Rokeby plans for new Underground Railroad exhibit - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Rokeby plans for new Underground Railroad exhibit

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The Rokeby Museum is a 90 acre historic site in Ferrisburgh.  It was home to four generations of the Robinson family, spanning nearly 200 years.  And the Robinsons kept everything -- books, artwork and most importantly paperwork documenting all aspects of life through the generations.

"It's most important for its underground railroad past. The second generation of Robinsons, Rowland Thomas and  Rachael, were ardent, radical abolitionists and between 1830 something and the Civil War, they sheltered a number of fugitive slaves," said Jane Williamson, the Rokeby's Director.

And because the Robinsons were pack rats, there are many documents at the homestead detailing the slave's journeys. "That is really what sets Rokeby apart. There are other Underground Railroad sites, but few have the deep documentation and also the house and the grounds and thousands of artifacts and everything that really takes you right back to that period, when those folks were here,"  Williamson said.
The one thing The Rokeby does not have -- space to display all the artifacts connected to the Underground Railroad -- but that is about to change.  The museum is building a new 25-hundred square foot building that will feature a new exhibit space.

"The new exhibit will be available seven days a week,"  Williamson said. "It focuses on Simon and Jessy, two fugitive slaves who made their way here, and it sets these personal individual stories into the national context of abolition and what was going on during the very tumultuous dates between 1830 and the Civil War."

It will be called the Underground Railroad Education Center. This is actually the second time around for this project. Contractors were set to go in 2008, but when the economy crashed, the museum lost a large pledge. Other funding was also in jeopardy too, so the project was put on hold.

The total cost of the project is about 1.3 million dollars. The money has come from a variety of places including national grants and private donations -- testament, Williamson says, to the significance of this rich history. "But also made us realize how important Rokeby is, not just in Vermont -- people tend to think of it as a little Vermont place. It isn't a little Vermont place, it's a very big important American place," she said.

The new education center will be open next spring, just in time to kick off the 2013 season.

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