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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Historic Preservation & Archaeology > Learn About Topics > Underground Railroad > Indiana Freedom Trails Historic Marker Program Indiana Freedom Trails Historic Marker Program

Stephen S. Harding Marker
Stephen Harding Marker
Ripley County, IN

In 1998, the National Park Service began the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program to research, locate, and interpret all Underground Railroad events, people, and places in America. This nationwide federal program has created partnerships with State Historic Preservation Offices like the Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology (DHPA), as well as local historians, historical societies, museums, and others interested in the UGRR.

In February 1999, DHPA hosted a statewide meeting which helped establish the Indiana Freedom Trails (IFT), a statewide volunteer organization that is working to document Indiana’s UGRR activity. IFT has developed into a cohesive, diverse group working to locate, verify, protect, preserve, and promote those Indiana sites and routes involved in the UGRR. IFT members dedicate themselves to the research, education, and interpretation of Indiana’s UGRR heritage for the benefit of future generations.

While research continues across the State, some communities are beginning to interpret their UGRR history with unique historical markers. Working with the Indiana Historical Bureau (IHB), which administers the state historical marker program, the DHPA and the IHB have created a marker program dedicated especially to the interpretation of the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad Marker Initiative has three purposes: to document and interpret Underground Railroad history in Indiana; to bring attention to that history with a visual reminder of the importance of those people, places, and events which constitute the history and context of the Underground Railroad in Indiana; and to assist the many individuals and groups—especially Indiana Freedom Trails—working to preserve the Underground Railroad history of Indiana through a heightened awareness of their existence and needs.

One of the primary goals of the DHPA’s UGRR Initiative is to eliminate the legends and misinformation associated with the UGRR. For this reason, the IHB maintains strict standards of research and documentation to verify an UGRR related person, place, or event. Individuals, communities, or organizations seeking to receive an IHB-Freedom Trails Marker must meet the documentation standards and criteria. These guidelines help to insure that the accuracy of any site, person, or event interpreted by a marker is verifiable. Through these standards, Hoosiers can be certain that any Freedom Trails Marker reflects the accurate history of the UGRR in Indiana and does not perpetuate myths, legends, or inaccuracies.

To assist the goal of marking sites in Indiana, the DHPA has set aside funds from its federal Historic Preservation Fund program to help local groups or individuals to pay for the IHB-Freedom Trails marker. Interested parties should contact the DHPA’s UGRR Initiative for more information. To learn more about the Indiana Historical Bureau Marker program contact the IHB at 317-232-2535 or at ihb@history.in.gov.

Underground Railroad Resources