate or sustain, we can apply for grants," Murphy said.

Being part of the national network also allows the Waverly tour to offer the National Park Service’s Passport Program. Visitors to National Park Sites can purchase a dark blue spiral-bound book, thicker but approximately the length and width of a United States Passport. The book splits the country into different regions and has blank spaces to stamp what the park service calls "designations" in black ink. The stamp marks the date and name of the National Park Service sites visited. Murphy stamped his first passport last weekend.

Offering the program is a draw for National Park enthusiasts.

Those who take the tour walk away with a different perspective on local history, he said.

“When I think about history in Northeastern Pennsylvania, we tend to think about … coal and trains and iron and stuff like that, which is an amazing and fascinating history," he said.

The Underground Railroad's history in the region is often under told but just as important.

"I think that's an important thing to do is to bring these stories of these communities, a lot of people didn't even know we're here," he said.

Census numbers from the 1850s and 1860s show that Waverly actually had a larger African American population than Scranton did at the time, Murphy said.

“And people have no idea about that. So I think being able to tell that story, being able to connect some of the different places in Northeastern Pennsylvania that have similar stories is a really important, really important thing for us to do," he said.

The tour also highlights the African American soldiers from Waverly who fought during the Civil War and discusses the complicated local political situation during that time.

Murphy said the Comm is currently looking to create an app for the walking tour and hopes to collaborate with the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton.

"There is room for growth and expansion in terms of connecting Northeastern Pennsylvania to not just this program, but ... the same era of history that we look at here.”

Beginning July 5, the gallery will be open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday to Friday. The Comm will also offer a weekly walking tour from 2 to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays. Tours are self guided or available by appointment by contacting the Comm Office at 570-586-8191 or Murphy at ejmurphy@waverlycomm.org.

Visit www.waverlywalkingtours.com for more details or view WVIA's Short Take on the history of the Underground Railroad in Northeast Pennsylvania here.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.

You can email Kat at katbolus@wvia.org