145. Halfway House: "We’d better travel and get on away"

Painting by Les Schrader of horse-drawn carriage passing in front of the Halfway House farmhouse
"Halfway House" by Les Schrader, 20th century
There were no street signs or paved roads in the 1830s. The only landmark between Naperville and Aurora was Urbane Stanley’s house. Travelers knew when they saw Urbane Stanley’s house they were halfway between Aurora and Naperville. His house became known as the Halfway House. Several strong abolitionists in the county participated in activities of the Underground Railroad. There were stations throughout Northern Illinois and at least one, if not more, in Naperville. The Underground Railroad was not an actual railroad. It was a secret route, a vast network of people who helped runaway slaves escape north into Canada. In the early 1830s, this secret route was dubbed the Underground Railroad after the emerging steam engine railroad system. Slaves moving north used code words associated with railroad terms. “Stations” and “depots” were code words for the homes and businesses where runaway slaves would rest. “Stationmasters” were the people who ran these homes and business. “Stockholders” were the individuals who contributed money or goods and the “conductor” was the person responsible for moving runaway slaves from station to station. Caroline Quarrlls was a runaway slave who passed through Naperville. Lyman Goodnow, an Underground conductor, was responsible for helping her. This is his account: “When night came on we started, Caroline on the buffalo robe in the bottom of the buggy which covered her so that no one would know but that I had a sheep or a quarter of veal. Mr. Chenery accompanied us to the house of a Mr. Perkins… but we could not stop there as he was to thrash that day, so he took us to Elder Fitch of the Christian denomination who secreted us and the horse until night when we started on. The Elder started with us, it commenced to rain and we saw we could not go through to Dundee as planned, so crossed a dark prairie a few miles from McHenry and reached the home of a Methodist named Russell. He did not know what Abolitionism was but was perfectly willing to help a slave to freedom. I made him a stationmaster on the Underground Railroad which I established along this route. In the morning, Elder Fitch went back home and Russell went through with us to Dundee to Dr. Root’s.… This was the first we traveled by day. Dr. Root sent for some friends to come in and visit with us a while and then we left there for Naperville where we arrived after dark. We went to Deacon Fowler’s, as the Doctor had told us. There were some young ladies there of about Caroline’s size and they fitted her out with some clothes—a dress, some gloves, a thick veil and a small reticule in which to put her jewelry. Caroline, now being well dressed, after that sat in the seat. The next day we started on, going through Lockport, a few miles from Joliet, while the people were eating dinner so we were not noticed. Then we drove eight miles to Deacon Beach’s, which was on the original Underground Railroad. Mr. Beach had gone to a church meeting and the women were suspicious of us but gave us some dinner and directed me to a place at Hickory Grove, which I found was on the right road. The next day was Sunday but I thought we’d better travel and get on away from the vicinity of Chicago.” The locations of the Underground Railroad’s stations or depots in Naperville to this day remain a mystery. Along with others in the area, Urbane Stanley had a subscription to an abolitionist newspaper.