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110 N.Union Street/P.O.Box 186 Byron, Illinois 61010-0186 E-mail museum Click for Museum Site

The Lucius Read Home

The Underground Railroad and Lucius Read

Lucius Read Genealogy

Tracing The Underground Railroad

The Lucius Read Home

On October 29, 1836, Lucius and Emily Read and family ended their long journey by conestoga wagon. They had journeyed from Newfane, Vermont, to Fairview, Illinois, a settlement whose name would be later changed to Byron. Upon their arrival, they engaged Pardon Kimball to build them a wooden structure at the present corners of Union and Blackhawk Drive. This was the second home to be built in the new settlement.

The Lucius Read House was more than a family home. It served as an inn for travelers between Chicago and Galena. For a year it served on Sundays as the Congregational Church, which was chartered in 1837. By 1843, Lucius Read had the first brick structure in Byron built on the site of his first home.

Lucius Read's abolitionist views also involved his house. From 1842 until as late as 1862, the Lucius Read House was a stop on the Underground Railroad. In fact, it is rumored that a tunnel existed between the basement of this house and the river; however, this rumor is unfounded. The Lucius Read House is the only building remaining in Byron with such historical significance.

The Underground Railroad

Compiled and written by Helen Debman, Byron Museum District Board Member

Many Byron residents feel the Lucius Read House, built in 1837, has a heritage worth preserving. It was the second house built in Byron, and as such, has been part of Byron's long history.

There is no Byron history more exciting than at the time of the underground railroad when slaves escaped the South and fled north to Canada and freedom. The fortunate ones found aid and shelter in the underground railroad. Byron was an active center in the underground railroad, and Lucius Read and the house he built were part of it.

It was slaves from Missouri, crossing Iowa or coming up the Mississippi River, who found their way to Ogle County. They traveled always north and east toward the Great Lakes and Canada. As early as 1842, many of these former slaves became passengers on Byron's underground railroad.

Byron, a hotbed of abolitionists, became a center for this clandestine activity. Chief among them was Lucius Read, who ran Byron's first tavern and inn. Also Byron founder Jared Sanford and Deacon Isaac Knowlton and the Rev. George Gammell of the Congregational Church. It was said Gammell was the leader in the Byron Movement.

They were said to be three underground stations in the Byron area. The Lucius Read House was one of those and the only one remaining today. It is said the slaves traveling to freedom slept in the third floor loft of the Read house and meals were prepared in a hotel across the road. Another station was the Ercanbrack barn to the west of Byron, and the third was a huge stone barn on the Charles Tanner farm east of town. It took Tanner twenty years to build his barn. Each stone was quarried and shaped with timber hewn by his own hand. He built tunnels and caves into the walls to hide runaway slaves.

Runaway slaves crossing the Mississippi River at Fulton passed through Milledgeville on their way to Byron. Others came into southwestern Ogle County through Buffalo Grove. Conductors from Buffalo Grove would bring them to Byron at night hidden under a wagon of hay. Care was taken to avoid Mt. Morris, known to have southern sympathizers from Maryland. From Byron the passengers could have been taken to points north or they could have been taken east to Lynnville where Elijah Dresser hid them in his barn before sending them on to Dekalb enroute to Chicago.

Owing to the secretive nature of the underground railroad, no records were kept. There are no lists of officers or stations agents or conductors. The names and number of passengers are not known. History depends on stories handed down.

One old Byron settler, Wilbur Whitney, was recorded as saying he visited the Tanner barn as a boy. There were slaves secreted in the basement of the barn, and he saw them taken north hidden under canvas covered wagons.

Much of the information on Byron's underground railroad is attributed to Lydia Read Artz, the daughter of Lucius Read. She became editor of The Byron Express from 1899-1912. In speaking of the newspapers policy, she is reputed to have said it was strictly Republican, because what else could be expected of anyone brought up on the underground railroad.

Artz remembered passengers arriving at night. She said the last group through Ogle County came through Byron in 1862. There were 13 on a bobsled covered with hay.

Another record handed down says that a lumber wagon concealing three men and two women slaves from Missouri passed through Lynnville on July 4, 1848 on their way from Byron to Chicago.

Elijah Dresser had an underground station in his barn near Lynnville. While still living, he told of experiences in the underground railroad. He said runaway slaves seldom came alone. Usually he had two and three, but one time he had six, one man, two boys, three women. They came to him under cover of night, but he took them on by daylight.

Dresser told of the last passenger to come his way, a 30 year old mulatto woman with her 18 month old baby. She stayed in the Dresser home for several days and told them her story.

She was raised in Paducah, Kentucky and taken to Missouri to be sold south. This led to her desperate effort to escape. Free men drove her in a covered wagon by night with two men on horseback with revolvers to protect her. Her husband, who had been a deacon in the African Baptist Church, died of consumption. She read his Bible and hymnbook she carried with her.

Dresser said this slave like all runaway slaves had a horror of capture and being sold in the far South. The lucky ones, with the aid of Lucius Read and his fellow abolitionists, made it to new life and freedom in Canada.

Lucius Read Genealogy



1850 Federal Census of Ogle County, page 215

READ, Lucius - born 14 August 1810 in Nefane, Windam County Vermont.

Lucius 39, Male, Connecticut, $7620 value of property, farmer Tryphenia H. (FISHER) 39, female, Massachusetts Tryphenia widow of Luke PARSONS.


Hellen (sic) A. 6, female, Illinois, school. With first wife Emily.

Emely (sic) L. 3, female, Illinois, school. With first wife Emily.

Lydia A. 1, female, Illinois. With second wife Tyrphenia.



1860 Ogle County Federal Census


Adelaide W. PARSONS, 20, female, school teacher, Illinois.

Lydia Read (sic), 10 female, Illinois, school.


Helen A. READ (sic) 16, female, school teacher, Illinois.

Emily L. READ (sic), 12, female, Illinois, school.



Portrait and Bibliographical Album of Ogle County:

Lucius married Emily in Windsor County Vermont November 27, or 23, 1831 (two different accounts). She died in 1847.


One child died in infancy.

Hellen married Archibald ANDREW of Rockford Winnabago County Illinois.

Emily married J.F. SPAULDING.

Tryphenia was the daughter of Nahum and Betsy (HARRINGTON) FISHER.

Tryphenia was born in Westborough, Worchester County, Massachusetts, 8 November 1810.

Lucius and Tryphenia were married 4 April 1848


Lydia, married Dr. William F. ARTZ, Physcian and drugist of Byron.

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