Press-Republican

August 31, 2012

Underground Railroad group has new leader

By DAN HEATH
Press-Republican

---- — AUSABLE CHASM — The North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association will soon have a new president.

Association First Vice President Jacqueline Madison will take over from President Don Papson on Oct. 1. She wants to continue to increase the visibility of the association and its North Star Underground Railroad Museum.

Madison said that as an African-American, the local history of the Underground Railroad is especially important to her.

“For people to put their lives, their family’s lives on the line at a time when it was unpopular to do that was outstanding,” she said.

“I think this is an untapped part of the North Country story.”

EXPANDING RECOGNITION

It is vitally important to preserve their stories and pay homage to those who fought against slavery, Madison said.

The Underground Railroad on the New York side of Lake Champlain doesn’t receive as much attention as efforts on the Vermont side, she said, and she would like to change that.

“This needs to be recognized on the state and national level,” she said.

The museum is open seven days a week from Memorial Day through Labor Day and by appointment during the off season.

EDUCATION OUTREACH

Madison said she would like to expand the museum’s educational component. Association Second Vice President Linda Richardson is leading that effort, which can target present forms of slavery, such as sexual slavery and domestic servitude.

“We need to take our past, identify it and use it to change the future,” Madison said.

Papson is stepping down to concentrate on a book he is writing with his wife, Valerie Papson, and Tom Calarco. “The Secret Lives of Sidney Howard Gay and Louis Napoleon and the Underground Railroad” is scheduled for completion in the spring.

He intends to stay involved with the association and museum, as time allows, which Madison said was welcome news.

CHARTERED IN 2005

Papson and Madison were part of the group of volunteers

who founded the association. They were able to achieve nonprofit status and obtain a charter from the New York State Department of Education in 2005. 

The Papsons were able to take their research into the local Underground Railroad and convert it to a series of historical readings. That research led them to change the focus from the Adirondacks to the Lake Champlain Valley.

“That was their highway through the region,” Papson said.

After the decision was made to create a museum, Lake to Locks Passage Director Janet Kennedy told Papson the Town of Chesterfield had been given the Estes House, located at AuSable Chasm.

The museum opened in May 2011. The property is still owned by the Town of Chesterfield, which served as the conduit for grant funding that helped make the facility a reality.

The property is maintained by the AuSable Chasm Co., Papson said, noting it is somewhat unusual to see a private company, a non-profit organization and a municipality work together so well.

Papson said they recently were accepted for a link on the National Park Service’s Network to Freedom map of Underground Railroad sites. 

The museum had more than 4,000 visitors from 23 countries last year — its first year of existence — and is on pace to reach more than 5,000 visits in 2012. “For a little museum, that is outstanding,” Papson said.

Email Dan Heath: dheath@pressrepublican.com