By Gregg Hoffmann Special to Published Jun 08, 2006 at 5:25 AM

You can almost see the people, traveling the Underground Railroad route, in their escape from slavery to freedom. The Burlington, Rochester and Spring Prairie Underground Railroad (BURSPUR) trail in Racine and Walworth counties was taken by hundreds of freedom seekers.

The BURSPUR is part of the Racine County Underground Railroad Heritage Trail. Together the two routes are national destination sites offering tourists, residents and school children the opportunity to travel the pathway to freedom that ran in the 1840s, 50s and through the Civil War.

Run by abolitionists who defied the Fugitive Slave Act and its pro-slavery pronouncements, the Underground Railroad also included parts of Kenosha, Waukesha and Milwaukee counties.

The BURSPUR route concentrates on the stories of Caroline Quarlls and Joshua Glover. Quarlls was 16 when she ran away from her St. Louis mistress in 1842 and made her way to Milwaukee. She hid under a barrel to avoid bounty hunters and eventually was brought to Spring Prairie and by buggy to Canada.

Glover escaped to Racine in 1852. He was seized by his master and a U.S. marshal and jailed in Milwaukee. But, a crowd used a battering ram to free him. Glover escaped through Prairieville (now Waukesha), and Rochester in Racine County and eventually via boat to Canada.

Quarlls and Glover are just people of hundreds with similar stories. The Underground Railroad seldom used conventional railroad lines, but consisted of a variety of makeshift modes of transportation.

Lyman Goodnow and Chauncey Olin, abolitionists who helped Quarlls and Glover, wrote extensively about their work with the Underground Railroad and thus provided much of the information that led to establishment of the BURSPUR.

You can start the turn of the BURSPUR at the Burlington Historical Society Museum at the corner of Jefferson Street and Perkins Boulevard in Burlington. One of the prize possessions of the museum is a monument honoring Dr. Edward Galusha Dyer, considered the "commander in chief" of the Underground Railroad.

Dr. Dyer first wrote extensively to newspapers against slavery and had his letters published by Horace Greeley and others. He helped organize the Territorial Anti-Slavery Society in 1842 and was a stockholder and agent of the American Freeman, an abolitionist newspaper published first in Milwaukee and then in Waukesha.

To the south of the museum is the Joel Henry Cooper house, where Glover was hidden for a while. At Lincoln School, near the corner of Perkins and State, you'll find another monument honoring Dr. Dyer. Across the street is the Origen Perkins house. Perkins also helped hide escaped slaves in a shed that was attached to the house.

Just west of the Perkins house stands the Dyer house and Old Settlers Monument, topped by a Great Lakes sailing ship, much like the ships used to transport some escaped slaves to Canada.

Harriet Mabel Norton, Dr. Dyer's granddaughter, liked to tell the story of how as a child she crept up to the attic in the Dyer home, only to make out two terrified eyes in the dark. With a piercing cry, she fled downstairs. She was not allowed to return to school for several days until the fugitive was well on his way to safety.

Voree on the Tour

Fourteen of the 32 stops on the BURSPUR are in Burlington and can be taken in by foot. If you want to drive, as you leave town to the west, you'll find the site of Voree, a Mormon settlement. The Mormons were not known to be involved in the BURSPUR, but the site is of historic interest overall and thus included on the tour.

Continue west along Hwy. 11 and Hwy. DD and you will find several farms -- among them the Arms Brothers, Palmer Gardner and Trueworthy Dugin farms -- which were key hiding spots during Quarlls' escape to freedom.

The tour eventually brings you to Rochester on Hwy. D. There, you can find the farm of Jesse Stetson, who reportedly kept an "inn" to help feed runaway slaves on the BURSPUR. Stetson became the first president of Racine County's anti-slavery party, which later became known as the Republican Party.

In the Village of Rochester, the former Union House, which still houses a restaurant, is said to have been part of a rather elaborate system that included a tunnel to the Fox River. Historians say that such a tunnel, which would have been several hundred feet long and run under three buildings, a road and a factory, seems unlikely.

The BURSPUR eventually brings you back to Burlington, and ends at the Barns House, the one-time home of Caleb Barns, a lawyer and banker who was an abolitionist and friend to Dr. Dyer.

A detailed map, with information about each stop on the BURSPUR, is available through the Burlington Historical Society. Information is available on the Web through the Wisconsin Local History Network at and the Olin Family Society at

In Milwaukee itself, Cathedral Square, America's Black Holocaust Museum and the Wisconsin Black Historical Society Museum are listed as Wisconsin Underground Railroad sites.

On May 12, the National Park Service designated Cathedral Square as an official site on the Underground Railroad.

"It's the doorway to everything else, recognizing that this really is nationally hallowed ground," local activist George Gonis said of the designation. Gonis is the president of Joshua Glover Monument/Cathedral Square Inc., a non-profit group hoping to raise $3.5 million to $4.5 million for renovation of the square and creation of a monument to Glover.

Gonis said the Cathedral Square designation should help fund-raising for the Glover project, which is just beginning. He said the group hoped to pursue both national and local sources, including foundations, individuals and corporations.

Gregg Hoffmann Special to
Gregg Hoffmann is a veteran journalist, author and publisher of Midwest Diamond Report and Old School Collectibles Web sites. Hoffmann, a retired senior lecturer in journalism at UWM, writes The State Sports Buzz and Beyond Milwaukee on a monthly basis for OMC.