Iowa & the Underground Railroad

When the Underground Railroad needed an ally, Iowa was there. In fact, Iowa was an integral part of the Underground Railroad from the 1840s to the 1860s. Learn more about Iowa’s role at museums located around the state, many housed in former Underground Railroad stops.


Pearson House, Keosauqua
While at the Pearson House, look for the trapdoor in the floor. That’s how slaves on the Underground Railroad entered the hideaway in this 1840s home. The house was a major stop in southeast Iowa for those moving on to Canada.


Reverend George B. Hitchcock House, Lewis
In the basement of the Hitchcock House, a station on the Underground Railroad, there were two rooms (one secret) separated by a hinged cupboard. To gain access to the secret room, the cupboard could be swung open. That’s where slaves would hide in times of danger. In 2001, the home was recognized as a National Park Service Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site.


Hitchcock House

Lewelling Quaker Museum, Salem
At the Lewelling Quaker Museum, you can see two hiding places where slaves would hide when in danger. The Henderson Lewelling House was built in the 1840s and was part of the Underground Railroad. There, you can also see furniture and accessories from the mid-1880s.


Todd House, Tabor
One of the most instrumental individuals in establishing the Underground Railroad in Iowa was Reverend John Todd. His two-story home was a significant hub in western Iowa and is definitely worth the trip.


Jordan House, West Des Moines
A staunch abolitionist, James Cunningham Jordan has been called the “Chief Conductor” of the Underground Railroad for Polk County. This stately Victorian home was built in 1850 and now provides a glimpse back into time when the Underground Railroad coursed through Iowa.


Interstate Rest Area (Eastbound, I-80), Wilton
When you’re driving on I-80 by Wilton, you won’t want to miss the interstate rest area that features interpretive panels that explain Cedar County’s involvement in the Underground Railroad as well as the story of the “Underground Railroad Quilt Code.” Secret messages were hidden in quilts through geometric patterns and the sequencing of stitches and knots to “map” the path slaves should follow to freedom. These safe routes were displayed in the everyday custom of hanging quilts out to dry.

« Return to History