Road to Freedom
“The sisters who lived there in the most recent past kept it up like a museum,” says Aimee Potonic, senior naturalist at French Creek Reservation, adding that the home is filled with heirlooms and artifacts that provide not only an insight into the Burrells, but information about pioneers throughout the area. “[The Lorain County Metro Parks] followed the tradition of what they began as a museum dedicated to the family, as well as the community.”
A peek into the Burrells’ lives reveal people determined to forge their own paths, from the first generation who founded Sheffield Township to the last — three sisters who neglected traditional gender roles of the 20th century and became women of the workforce. Jabez Burrell’s son, Robbins, who owned the property during the Civil War, harbored fugitives of the Underground Railroad.
“It is known that [Robbins] was a station master along the Underground Railroad,” Potonic says, adding that the Burrell Homestead was one of the final stops before slaves reached freedom in Canada. “Robbins Burrell was active within the abolitionist community. He was well known for having the belief that all persons should be free.”
To commemorate those ideals, the Lorain County Metro Parks began hosting a Road to Freedom event on the property in 2009. The re-enactment, which is available for the public to enjoy on April 8, starts with participants acting as slaves who are being transferred from one master to another. From there, Potonic says guests interact with costumed re-enactors and determine whether they have a chance to escape and make their way to a safe place with the assistance of Underground Railroad conductors and station masters.
“Being that the family’s homestead is an authentic station along the Underground Railroad brings home that realism,” Potonic says. “The authenticity of that is what people take home with them.”