Organization offers Heritage tours, plans to open museum in Pocopson
By Eddy K. Foster, Staff Writer, UnionvilleTimes.com
KENNETT — A century and a half ago, the Kennett area was a central hotbed of abolitionist fervor, and many slaves escaped the south through our area with the help of the Underground Railroad. Thirteen years ago, the Kennett Underground Railroad Center (KURC) was founded. Now, they are moving along at full speed and are looking to expand.
KURC President Mary Dugan explained some of the history of her organization. “KURC was founded in 1998 by Frances Cloud Taylor and some friends, who felt a need to spread the word about the importance of the Kennett area in the antebellum abolitionist movement. For several years, KURC had a small museum in the History Station, but we have since left that location,” Dugan said.
While the Underground Railroad existed all up and down the East Coast, the Kennett area’s strategic location near the Mason-Dixon line made it a hub for escaping slaves. “We often say Kennett’s not just the Mushroom Capital but also the Underground Railroad Capital,” Dugan said. “Within 8 or 10 miles of Kennett we have found about three dozen former Underground Railroad “stations” and we’re constantly learning of more. One big reason we are able to find out about these is a book written around 1880, while many of the local heroes were still alive: R. C. Smedley’s History of the Underground Railroad in Chester and the Neighboring Counties of Pennsylvania. The many Quakers and African-Americans who lived around here were extremely active in helping fugitives. Add to that, the presence of Longwood Progressive Meeting of Friends which was founded in 1855 by abolitionist Quakers and others.”
The organization has been providing many educational resources for Kennett residents and visitors. “Since we have no home of our own, the Chester County Visitor Center near Longwood Gardens has kindly allowed us to use their very historic building as a base and display some items from our collection there. Our main activity is Heritage Tours, in a small bus with a guide, offered on certain Sunday afternoons and by arrangement at other times. Just as important is our research, investigating houses that were Underground Railroad “stations.” We also speak to all sorts of groups–students, retirement homes, community associations, etc.–about this compelling topic,” she said.
KURC has been looking for a new permanent home, and through a partnership with Pocopson Township this dream looks closer to becoming a reality. Assuming all goes according to plan they hope to move into the Barnard House, an Underground Railroad station in Pocopson Township.
“The township is finalizing plans to rehab the old house, a documented Underground Railroad station, for reuse as their offices and our small museum. We look forward to having a presence there, as every visitor wants to have the experience of being in an Underground Railroad house, and none in this area is open to the public. We look forward to having our collection in the house’s period rooms and to welcoming visitors in a site that is still fairly rural, as it was in pre-Civil War days, when the Barnards lived there,” she explained. The house. run as a “station” by Eusebius Barnard and the Longwood Progressive Friends Meeting, was also recently honored with a historical marker, the first of its kind in Pocopson Township.
Still, that could take a number of years, as there has been virtually no grant money available in recent years, making the financing of such a project difficult. Already, Pocopson is looking at scaled-back plans for the building and may look at a bond referendum to pay for project — particularly as current low interest rates could make long-term borrowing most cost effective than sinking maintenance funds in the building to keep the status quo.
The museum will also be displaying some of its artifacts and materials during the township’s Founders’ Day celebration, Sept. 18 — at the Locust Grove School House.
To schedule a tour, you can call Mary at the Kennett Underground Railroad Center at 610-347-2237. Their website has information about the various publications and projects they have had a hand in over the years, and can be found at http://undergroundrr.kennett.net/.