By Kemberly Richardson
PATERSON, New Jersey (WABC) — An Underground Railroad site in Paterson has been officially recognized by the National Parks Service National Underground Network to Freedom.
“You talk to a lot of historians and a lot of people will tell you, I’ve never heard of that story,” public historian Jimmy Richardson said.
It’s a story of how two men, one black and the other white, risked their lives helping fugitive slaves safely move through the city of Paterson in the 1850s.
“Paterson is most certainly a vital and very important Underground Railroad sanctuary city, not just an Underground Railroad stop, a sanctuary city,” Richardson said.
The National Park Service officially named the Huntoon-Van Rensalier an Underground Railroad site on Wednesday, making it one of 16 new listings.
Getting to this point was a labor of love for Richardson, who was born and raised in Paterson, that started in 2013 when he wrote the first application for designation. It was denied.
“Every two years I submitted again, and they were always rejected because they always felt the story was bigger,” he said.
More evidence was needed. Like how Josiah Huntoon, a wealthy businessman and abolitionist, teamed up with friend and employee Willam Van Rensalier and ran their operation out of Huntoon’s home and factory which once stood at Bridge and Broadway.
“We believe that’s where Willam Van Rensalier may have learned some of the escape routes, made contact with some of the underground railroad agents and moved people in and out of the city of Paterson,” Richardson said.
That mission has now been accomplished. The site is now part of a network of 700 sites in 39 states across the United States.
“We want to preserve our piece of history here in the city of Paterson because it helps tell the story of American history,” Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh said.