Op/Ed By George Payne
Editor’s note: The following is a letter written by Gandhi Earth Keepers International Founder George Payne on behalf of the Lower Falls Foundation, in an effort to include Kelsey’s Landing site in the National Network to Freedom of the National Park Service.
To the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site Selection Committee:
We are writing on behalf of the Lower Falls Foundation, to offer our endorsement of the proposal to include the historical Kelsey’s Landing site in the National Network to Freedom of the National Park Service.
Alexander Kelsey and associates built Kelsey’s Landing around 1844, at the Lower Falls, along the banks of the Genesee River. Cargo steam ships conveyed lumber and flour across Lake Ontario, to Detroit and Canadian markets. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman led freedom seekers onto these same ships, arriving from as far west as Ohio, and as far east as Maryland. After several private owners and recreational ventures, the city of Rochester purchased the land in 1904, and commissioned the Olmsted Brothers firm to design a park encompassing this historic and popular recreational area with a view of the Lower Falls. The site stands today as Seneca Park West, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
The city of Rochester enjoys a prominent and long-standing relationship with the legacy of Frederick Douglass. This relationship is the foundation of our nomination. Douglass first published his North Star newspaper in 1847, at the first African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church at Spring and Favor Streets in Rochester. The church was also a stop on the Underground Railroad. Douglass lived in Rochester until 1872. Many of the individual pieces of the mosaic of the historical figure of Douglass were set during his residency in Rochester. Douglass also hosted politician and philanthropist Gerritt Smith, fellow publisher William Lloyd Garrison, abolitionist Susan B. Anthony, and activist John Brown. In 1851, he met Harriet Tubman, and sheltered freedom seekers at his Alexander St. residence in Rochester. Douglass himself traveled this route, fleeing for his safety after being implicated in the John Brown Raid. Douglass, the conductor, orator and publisher, found himself at Kelsey’s Landing, accompanied by the Post family members, being himself conducted to Canada, and later England to escape arrest on charges of conspiracy with John Brown.
The city also features the Frederick Douglass monument, made in a majestic, 9-foot tall bronzed likeness of Douglass that is the first public statue erected to honor an African American. The gravesite of Frederick Douglass is located at the Victorian Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY. Mount Hope Cemetery has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.
The designation of the Kelsey’s Landing as a Network to Freedom Site would enhance the compelling storytelling already underway in our community, and would embolden our efforts to articulate the legacy of this critical time in our history.
The Lower Falls Foundation Staff