Underground Railroad remembered

FLUSHING – A tapestry of stories and histories from an arduous period of suffering and triumph can be found in the Underground Railroad Museum. Dr. John Mattox, curator and founder, said all are welcome.

“Many people are not aware of the history of our country,” he said, adding that too often young people lose more information by the decade.

A native of New Jersey, Mattox said he was inspired in his pursuit of history by curiosity about his great grandmother, who had been a slave in North Carolina, and the often untold stories of African Americans. He was also inspired by his wife, Rozz Mattox, who passed away in 2011.

“This museum is a legacy to her,” he said.

He met his future wife while they were both living and working in New York. Eventually they considered moving and Rozz suggested her family’s dairy farm in Flushing. Since then, he has spent 35 years in Belmont County.

“It’s a wonderful community,” he said, noting that Ohio and this particular region of Ohio was a major part of the Underground Railroad and the fight to free people from slavery. He added that those stories form a crucial part of the formation of the country.

“This is American history,” he said. “It’s time for people to know where they came from.”

He pointed out the groups such as Quakers, Presbyterians and Methodists who participated in laying and maintaining a route to freedom. He noted the wealth of historical sites that still remain from the days when slaves were sold as close as in Wheeling and who found their way to freedom through the neighboring state.

Mattox said the Ohio River had 23 entrance points into the state, and zigzagging trails touched on all 88 counties. A common destination was Canada, but escaping slaves would also try for locations in Florida and Mexico.

“You can find historical sites in your own community,” he said.

“This is a testament to the people who have gone before us,” Mattox said, adding that he is grateful for the opportunity to share the history of America and Flushing. “We want to be a legacy for all residents who visited this museum and contributed artifacts, memorabilia and Americana. I invite all in our local area to feel that this museum belongs to them.”

In the interest of presenting accurate information, he has associated with such organizations as the Ohio Valley Round Table, the Wheeling/Ohio Historical Societies, and Independence Hall.

The museum includes more than 25,000 items.

“Some of these items are so historic that they have been held by people in bondage,” he said.

During the past six months, visitors from nine different countries and 50 states have passed through the museum doors. Mattox said these visitors often become contributors as well.

“Some of my best knowledge comes from visitors to this museum,” he said. “We let everyone tell their stories.”

Mattox offers lectures and tours through the museum. The office can be reached at 740-968-2080. The web site is www.ugrrf.org.