Welcome to Africa


Think about the word “Africa.” Now what do you visualize? The Red Sea? Games of Cricket? Drums beating to the sounds of African sambas? Could you ever imagine the word “Africa” holding a more personal, local definition? In Delaware, Ohio, that’s exactly what the word has.

Africa was the name of a community of runaway slaves who lived in log homes, were employed by anti-slavery farmers, and settled in the southern Delaware County area. In 1824, a man named Samuel Patterson began to hide runaway slaves in his home, which was located in what is now north of Westerville. These slaves were mocked by pro-slavery neighborhoods, who referred to their community as “Africa,” and so East Orange was renamed. Country gentlefolk had erected small cabins there as temporary housing while building permanent homes on their estates. After a time, the woodlands north of Westerville harbored a cluster of these abandoned cabins, as folks began to move into their newly completed houses. To this time, the village has disappeared, but several of Patterson’s homes still stand in this vicinity. Africa is said to be the only town named after the Underground Railroad.

Photo of Maker #6-21, photo from remarkableohio.org

Photo of Maker #6-21, photo from remarkableohio.org

What’s even more astounding is the fact that Ohio had an extensive network of trails used by anti-slavery activists, free Blacks, and churches to help fugitive slaves flee from the South to Canada. Ohio had one of the most active Underground Railroad operations in the nation; some sources estimate that 40,000 slaves escaped to freedom through Ohio. The Ohio Department of Transportation designated portions of U.S. Route 23 and State Route 4 – one of the most frequently used corridors on the Underground Railroad – as a commemorative highway to be known as River-To-Lake Freedom Trail. This trail follows the present day alignment of 23 from the Ohio River at Portsmouth, north through central Ohio.


An Ohio Department of Natural Resources site has a page called Ohio’s Underground Railroad to Freedom which talks about slave coming across the Ohio River from the south. The site says: One of the most famous Underground Railroad routes in central Ohio was Africa Road. This was the setting of one of the most extraordinary chapters in Underground Railroad history.

Why do you think central Ohio was such a good pit-stop for these runaway slaves? And what else do you know about secret slave routes in the Delaware area?



  1. Pamela Beery says:

    There is supposed to be a barn with a false side that was used to hide runaway slaves. I have also heard that there is a kind of mushroom that shouldn’t be native, but can be found that is phosphorus and was used to light the path to safety. If anyone knows about these things, please contact me. If you want to know more, you should also visit the “slave” cemetery in Marengo at the Alum Creek Friends Church. Lots of history in this area!

  2. From 1962-1971 when I was a kid, our family lived along the west bank of Alum Creek in the northernmost part of Orange Township — on Bale-Kenyon Rd. We 5 Lindberg kids attended Berlin Elementary, Orange Elementary, Liberty Union Jr Hi, & Olentangy High.

    Our place dated from 1840 and had once been a working farm of 70 acres, and also once owned by the Catholic Diocese & used as a home for retired nuns. When we lived there, all architectural features were intact and working — 4 fireplaces (one in the master bedroom!), lift-latches on doors, exposed-beam ceilings, etc.

    Local lore had it that our farm was one of the spots on the Underground Railroad — on the other side of the Creek from the Pattersons on the east side.

    I have been investigating local history — thru Luella Martin Yarnell’s wonderful book on Orange Township plus also the web — and would love to know more, especially about the early, pre-consolidation schools.

    • Lisa- I am heavy into researching the Alum Creek UGRR in Orange Township. I am trying to place where you lived on the east side of the creek. Would you contact me? cray2 @ insight.rr.com (no spaces). If anyone else is interested in the early history of Orange Twp.let me know.

      • Hi Carol, I wrote you an email yesterday, using the email address you put into your Sept 5, 2015 message, above.

        Here is what I wrote:

        Our house was on Bale-Kenyon Rd, north of Lewis Center Rd. in Orange Township — just south of the borderline with Berlin Township.

        Did you know that Luella Martin Yarnell recently died?

  3. i was raised on corner of africa and cheshire rd, a couple of house down from us was the Lavicks manion, i proberlly spelled their name wrong. My grandmother would tell us there are slave tunnels under the laVicks mansion

  4. The Patterson-Leveque mansion at 6610 Africa Rd.

    It is 5 miles south of the Cheshire Market which is on the corner of Africa Rd & Cheshire Rd — 5094 Cheshire Road.

    The Patterson-Leveque mansion is south of the dam and just south of I-71.

    Exactly a year ago today, there was an article in the Olentangy Valley News about the Leveque mansion being put on the market. It is a very interesting article, including about its owner’s role in the Under Ground Rail Road:

    “History towers over LeVeque family’s estate
    “Manor called home by noted central Ohio philanthropist, refuge for escaped slaves now on the market”

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