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11.03.2015

Village of Fredonia, NY: Underground Railroad, WCTU, and Victorian History

Today we take a look at Fredonia and Dunkirk, New York. We start off in the town square of Fredonia. The idea of a vibrant and pristine town square, where the town comes together, is something that always draws me to a town. My favorite movie of all time is Back to the Future, and one of my favorite aspects of the movie is the idealized 1950s and future view to 2015, vision of the a town square, as a vibrant and public center of living. Fredonia, NY's town square is reminiscent of that to me. This giant building is the Fredonia Opera House that dates back to 1891. I will call this Fredonia's version of the clock tower. The town square is a national historic district, known as the Fredonia Commons Historic District. There are approximately 25 buildings located within this historic district, with the majority of them 
 The square is filled with trees, benches, and picnic tables, for people to relax in this small town. The bandstand is really beautiful. 
 There is also a little fountain in the center of town.
The steeple in the background is the Fredonia Baptist Church, one of the most influential church congregations in the history of the United States. The church was built in 1852. The congregation dates all the way back to 1808. Unfortunately, Fredonia Baptist's congregation was forced to sell their building. The spiritual mission lives on with the Family Church of Fredonia.
The church played a fundamental role as a station for the underground railroad, just within the home stretch northwards for the slaves escaping to freedom. 

While the following is a disputed claim, with multiple locations claiming the same thing, the Fredonia Baptist Church is said to be the site that started the formation of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, which, for better or for worse, made huge changes to the nation. They were the group that rallied and had prohibition passed during a time in which alcoholism was at record levels. While their proposed solution, Prohibition, is widely considered to be a failure, the end result was eventually successful with the much higher regulated sale and consumption of alcohol. This ended up reducing alcoholism in the long run from pre-prohibition levels, and from the astronomical heights of alcoholism during Prohibition. Without Prohibition, alcoholism may have ended up being a bigger problem today.
Source: Digital Commonwealth
The less acclaimed, but most important long term achievements of the WCTU, are in the way it gave women a voice with leadership in this country, and, most importantly, they advocated and won women's suffrage. The WCTU advocated for women to gain the most fundamental right that we have in a democracy, the right to vote. Additionally, the organization fought against other issues plaguing the nation such as poverty through advocating that individuals should "have a living wage and an eight hour workday," concepts that have been advanced ever since. Fredonia Baptist Church played a huge role in this fight.
 In a later post we will move on to our journey back to Pittsburgh, along the Lake Erie Seaway Trail from Dunkirk, NY to Erie, PA, and then southwards. In the meantime, I will show you these two bald eagles that stared us down when we arrived in Dunkirk, NY.

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