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June 29, 2010

Just off of US 27, Fountain City is a treasure trove of history in Wayne County.

Historic Levi Coffin House: Part of Underground Railroad

Interestingly Fountain City was named twice before it received its current name.  Founded in 1818 by Redden Chance and Solomon Thomas it was first named New Garden and later changed to Newport in 1834.  Due to another town in Indiana carrying the name of Newport, the final name was bestowed in 1879 at its incorporation.  The derivation was due to the existence of many freshwater springs in the area which at the time were called “fountains.”

The Underground Railroad

Indoor Well used to Conceal Slave on Underground Railroad

Fountain City’s greatest claim in history is its strong affiliation with the Underground Railroad which existed in the area prior to the arrival of the Coffin family.  As Levi Coffin wrote in his journal, “soon after we located to Newport (now Fountain City), I found that we were on a line of the U.G.R.R. (Underground Railroad).  Fugitives often passed through that place…fugitive slaves…were often pursued and captured… I was willing to receive and aid as many fugitives as were disposed to my house.”

And Levi Coffin and his family did just that.  A Quaker family, they moved from the slave-owning North Carolina to Indiana.  Their religious beliefs compelled them to free slaves even though at the time it was a federal offense to do so.  At one time they were reported to have housed 17 fugitives in their small home.  It is believed that, in total, they helped more than 2,000 fugitives escape to freedom, and none were ever caught in their care.  For his successful efforts, Levi Coffin was termed the “president” of the Underground Railroad.

In his autobiography Levi tells of one of the slaves, which the Coffin family helped to freedom, who had “fled from Kentucky with a baby in her arms.”  She crossed the Ohio River in winter leaping from one ice formation to the next carrying her baby.  The woman’s name was Eliza Harris and she later became the model for the character “Eliza” in Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Levi Coffin and his family later moved to Cincinnati where they helped over 1,000 more slaves escape.  He worked against slavery up to the end of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation which ended slavery in America.

Parlor in Levi Coffin House

The Levi Coffin House, in Fountain City, is open to the public for tours from June 1 – August 31, Tuesday- Saturday 1:00-4:00 p.m.  From September 1-October 31, it is open on Saturdays only from 1:00-4:00 p.m.

In honor of Levi Coffin the town celebrates Levi Coffin Days the third weekend in August. According to Sue Brooks, clerk of Fountain City, the celebration is put on by the Lions Club each year.  The festivities include over 200 vendors, food, a parade, and kids activities.  For more information about Levi Coffin Days you can contact the Lions Club of Fountain City.  To learn more about the Levi Coffin House you can call: 765-847-2432.

Yet another small town in Wayne County that is aglow with its own rich history.

About the Author KPass

Karole Passmore is a freelance writer who enjoys writing articles and short stories, interviewing local people, and researching non-fiction subject matter– preferably historical. Graduate of RHS, Ivy Tech Richmond, and Earlham College– with a major in History, Karole has spent most of her life in Wayne County and enjoys the quaint atmosphere of a small town.

Be seen by thousands of Wayne County residents and tourists every month!

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