A visit to the North Star Underground Railroad Museum. That’s what I did today on the Adirondack Coast

In 2006 I accompanied my grandparents on a house hunt here along the Adirondack Coast. It didn’t take long for them to find the perfect place nestled in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. It was love at first sight. Large great room, two kitchens, and at every turn another built-in storage cabinet. This is where we begin. It wasn’t until the day of the closing that we found out that my grandparents had purchased the old Stephen Keese Smith Home on the Union Road in Peru NY. This home and one barn on the property are known as the best documented sites of the Underground Railroad along the Champlain Line. On the day of their closing a group of students led by Don Papson were on the property for an on site lesson for the Underground Railroad existence along the Adirondack Coast. My grandparents knew right away that they had not only purchased a home full of nooks and crannies to store their years of collections, they had purchased a piece of history. How much history they will come to find in years to come. From the first time I stepped foot in the small cramped space under their barn where slaves hid, I was hooked. I met the President of the North Country Underground Railroad Association Don Papson shortly after my family had found their way into such an integral piece of the nation’s history.

Fast forward to the present. Today Don Papson met with me for a tour of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum in the town of Chesterfield at the entrance to Ausable Chasm. The museum opened for visitors less than a year ago on May 21, 2011 and has already seen over 3,000 visitors from all over the globe. I was a bit awe-struck by the detail and care that I could see as soon as I walked in the door. This museum had displays depicting the importance of the area on the walls in a manner that I didn’t expect. My eyes darted about a bit while Don explained to me each of the displays and the importance of the people and areas depicted on them. The displays house collections of photos that Don has managed to collect of important figures on both sides of the struggle for freedom, buildings where slaves had gone for refuge, and many of the watercraft used along Lake Champlain to transport slaves between safe houses. All around you there are doors to rooms with more information, interactive pieces, video screens, and artifacts from the time of the Underground Railroad. I wanted to dart about and see everything there is to see but was able to keep my composure while Don explained to me the importance of each of the images on display.

Don Papson has been working for eleven years collecting information about various known Underground Railroad properties, individual accounts of life as enslaved people’s struggle to be free, and the people here that helped them achieve their dream. He has uncovered unknown chapters of the Champlain Line of the Underground Railroad and added to the chapters already written by local historians. His work has officially added the Adirondack Coast Region to the Underground Railroad maps linking the people who escaped to Albany, Troy, and Boston to the region. He has uncovered family history for residents still residing in the area that they never knew, and he has managed to place properties once only thought to be a part of the Underground railroad system into true pieces of our nations history through research and dedication.

When visiting the museum you gain a true sense of freedom. It serves as a reminder that we should never forget the hardships of life for the people who have struggled for freedom from oppression. You will be taken back in time before the Civil War when there was a true rift between the North and South. There are two video rooms set up to show true life accounts of people who came through the Champlain Line of the Underground Railroad on their trek north to Canada. One would be lying if they were to say that the accounts depicted are not emotionally moving. One of the video rooms has an innovative multimedia display of the heartrending and triumphant story of John Thomas and his family. John Thomas escaped the cruelty of slavery in Maryland and settled in his own farm in the Adirondacks.

The Museum is open Memorial Day to Columbus Day (other days by appointment) from 9am-4pm at 1131 Mace Chasm Rd, Ausable Chasm NY 12911. It is perfectly situated at the exit point for Ausable Chasm. If you are already planning a trip to Ausable Chasm, add the North Star Underground Railroad Museum to your daily to-do list. Admission to the Museum if free, but donations are greatly appreciated. Of course there is also a gift shop with books, maps, mugs, T-Shirts and more. You can also visit their website at http://www.northcountryundergroundrailroad.com/index.php to learn more about the efforts of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum and the North Country Underground Railroad Association.

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An evening of choral music from the African American Traditions presented by the Plattsburgh State Gospel Choir.
Featuring Champlain Valley Voices, Plattsburgh State Choral Union, Plattsburgh State Cardinal Singers & College Chorale.
Special distinguished guest Dr. Anthony Leach & Pennsylvania State University’s Essence of Joy. See Flyer for more info.

Giltz Auditorium, Hawkins Hall, Beekman St, Plattsburgh, NY

$1 minimum donation to benefit NCUGRHA.

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4 thoughts on “A visit to the North Star Underground Railroad Museum. That’s what I did today on the Adirondack Coast

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. The next time you find yourself in the area, you should stop by the museum. there’s a lot of information there that ties to the Stephen Keese Smith home that your family owns. The photo of the man in the suit is the man who owned the home and hid the slaves in the barn on the property.

  1. Thanks for writing about this. I had no idea that this was open or available. Something new to take the kids to when we come up again. Growing up, I always heard the rumors of various houses near Keeseville being a part of it, but never knew where they were.

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