A Historical Walk on the ‘Freethought Trail’

Kimberly Winston writes about “The Freethought Trail,” a self-guided walking tour through West-Central New York that covers locations and people important in freethought history, including the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum and the National Women’s Hall of Fame:

“Some of the sites and the people they are associated with are widely visited, but the freethought aspect isn’t usually touched on,” said Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and one of the main researchers of the Trail. “They don’t build it into their general presentations because I suppose some visitors would find it offensive. But it is part of the history, and not to share that is to short-change the visitors and the history itself.”


Why, [Flynn and historian Sally Roesch Wagner] asked each other, did so many people remember [Frederick] Douglass and [Susan B.] Anthony while many of their equally important contemporaries — Matilda Joslyn Gage, Robert Green Ingersoll and, to an extent, [Elizabeth Cady] Stanton — were forgotten?

“The answer is they were freethinkers,” Wagner said from The Matilda Joslyn Gage Center, a stately Greek revival home in Fayetteville, on the eastern edge of the Freethought Trail, where she is director. “In a word, that is the reason.”

If you’re interested in going on the tour, you can go on your own using the resources at the official website. Winston herself walked the tour August 9-11 and you can see the updates from her Twitter feed.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    The burned-over district is fascinating. In one fairly small geographical area, in one fairly short period of time, you have the beginnings of the women’s suffrage movement, Mormonism, Spiritualism, the Millerite sect whose dissolution would lead to both the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
    Ingersoll’s birthplace is also close by, but his family moved around and he spent a good portion of his life in Illinios.

  • ShoeUnited

    Just to be a nerdy asshole, I believe the title should be “An Historical…” not “A Historical”.

    I know it sounds stupid to me too. But I believe those are the rules in English.

    • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

      It’s okay. This article is about freethinking, which includes eschewing stupid, obsolete rules and following common sense.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      Hemant lives in the Midwest, where the ‘h’ is not silent.

    • ZenDruid

      As I recall, the rule is ‘a’ when the accent is on the first syllable, and ‘an’ when not. So in this case, ‘an’ is appropriate.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        Can you provide any references to back up your recollection? Because I’ve never heard that one before. I have heard of the consonant vs. vowel distinction. Note the exception:

        Use “an” before unsounded “h.” Because the
        “h” hasn’t any phonetic representation and has no audible sound, the
        sound that follows the article is a vowel; consequently, “an” is used.

        an honorable peace
        an honest error

        As I mentioned previously; in the Midwest, the ‘h’ in historical is sounded.

        • ZenDruid

          Upon reflection, I think it’s a Brit english rule.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    Nowhere in the linked article is the Freethought Trail referred to as a “walking” trail. The map segment above must be at least 100 miles across. The more athletic could cover all the sights in less than a week on bicycle, but most people would want to take a vehicle.

  • Tom Flynn

    For some reason, Religion News Service said in its story description that Kimberly Winston “hiked the Freethought Trail,” and folks have picked up on that left and right. I happen to know for a fact she used a car, and I’d recommend that you do too — the 59 sites are within a 90-mile radius of the Ingersoll birthplace in Dresden, New York (except of course for the one site that IS the Ingersoll birthplace in Dresden, New York).
    — Tom Flynn, director of the Freethought Trail, who always drives it