Elizabeth and Helen Blake-McDowell

The war between the Confederacy (the pro-slavery South), and the Union (the anti-slavery North) would decide the structure of our national government, and whether a nation built on liberty and equal rights could remain the largest slaveholding country in the world.
Naturally, the Sectionalist time period challenged our national government to redefine its political, social and economic policies. These complicated times gave rise to the Underground Railroad, part of which went through Medina. The Underground Railroad possessed many dangers, not only for the slaves travelling on it, but for the stationmasters (the people running the safe houses), conductors (the people moving the slaves), and anyone in any way associated with it. Prison, whipping, or even hanging could be used as a punishment for whites caught aiding runaway slaves. And the punishments for Blacks were even worse.
U.S House member, Harrison Gray Blake, the owner of one of the designated safe houses in Medina’s Underground Railroad, and Elizabeth Bell had two children, Elizabeth and Helen Blake-McDowell, who grew up during the Civil War era. Harrison Gray Blake was a prominent man in Medina, and because of his strong leadership and compassionate nature he represented the citizens of Medina and even of Ohio. However, not all people of Ohio believed in abolition, meaning that Blake had to keep his activities in the Underground Railroad a secret, he was balancing two ways of life, a difficult task for anyone. Because of the travelers on the Underground Railroad, Elizabeth’s knowledge, their parent’s strong abolitionist views, and Blake’s need for secrecy the girls’ stayed home from school, though they had a strong and intelligent head of the house to guide them.
Having lived through the Sectionalist time period, each girl married a veteran, had kids, and found a way to settle down and lead a simple life in the tumultuous time of Reconstruction. Growing up in an Underground Railroad station must have helped the girls’ in later life. They would have grown up with a strong sense of equality, and an obligation to help people in need. They would have learned how to be resourceful and to trust their judgement and their sense of right and wrong. The hardships they experienced made them even more prepared for later life and taught them ageless values.

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Underground Railroad House
Medina High School teacher Kate Brown interviews Gwen Quesada about a house she used to live in that was possibly a part of the Underground Railroad.
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