LeRoy Pennysaver & News

LE ROY PENNYSAVER & NEWS - FEBRUARY 19, 2023 by Lynne Belluscio A long time ago, I remember talking with a woman who was afraid to go on the Underground Railroad tour because she was claustrophobic and wouldn’t be able to go underground. “Oh, don’t worry,” I told her. “The tour doesn’t go underground.” And then there was the woman who was so excited when she called to tell me that she knew that the Underground Railroad went behind her house, because the abutments were still there. It’s hard to know exactly what to tell these people. Most recently, the dubious story of the quilts that were hung outside houses or on fences to help escaping slaves find the route, or to warn them of danger has resurfaced. Supposedly the quilt patterns told whether to go ahead, or where there was a safe place to hide. In fact, several children’s books have been written about the “signal quilts.” The books are very popular because the story is very compelling, and people really want to believe that quilts were used but historians have dispelled the story, explaining that some of the quilts were sewn from material that wasn’t manufactured until many years after the Civil War. Some of the patterns, weren’t even used at the time the Underground Railroad was active. For us in LeRoy there is another problem because people who take the Underground Railroad brochure often ask about the signal quilts and there is no disclaimer in the brochure. So it is important to bring the brochure up to date. In addition, the new LeRoy Barn Quilt map which is being updated will include a short statement about the signal quilts. This project, which is being undertaken by the Genesee County Chamber of Commerce will be unveiled in March. The team has been working very hard to get this new map ready. It will also include an app that will allow folks to learn more about the barns, the barn quilts and LeRoy history. One of the barn quilts is a pattern titled “underground railroad.” It is located at 7096 Randall Road. This is a very important location because the 4x4 barn quilt it is on the former home of Elijah Huftelen, who as a teenager, worked for Daniel MacDonald, the stationmaster on the Underground Railroad. As we put together the LeRoy Barn Quilt map I wanted to make sure that folks understood that this barn quilt did not represent a signal quilt and that the story of the signal quilts was not true. However, the story of the LeRoy route of the Underground Railroad is true. The route was known as the Covington Route because it came up from Pennsylvania, through Warsaw, through Covington, through Pavilion Center, through LeRoy and on through Morganville and to Elba and then to Canada. Fugitives leaving the station at Pavilion Center were told to ask for the Medicine Man. This was the secret name of Daniel MacDonald who tried to avoid suspicion by telling people that the reason he was going out at night was because he was delivering medicines. Elijah Huftelen took care of MacDonald’s horses and noticed that the dark horses that MacDonald owned never had white markings. MacDonald was often gone all night and the horses were always lathered up and tired. The route only lasted for a couple of years before it was discovered and MacDonald moved west to set up a new route. He took young Elijah Huftelen with him. Much later, Huftelen moved into the stone house on Randall Road and raised unique lilies which he sent by train to New York City. He wrote articles about the Underground Railroad which were published in the LeRoy Gazette and he published two little booklets about slavery, abolition and the Underground Railroad. The LeRoy Underground Railroad map was published thirty years ago, so hopefully the new one will make some corrections and include some new history and set the story straight. But as Elijah Huftelen wrote: “A full history of the Underground Railroad will never be written. It cannot be for it was a spontaneous organization of such nature that no records were kept. The few who may be left, bound by the force of habit, still keep their secrets and will probably take them to the grave." There Are No Abutments on the Underground Railroad