Worthington Historical Society adds self-guided Black history tour

GARY SEMAN JR.
gseman@thisweeknews.com
Kate LaLonde, director of the Worthington Historical Society, created the society's "African American History in Worthington" self-guided virtual tour. She is pictured Aug. 4 outside the former St. John AME Church building, which was constructed in 1914 at 682 Plymouth St. in Worthington and is one of the stops along the tour.

Tales of Worthington's first Black families and individuals – and those who tried to help them escape slavery or assist in acclimating them to their new surroundings – are part of a new self-guided virtual tour developed by the Worthington Historical Society.

"African American History in Worthington," which went live July 31, includes 15 stops – both virtual and physical – all with maps and stories attached, said Kate LaLonde, director of the historical society.

"Given that there's a heightened interest in learning about African American history, the timing was right to put together a more comprehensive list of stories that focus on Black history in Worthington," LaLonde said. "But because we're closed (as a result of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic) and can't have in-person events, using this self-guided-tour platform allows us to engage in the community and still provide education opportunities."

"The Freeing of Isham" tells the tale of Isham, a runaway slave whose plantation owner, Robert Turner, posted $500 in 1821 in the Franklin Chronicle, the local paper, for his capture because he was believed to be in or near Worthington.

According to legend, mostly pieced together by oral and documented histories, people in the community helped Isham escape by cutting his shackles and letting him resume his quest for freedom, LaLonde said.

No one claimed the $500, a considerable sum at the time, which might suggest people in the community valued Isham's freedom more than the reward, she said.

His escape is celebrated on the Village Green in the middle of downtown Worthington, although it is unclear where he began his second journey, she said.

The tour also tells the history of Ansel Mattoon, a blacksmith and ardent supporter of the anti-slavery movement and co-founded of the Worthington Anti-Slavery Society.

His home was believed to be a station on the Underground Railroad.

Because he was a blacksmith and wagon-maker, he could drive his wagons without arousing suspicion, something that would be useful if he was transporting slaves to safe zones, as storytellers suspect, LaLonde said.

Supporters of freed Blacks also created the Morris Addition, a housing community for all bounded by Morning Street, Dublin-Granville Road, South Street and Andover Street, she said.

The entire 2.7-mile tour, which starts and ends on the Village Green at Dublin-Granville Road and High Street, is walkable and based on a chronological loop, but people may visit any site at their leisure, LaLonde said.

A downloadable tour app also is available, she said. It has a buzzer that goes off every time a user passes a historical site.

The project also offers information on Black education into the 1930s, although research shows Black students going to local schools as early as the 1870s, LaLonde said.

Charles Wash, director the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, said many Ohioans are aware of the state's role in the Underground Railroad – and some vastly underestimate its extent – but local histories help piece together a rich tapestry of stories that can be handed down to future generations.

"We have a lot of local stories that no one every hears about, but they're part of the historical DNA in Ohio," said Wash, whose organization is part of the Columbus-based Ohio History Center. "I think what we contend with and struggle with as an organization is compiling those local stories."

For information about the tour and to download the app, go to pocketsights.com/ tours/tour/Worthington-African-American-History-in-Worthington-4355.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisweekGary