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Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Historic Preservation & Archaeology > Learn About Topics > Underground Railroad > Underground Railroad Initiative Underground Railroad Initiative

The DHPA administers a public outreach program to foster research, identification, and protection efforts for the state's Underground Railroad resources. The goal of this program is to identify the sites, people, and events associated with Underground Railroad activity in Indiana. To this end, the DHPA partners with the National Park Service (NPS) to support their National Network to Freedom Program and with local organizations and individuals who contribute countless hours of volunteer research that are vital to keeping this program moving forward.

Indiana's Underground Railroad Initiative has come a long way in a fairly short period of time. In 1998, Congress passed the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act. The Act acknowledged that this historic social movement bridged the divides of race, religion, and ethnicity, spanned state lines and international borders, and was exemplified by the extraordinary actions of ordinary men and women working in common purpose to free enslaved people. Through the Act, Congress charged the National Park Service with creating a national program for the identification, interpretation, and preservation of sites and resources associated with the Underground Railroad throughout America. In order to achieve its goals, the National Park Service has partnered with a variety of federal, state, and local agencies and organizations, including the DHPA.

Following passage of the Network to Freedom Act in 1998, the DHPA hosted a midwestern regional seminar where NPS staff began educating states about this new program. In early 1999, the DHPA hosted a meeting for Hoosiers interested in the Underground Railroad and helped establish a group known as Indiana Freedom Trails (IFT). The DHPA remains a major partner of this community-based, statewide organization, and continues to work with IFT volunteers to complete the archival research necessary to identify the sites, structures, and individuals involved in the Underground Railroad. The IFT group meets quarterly as a forum for researchers to network with each other, share new information, and solve research challenges.

Public Education and Outreach

Through the Underground Railroad Initiative, the DHPA conducts a number of educational, training, and outreach programs for the public. The Division staff also advises and assists local historical groups and individuals with research activities and provides technical support for the preparation of nominations to the National Register of Historic Places and the National Network to Freedom.

Underground Railroad Summit

The annual Underground Railroad Summit was first introduced in 2001 as an opportunity for researchers to network and share their information with others. Each year the summit focuses on different aspects of research and highlights different Indiana communities that were involved in Underground Railroad activities.

Research Facilitation and Public Presentations

The DHPA works with institutions that house Underground Railroad collections and directs researchers to these repositories. In addition, the DHPA has begun an inventory of the research available to the general public and maintains a bibliography of primary and secondary resources including books, newspapers, and websites about the Underground Railroad. The DHPA Underground Railroad Initiative Staff also gives lectures and presentations to a variety of public and private groups in order to raise awareness of this important facet of state and national history. In addition, we now offer an online .PDF version of the Wilbur Siebert Underground Railroad information index. Dr. Siebert's Indiana papers are housed at the Indiana State Library.

Database Management

The DHPA staff maintains a computerized database of sites and individuals associated with the Underground Railroad as identified by the Indiana Freedom Trails committee, historians, and the general public. This database is simply a networking tool aimed at connecting researchers interested in the same people, properties, and sites. The people and places included in the database are believed to have been part of the Underground Railroad movement, but their connection to the Underground Railroad may not have been successfully documented as of yet. This is not a comprehensive or definitive list, and the information included for each entry is usually of a very limited nature.

Underground Railroad Resources