Indianapolis News and HeadlinesBlack History Month


Levi and Catharine Coffin's home was the 'Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad'

Coffin House
Posted at 5:00 AM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-03 13:28:43-05

FOUNTAIN CITY — Back in the day, Fountain City, formerly known as Newport, served as a center point for freedom seekers escaping slavery.

In Fountain City, Levi and Catharine Coffin opened their door to more than 1,000 of them.

Soon enough, their home became known as the "Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad." Now, if Levi and Catharine Coffin’s house could talk, it would share countless stories from all eight rooms, about helping more than one-thousand people escape slavery.

With his tours, Aaron Martin takes you back in time, to 1839.

“So, on a day like this, we do not have a whole ton of light,” Martin said.

He gives tours of this historic site as the program developer.

To Martin, preserving and sharing the Coffin House History is vital to learning Black history.

“It is almost completely original,” Martin said. “All of the floors, all of the windows, all of the woodwork. A lot of this is brand new to most people.”

Not many people know about the story of these Hoosiers, who risked their lives to house, clothe and feed the freedom seekers.

As much as the Coffin’s risked, the freedom seekers risked more.

“We need to talk about it, it’s an important part of our history,” Martin said. “You can take the lessons from the freedom seekers and know how the start of this country has affected them down to this day.”

Their stories are devastating, but there is success. Every person who passed through the Coffin House eventually found freedom.

One of the largest groups came from our South. Catharine heard them knock on their side door.

“Catharine asked who it is? And the person responds, ‘All of Kentucky.’ It’s a confusing answer, but Catharine just says bring all of Kentucky in. Turns out to be seventeen freedom seekers in two wagons,” Martin said.

They knocked on the doorstep of compassion at the Coffin house. Located on Highway 27, some Hoosiers in this Quaker Community worked to help the Coffin’s especially when bounty hunters visited.

From the third story hiding space, to the basement, the Coffins prepared to serve others as their equal.

They had everything in one place, including a water well.

"He had freedom seekers coming to him all times of day and especially at night. And he didn’t want to have to send someone to an outdoor well to get water for them," Martin said.

Even the Coffin’s barn held a horse carriage to hide and transport former slaves to their next stop on the Underground Railroad. Their work was a drop in the bucket to end slavery, but the Coffin’s and played an important role.

“As we talked about, he was called the president of the Underground Railroad and he held that title until 1870. When he officially laid it down, slavery we over and his work was done,” Martin said.

Now their historic house isn’t done sharing the stories of Freedom Seekers with you — during this Black History Month.

When Levi Coffin died in 1877, the African-American community paid for his tomb stone.

Now staff at the Coffin house provide tours for adults and students Wednesdays through Sunday’s.