Nebraska’s connection to the Underground Railroad

Pure Nebraska
Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 11:22 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 23, 2022 at 11:26 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

FALLS CITY, Neb. (KOLN) - A site in Falls City is being recognized by the National Park Service for playing a role in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

We caught up with Dave Kentopp in Falls City to talk about the significance of the Dorrington House and Barn.

“Falls City is in extreme southeast Nebraska,” Kentopp said. “That is important for its role in the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad came from Kansas, so this was the first Nebraska stop for the railroad coming from Topeka, Kansas. Slaves were ferried up along the Lane Trail through here. Falls City was actually founded in part by General James H. Lane. Falls City was a point he thought up as a town to be here as an abolition town.”

Kentopp says slaves who made their way along the Lane Trail found safe harbor at the house and barn of David and Ann Dorrington, who were early Falls City residents in the 1850s.

“They were originally from England,” Kentopp said. “They were persuaded to come up here by James Lane to start the town. David Dorrington was a good builder and carpenter. The reason the Lane Trail came through Nebraska City, through Nebraska, and into Kansas, was because Missouri was a slave state. The slaves were trying to find safe passage without having to go into Missouri.”

Experts say freedom-seekers would come through Falls City on their way to Nebraska City, where it wasn’t far to jump over into Iowa, which at the time, was a free state.

David and Ann Dorrington’s home and barn is no longer standing in Falls City. In fact, a two-story brick building is on the site now, and once housed Falter’s clothing store for many years. Now, it’s home to the Collection Museum.

“The Dorrington’s had the barn behind their house where the slaves were kept,” Kentopp said. “The Dorrnington’s had a contract with the U.S. Mail service to carry mail from Topeka north. They actually used the mail wagons to ferry slaves. The slaves would be brought in at night to the barn. They would sleep there, and Ann Dorrington was instrumental in caring for them. She would bring them coffee, bread and butter at night, without any kind of light. The reason for that is, they were being watched. That’s why this particular corner at 1601 Stone Street in Falls City is very important.”

Kentopp says the location is now being highlighted by the National Park Service.

“They have designated this corner as part of the Network to Freedom,” Kentopp said. “There will be a plaque that will be displayed here on the corner of the building on the site.”

Kentopp points out that he helped to secure the designation, but also says former Falls City native Bob Nelson played a big role in making sure this story is not forgotten in Falls City and in Nebraska.