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Friday, February 27, 2009

Kuhn's Rock and the Underground Railroad

In 1846, an anti-slavery society was formed in Lake County. Abolitionists promoted the abolishment of slavery. Some aided enslaved people on the Underground Railroad. The "railroad" wasn’t a railroad at all, but a secret network of safe houses and people who helped enslaved people reach freedom in the north.

Under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, it was illegal to aid runaway slaves. When the act was strengthened in 1850, underground activity greatly increased. Though Ohio and Pennsylvania probably saw the most activity, Illinois had a number of underground routes. One departed from Chicago taking freedom seekers to Canada by way of the Great Lakes, and another went north over land through the area of Burlington, Wisconsin.
Photo of Kuhn Family cabin from Browe School History, 1918. Dunn Museum 2003.0.36

Areas noted as antislavery in Lake County included Deerfield, Gurnee, Ivanhoe, Millburn, and Waukegan. The Kuhn Family cabin (above) in Newport Township was used as a safe house.

Photo of Kuhn's rock from the Browe School History, 1918. This large granite boulder was used as a landmark to direct enslaved people seeking freedom to the "safe house" at the Kuhn family house. Dunn Museum 2003.0.36.

Since the Underground Railroad needed to be kept secret, there were no maps to guide those seeking freedom in the north, only the stars in the night sky, landmarks, and verbal directions. Finding the Michael Kuhn family home in rural 1850s Lake County would have been difficult if not for a distinct landmark nearby known as Kuhn's Rock. Shown above is the John Strock Family on an outing to Kuhn’s rock, circa 1918.

The rock was named for German immigrant, Michael Kuhn (1800-1882), whose log house was used as a "safe house" on the Underground Railroad. Kuhn's rock is a glacial erratic. It originated far north of Illinois, and as the last glacier melted and retreated over 12,000 years ago, it deposited the rock here. It is thought to be the largest gray granite rock in the State of Illinois. 

Bess Bower Dunn posing next to Kuhn Rock, circa 1910. This photo gives a good perspective of the rock nestled on farm land. Bess Bower Dunn Collection, Dunn Museum.

With the construction of Interstate-294 in the late 1950s, the rock needed to be moved out of the road's right-of-way. Road contractors, Campanella and Sons, moved Kuhn's rock onto private property. 


Unknown said...

Do you know exactly where the rock was originally or where it was moved to?

Diana Dretske said...

Kuhn's rock was originally in the right-of-way of I-294. It was moved directly west, a short distance, onto Tempel Smith property on the north side of Kelly Road in Newport Township.

The boulder used to be visible from the Tollway, but is now blocked from view by an overgrowth of vegetation.

Unknown said...

I-94 is the correct highway. I-294 ends about Lake Cook Road.

Unknown said...

I want to find this rock.

Diana Dretske said...

Kuhn's rock is on private property.

Anonymous said...

Is Kuhn Rock visible from Kelly Road?

Diana Dretske said...

Kuhn's rock is not visible from the road due to all the vegetation (brush) around it.