A new group is looking to connect the dots when it comes to uncovering the history of the Underground Railroad in Jones County.
The group, headed up by Steve Hanken and Dorothy Bunting Montgomery, will meet bi-monthly on Saturdays, starting Feb. 27 at 10 a.m. Bunting Montgomery said the idea came from the Grant Wood series she participated in late last year—"Grant Wood through Local Eyes.”
“What came from that was a lot of enthusiasm, but really it was historians. We found the historians within eastern Linn County and Jones County,” Bunting Montgomery said. “You could say this other piece is like a spinoff of just our investment in Jones County.”
For Hanken, the interest in the Underground Railroad goes back a long time.
“I’ve been doing research on the Underground Railroad in Jones County for over 20 years,” he said.
Over the course of his research, Hanken has uncovered many points of interest around the movement in the county. The group will cover initially the highlights of what is known about the movement locally around the state.
However, the group will also serve as a research group, hoping to unearth some more information. The search will focus on Jones County but spread into portions of Linn County, like Viola and Springville. There’s been a lot of work on a statewide project, the Iowa Freedom Trail, but there’s not a lot of information pertaining to Jones County and portions of Linn County, according to Bunting Montgomery.
The research, in addition to focusing on the Underground Railroad, will be looking at the Quaker heritage and their presence in the county. The group was likely a major player in the movement, though other groups, like Congregationalists, helped out as well.
One of the big challenges in trying to follow the trail of historical documents with the Quakers—especially where the Underground Railroad is concerned—is a lack of saved materials. If there’s one thing Hanken’s research has taught him, though, it’s the littlest tidbit of information can result in a breakthrough. He cited the example of Madison County, where a group of researchers discovered a hunting club crossed county and state lines going all the way to Missouri as a possible path for slaves to get to freedom. Even certain votes in church meeting minutes could point to someone trying to gauge interest in setting up an Underground Railroad stop.
“We’re hoping this group can help fill in those puzzle pieces…We’ve all got a little bit of puzzle we can help Steve with,” Bunting Montgomery said.
“You never know where this goes. Any little thing could turn up something,” Hanken said.
They encouraged anyone who was even remotely interested in the topic to join them for the meeting. Interested parties may join the Zoom by using the meeting ID: 819 4400 9271 and passcode: jones, or by clicking the link for the meeting, which can be found on the Anamosa library’s Facebook page.