New Bethel-Rocky Fork AME Church, which is located in Godfrey, originated before the Civil War when free people and slaves crossed the Mississippi River to begin life in Illinois, which was a free state. According to the National Park Service, as early as 1816, Rocky Fork Church was one of the first Free State stops for slaves escaping Missouri. In the 1830s, a more organized Underground Railroad route was established through the African Methodist Episcopal Church. This area continued to serve as both a way stop and escape community after the Missouri Emancipation Proclamation of 1865.

Alton’s Union Baptist Church is one of the oldest Black churches in Illinois. It was populated by free Blacks and organized in 1836. John Anderson, Union Baptist’s founding pastor, was Alton abolitionist newspaper editor Elijah P. Lovejoy’s pressman prior to Lovejoy’s death in 1837 by an anti-abolitionist mob.

Additional Underground Railroad Shuttle Tours are scheduled for March 28, April 25, May 30, June 27, Sept. 26 and Oct. 24. For more information on the Underground Railroad shuttle tours or to make advance registrations, please contact the Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau at (800) 258-6645 or go to www.RiversandRoutes.com.