The Pennsylvania Main Line of Public Works & The Underground Railroad

The Pennsylvania Main Line of Public Works & The Underground Railroad

On Thursday, September 14, join LancasterHistory as we welcome an esteemed panel of presenters to discuss abolitionists and activists throughout southern Pennsylvania who used actual railroads as part of the Underground Railroad activity that helped formerly enslaved people to escape to freedom.

The Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad began operations in 1834 and shortly thereafter, anti-slavery activists began using the 80-mile route to assist men and women fleeing slavery. This panel discussion will highlight the stories of William Whipper, Stephen Smith, Thaddeus Stevens, and others throughout southern Pennsylvania. Among these stories is that of Whipper, Smith, and Quaker William Wright, all of Columbia in Lancaster County. These three men worked together to create secret compartments in the lumber hauling cars of Smith and Whipper, beginning in 1838 and continuing until at least 1855, to assist freedom seekers in their journey north.

Today, the Philadelphia & Columbia Railroad is recognized by the National Park Service’s Network to Freedom as an actual railroad that was used as part of what became known as the Underground Railroad. Presenters for this event and discussion include Randy Harris, Dr. Leroy Hopkins, Jr., John Sigmund, and Dr. Barbara Zaborowski, moderated by Lenwood Sloan.

Randy Harris

Randy Harris (presenter) has a background of more than 25 years in community revitalization initiatives in historic preservation and heritage tourism. A former journalist, Randy served as Executive Director of the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County (1995-2002), then renewed work as a consulting historian. Since 2003, he has researched and nominated 20 heritage sites into the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, including the 70-mile-long Amtrak right of way between Lancaster and Philadelphia — part of the original Main Line corridor. Today, Randy works with LancasterHistory on the development of the Thaddeus Stevens & Lydia Hamilton Smith Center for History and Democracy and continues to give guided tours of Underground Railroad sites in the Lancaster County region.

Dr. Leroy Hopkins, Jr.Dr. Leroy Hopkins, Jr. (presenter) is a native of Lancaster, PA where he graduated with a Bachelors in German and Russian from Millersville State College (Millersville University) in 1966. In 1974, Hopkins received his Ph.D. in Germanic Languages & Literatures from Harvard University. Hopkins served as the Associated Director for Program & Planning and then as Acting Executive Director of the Urban League of Lancaster County from 1976-79. He taught German at Millersville University from 1979 until his retirement in 2015. Hopkins has served on the board of numerous non-profits including LancasterHistory, the Lancaster County Library, the Southeast Health Center, and the Black History Advisory Committee of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). Hopkins has published numerous articles on Black History and the interactions of African Americans and Germans.

John SigmundJohn Sigmund (presenter) is a multidisciplinary artist, history lover, and urban park enthusiast with years of experience as a nonprofit manager and arts educator. As Director of Public Programs with the Fairmount Park Conservancy, John organizes a variety of events in Fairmount Park and FDR Park, including programming with a historic focus. Recent examples include: “Walking in William Still’s Steps: Guided Hike & Discussion” and “UpRooted: A Walking Tour of Enslavement & Abolition in East Fairmount Park”. John has the proud distinction of actually living in Fairmount Park! He and his partner are resident caretakers and tour guides at Woodford Mansion, a National Historic Landmark built in 1756.

Lenwood SloanLenwood Sloan (moderator) has provided inspiration, leadership, and technical assistance both in the public and private sector for the past 40 years. Sloan holds degrees from Temple University in Theater & Communications and the University of California Berkeley in Choreography. Throughout his distinguished career, Sloan has served as the Director of Pennsylvania’s Cultural and Heritage Tourism Program, Pennsylvania’s Film Commissioner, Director of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Presenting & Commissioning program, Deputy Director of Services, California Arts Council, and Director of New Orleans’ Arts & Tourism partnership. Sloan currently serves on the Board of Directors at LancasterHistory and is the Co-Chair of the Thaddeus Stevens & Lydia Hamilton Smith Center for History and Democracy project.

Barb ZaborowskiBarb Zaborowski, Ph.D. (presenter) received a Bachelor of Arts in English Writing and Secondary Education, a Masters in Library Science, and a Ph.D. in Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh. She has been a librarian for over 30 years, during which she has served in school, public, and academic libraries. Currently, she serves as the Dean of Library Services and Special Projects at Pennsylvania Highlands Community College. She serves on the State Historical Records Advisory Board, the Pennsylvania Center for the Book Editorial Board, the Governor’s Advisory Council on Library Development, the Pennsylvania Historical Association Council, and the Executive Board of the Johnstown Chapter of the NAACP.


This event is expected to take place in person at LancasterHistory on Thursday, September 14, 2023. Doors open and the reception begins at 5pm. The lecture will begin at 5:30pm.

This program is free and open to the public. In-person attendance requires advance registration in order to guarantee a seat. Due to capacity restrictions, tickets may not be available at the door. Register online or by calling (717) 392-4633. Registration will close online on Thursday, September 14 at 5:30pm. This event will not be streamed or recorded.

By purchasing a ticket to our facility and/or program, you are agreeing to our Admissions & Programs Terms and Conditions.

Membership Makes History Happen! Your membership enables us to bring dynamic speakers to LancasterHistory and gives you other exciting benefits! Learn more about becoming a member of LancasterHistory or renewing your membership today.

In-Person Event Panel

September 14, 2023 LancasterHistory, 230 N. President Ave., Lancaster, PA 5PM Reception | 5:30PM Panel Free | Registration Required