William C Goodridge is born in Baltimore to an enslaved mother and an unknown white man. His mother and grandmother are owned by plantation owner Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. It’s speculated that the father was either a Carroll or a prominent Baltimore physician who purchased Goodridge’s mother after his birth. It’s unclear how Goodridge chose his surname, which is spelled “Goodrich” in many early documents. It’s also unclear what the initial C, which is written without a period, symbolized, though some suggest a link to Carroll.


Under the law, Goodridge cannot be sold as a slave, but he can be indentured. He is apprenticed to York, Pa. tanner Reverend Michael Dunn, who teaches him the trade while providing him schooling, food, and shelter. 


Goodridge is granted freedom at age 16, five years sooner than the expected freedom date under his indentured servitude, because Dunn’s business failed. Around this time, it’s believed that Goodridge moves to Marietta, Pa. and learns the barber trade.


Goodridge returns to York and opens the barber shop that would serve as a springboard into numerous business ventures. 

The barber shop prospers and he ventures into retail, selling homemade candies, wooden toys, and masks. He is one of a few retailers in the county with a license to sell imported goods.

Goodridge sells a baldness treatment, called “Oil of Celsus and Balm of Minerva,” and offers baths and a Christmas tree exhibition in his house. Goodridge uses advertising extensively and is credited with introducing the sale of daily newspapers in York.


He marries Evalina (Emily) Wallace, who is debated to have been either a slave on the Carrollton Plantation or a free black woman living in Baltimore.


They have at least seven children. The four boys are Glenalvin, Albertus, Wallace and William Jr. The three girls are Emily, Susan, and Mary. The Goodridge children receive an education, with the girls attending a finishing school for black girls in Baltimore. 


Goodridge begins operating the Reliance Line of Burthen Cars and other railroad lines, offering rail service between York and Philadelphia. 

He risks life and fortune by using his personal and commercial properties as stations on the Underground Railroad. He has a secret hiding spot under his kitchen floor (which you can still see at his house), and his railroad cars are used to move fugitives along to Philadelphia. 

Did you know?

We don’t know how many fugitive slaves Goodridge helped to freedom. It was illegal to assist fugitives, so he didn’t keep records. However, researchers believe Goodridge assisted two very noteworthy men: William Parker and Osborne Perry Anderson. 

Parker, an ex-slave who participated in the Christiana Resistance, regularly used Goodridge’s railroad cars to help fugitives escape.Goodridge is believed to have helped at least three people escape from the Christiana Riots in September 1851. 

Anderson, the sole survivor of John Brown’s Harper's Ferry raid in Virginia in 1859, was hidden on the third floor of Centre Hall before being smuggled to Philadelphia on a Goodridge railcar. A close friend to Frederick Douglas, Goodridge is associated with other leading abolitionists and businessmen of the time.


Goodridge builds the five-story “Centre Hall,” the town’s tallest building, on York’s square. He owns as many as twenty commercial and residential properties and is by any standard one of York’s wealthiest and most successful residents.

Did you know?

Historically, many free blacks became barbers. With a diverse clientele, successful barbers like Goodridge were able to interact with successful white businessmen and earn their respect. However, while there’s evidence that Goodridge had business transactions with them, he was not invited to join York’s white social organizations. 

Regardless, it’s clear that Goodridge’s race did not deter him from pursuing his business interests.  


Goodridge’s successful run in business ends and he is declared bankrupt. He is said to have been heartbroken by the death of his wife, who was his valued business partner, and bad business decisions contributed to the financial decline.


The estate of William C Goodridge is sold to three York merchants.


Goodridge’s oldest son, Glenalvin, who was a schoolteacher and one of York’s first photographers, is indicted and convicted of raping local white woman Mary E. Smith.

He is sentenced to five years in jail, but William Goodridge throws himself into a campaign to use his influence and have his son pardoned of the dubious allegations.

He obtains support letters from prominent Yorkers questioning the legitimacy of the charges and, in 1864, the governor announces a full pardon. He moves to Michigan, and his father soon follows.

Did you know?

Historians and researchers have competing theories about why William Goodridge left York. One legend claims Goodridge had to leave because of his Underground Railroad activities and the Confederate Army’s occupation of York. However, one of Goodridge’s daughters had earlier settled in Michigan, and other family members followed. In 1867, Goodridge followed the family to Minneapolis and spent his remaining years there.


Glenalvin dies of the tuberculosis he contracted while in prison.


Goodridge dies at age 70 after moving to Minnesota.


Reinhardt Dempwolf, the new owner of the home where Goodridge lived from 1827 until 1858, begins renovations. Demolition of a dining room floor reveals a large dug-out hole filled with straw. He preserves and covers the hole. Over the next 100 years, the house would be used as a single-family residences, offices, and apartments.


York Federal Savings and Loan donates the foreclosed home to Crispus Attucks Association of York on the condition that it be used as an Underground Railroad museum. 


Goodridge Freedom Center and Underground Railroad Museum is designated a member of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom by the U.S. National Park Service.

Are you related?
The Goodridge children are:

  • Glenalvin J. (1829-1867)
  • Emily O. (1834-1916)
  • Albertus (1836-1846)
  • Wallace L. (1840-1922)
  • Susan (1842-1861)
  • Mary (1845?-1920?)
  • William O. (1846-1890)

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