Historic Cozad-Bates House in University Circle to Reopen as an Underground Railroad Interpretive Center
Posted November 10, 2020 in Press Releases
University Circle Inc. (UCI) is pleased to announce that it is nearing completion of Phase I of the renovation and restoration of the historic Cozad-Bates House. The house is the only pre-Civil War building remaining in University Circle. A new interpretive center will open in 2021 with indoor exhibits and outdoor installations that highlight this area’s history as a center of anti-slavery activism and honor those seeking freedom.
“The Cozad-Bates House has been a long-term, high impact project and a labor of love for UCI that started more than a decade ago,” said Chris Ronayne, president of UCI. “We are excited to be able to share this incredible building with the public and tell the story of the Underground Railroad in Cleveland.”
The Cozad-Bates House was built in 1853, with additions added in the 1860s and 1872. The new interpretive center reflects the legacy of Cleveland’s anti-slavery activists who lived in the area and aided freedom seekers through the Underground Railroad network in Cleveland, code named “Hope.” The home was vacant for decades before being donated to UCI by University Hospitals in 2006. That same year, the home was designated a Cleveland Landmark, driven by the efforts of the Cleveland Restoration Society, Council Member Kevin Conwell, and Restore Cleveland Hope. It is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Council Member Kevin Conwell stated “The Cozad-Bates House sits on sacred ground. It reflects the story of a struggle and the journey to freedom. Cleveland’s role was important and its why we landmarked this building.”
Since acquiring the house, UCI has invested in its protection and preservation, including a roof replacement, foundation stabilization, front porch restoration, and exterior repairs. After completing these needed improvements, UCI developed the phased Cozad-Bates House Adaptive Reuse Master Plan, which called for an Interpretive Center as the first step toward activation.
Together with leading interpretive partner, Western Reserve Historical Society, and long-time community partner, Restore Cleveland Hope, UCI established the Cozad-Bates House Community Advisory Committee, a group of community activists, educators, and historians, to guide development of the Interpretive Center’s content and educational curriculum. Competitive RFP and bidding processes led to the selections of LDA Architects as the lead architects; Möbius Grey LLC, Heyhey, and Communication Exhibits Inc. as the interior exhibit designer team; R.W. Clark Co. as general contractor for the interior; DERU Landscape Architecture as the exterior’s landscape architect; Agnes Studio as the exterior and wayfinding designer; and R.J. Platten as general contractor for the exterior. UCI will work to earn LEED Certification for the Cozad-Bates House Interpretive Center upon completion of all phases of renovation and restoration.
“Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) is privileged to be involved with a project that amplifies northeast Ohio's history of antislavery activism and strategic location in Ohio's Underground Railroad network," says Kelly Falcone, WRHS President and CEO. “While we cannot prove that freedom seekers sought refuge in the Cozad-Bates House, we do know that courageous people seeking freedom passed through what is now University Circle before the Civil War. We thank our friends with Restore Cleveland Hope and University Circle Inc. for the opportunity to share the stories of the brave women and men who fought to abolish slavery.”
The interior of the Cozad-Bates House Interpretive Center features three distinct spaces, each with its own story and purpose: the Gund Foundation West Wing, Cleveland Foundation East Wing, and the KeyBank Community Room. The West Wing exhibits set both the national and local context for slavery in the years leading up to the Civil War. The East Wing highlights stories of local anti-slavery activists and freedom seekers, such as Sarah Lucy Bagby Johnson, a Cleveland resident who escaped slavery only to be returned to Virginia under the Fugitive Slave Act. The KeyBank Community Room connects past to present with programming that outlines how the impacts of slavery are still seen in today’s social issues through an exploration of the 13th,14th, and 15thamendments developed by Case Western Reserve University’s Social Justice Institute. The Community Room also provides a space for small group discussions and programming led by docents and community partners. Throughout the space, guests may notice that special care has been taken to preserve the home’s remaining historic features and to make unique additions that tie to the exhibit narrative.
The preserved front lawn of the Cozad-Bates House will be transformed into a new cultural open space, featuring an interpretive walkway that combines art and landscape to further highlight the people and places of the Underground Railroad network in Cleveland. Thoughtful features include educational signage shaped like the arched windows of the home itself. That signage is also indigo-colored, a reference to one of the staple crops of the exploitive slave economy. Many of the plants used in the landscaping are gnarly or spiky, reflecting a difficult history. Some of these plants are edible or carry medicinal properties that evoke the hope that the land itself might offer support for freedom seekers on their long and dangerous journey. The space will also support future community events, including the annual Restore Cleveland Hope Freedom Festival, which features inspiring theatre, dance, music and spoken word performances.
“Like a dream come true, the bulldozed lawn declares that the Cozad-Bates House, the Toni Morrison Society Bench by the Road, and even the grounds will soon be an exciting education source for Restore Cleveland Hope and for all who visit University Circle,” said Joan Southgate, founder of Restore Cleveland Hope. “I was 73 years old when I made my long Underground Railroad walk. I am now 91 and feel blessed to be here to witness the completion of this project.”
UCI will welcome the first visitors to the new Cozad-Bates House Interpretive Center virtually in 2020, with in-person visits and a ceremonial ribbon cutting to be held in spring 2021. The first virtual open house will take place on Thursday, November 12 at 3:30 pm on University Circle Inc.’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/universitycircle).
Generous support for the renovation and restoration of the Cozad-Bates House came from the State of Ohio, Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, KeyBank, The George Gund Foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, The Abington Foundation, The Louise H. and David S. Ingalls Foundation, Inc.; Ohio and Erie Canalway, The David and Inez Myers Foundation, Nathan & Fannye Shafran Foundation, and Cuyahoga County.
For more information on the Cozad-Bates House Interpretive Center, visit www.universitycircle.org/cozad.Back to News