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New Albany church receives grant to research role in Underground Railroad

The Town Clock Church in New Albany, Indiana.
Lee Lewellen
/
Indiana Landmarks
The Town Clock Church was built in 1852 in New Albany, which was once the largest city in Indiana.

The Town Clock Church in New Albany received an $8,000 grant this week to fund research into the church’s role in the Underground Railroad for a museum.

Indiana Landmarks awarded the $8,000 grant secured to Town Clock Church to fund research into creating exhibits that commemorate the church’s historic past.

Built in 1852, the Town Clock Church in New Albany became a congregation of white and Black abolitionists, and eventually was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

There is little historical documentation of the church’s involvement in the Underground Railroad, so much of it instead comes from stories passed down for generations by the New Albany community, according to Indiana Landmarks Southern Regional Director Greg Sekula.

By the end of the Civil War, the underground chambers in the church — also known as undercrofts — were a part of the historic, secret network for enslaved people on a path to freedom from southern states like Kentucky, Sekula explained.

“A lot of the activity that likely happened was something that was not meant to be advertised, or documented. So it's part of the oral tradition of the site,” Sekula said.

Friends of the Town Clock Church, a nonprofit that supports the church, will head the project that highlights its history.

“We just want to make sure that we always have the resources to keep this church in the condition it is because it's [such an] important story in the metro area,” said Jerry Finn, the group’s treasurer.

With the grant money, Sekula said the church will add a museum next to the property that shares the history of the church and its Black congregation, New Albany’s role in protecting people escaping slavery, and the Black experience in New Albany from the Civil War to the present day.

The grant is part of the Indiana Landmarks’ Black Heritage Preservation Program, an initiative to recognize historical sites and buildings that are important to Black history in Indiana.

“Black heritage is being erased almost every day, which will just wipe out any evidence of its existence,” said Eunice Trotter, the program’s director. “The work that we're doing all around the state is seeking to stop that erasure.

Town Clock Church is among 34 sites that received the grant for their importance to Black history in Indiana.

The church also received a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a part of the Preserving Black Churches project.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec Inc., the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation, and the Caesars Foundation of Floyd County.

Giselle is LPM's breaking news reporter. Email Giselle at grhoden@lpm.org.