Cleveland’s Cozad-Bates House

by | Jul 17, 2023 | Arts & Culture

It’s the only pre Civil War building in University Circle, and one of the few left in Greater Cleveland. You’ve likely noticed the home driving east on Mayfield Road from University Circle heading into Little Italy. The home’s age is one small reason why the Cozad-Bates Home, a farmhouse built in 1853, with additions in 1860 and 1872 turning into an Italianate beauty, is so significant.

EA Staff on front steps of Cozad-Bates House

While there is no hard evidence to show this home was a stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves fleeing southern states, there is good reason to believe it may have been as the family that owned the home were known abolitionists. Andrew Cozad built this home for his son Justus, and then Justus’ daughter (who married a Bates, hence the name) inherited the property. When the property was donated to University Circle Inc in 2005, it was in such disrepair that it was scheduled for demolition. UCI spent several million dollars to protect and adaptively reuse this beautiful building. They partnered with Western Reserve Historical Society, Restore Cleveland Hope and a group of community activists, educators, and historians, to create a space to share history.

Thanks to a tour and conversations with UCI’s Matt Provolt and the Chair of Restore Cleveland Hope’s Board of trustees, Kathryn Puckett, the EA staff gained insight to help us understand the importance of this house and what it means to Greater Clevelanders, especially the Black community.

Kathryn Puckett, Restore Cleveland Hope guides our tour

Cleveland was referred to as Station Hope on the Underground Railroad and our quilt symbol was this checker board pattern, called Crossroads signifying the many routes to cross over into freedom.

The gardens surrounding the house are intentional with most of the plants chosen because they are edible or medicinal and slaves would have used them as they fled north. Informational signs are designed in deep blue to represent indigo, a field crop prevalent in the south.

UCI”s Matt Provolt shares Cozad-Bates history

Bronze discs embedded in the walkway represent the constellations that fleeing slaves would have relied on to lead them to safety in the north. Can you imagine running from danger, with nothing more than the clothes on your back and stars to guide you? No maps, often no shoes. Most slaves couldn’t read (legally forbidden) and when they arrived at a home in a northern state they could only hope it was occupied by someone who would help them, not turn them in for bounty money.

The North Star helped guide slaves to safety in northern states

Ohio was geographically positioned to be an abolitionist hotbed. Bordered by then Virginia (now West Virginia) and Kentucky, both slave-owning states, it also was on Lake Erie. A boat ride to Canada would ensure freedom. And while I know I learned this in history class in grade school, it was good to be reminded that while the 13th amendment abolished slavery, it took the 14th amendment to grant the freed slaves equal rights as citizens and the 15th amendment to give them the right to vote.

Joan Southgate, the founder of Restore Cleveland Hope, decided she would walk in the footsteps of her ancestors to help raise money to restore the Cozad-Bates Home and in 2002, she walked 519 miles from Ripley, OH (near Cincinnati), thru Pennsylvania, New York and into Canada….in her 70’s! She wrote a book about her adventures, In Their Path: A Grandmother’s 519-Mile Underground Railroad Walk.

We highly recommend a visit to learn more about our history. The building is open to the public every Saturday from 12Noon – 4:00 pm with docents available for tours/questions and often schedule tours for groups by appointment on weekdays.

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