Area mourning loss of Mary Dugan

Teacher, writer, historian left strong mark on Unionville, Kennett areas

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times


Mary Larkin Dugan, much beloved teacher, writer and historian, died Monday.

The Unionville and Kennett areas are mourning the loss of a beloved teacher, writer and historian Mary Larkin Dugan — the driving force behind the Kennett Underground Railroad Center —  who died Monday after a long illness.

Just two weeks ago, the former long-time Unionville Middle School (the school was renamed Charles F. Patton Middle School during her final year of teaching) English teacher, East Marlborough resident and historian was inducted into the Unionville High School Wall of Fame. A Unionville High School graduate — she was class valedictorian — she was a cornerstone of the community, and passionate about teaching and preserving local history.

Unionville-Chadds Ford Superintendent of Schools John Sanville opened Monday night’s Board of Education work session with the news of her death — and described it as “losing a member of our Unionville-Chadds Ford family.”

Tributes to her came from all over the community, from fellow educators and local elected officials to those who worked with her on various historical projects.

Carrie Freeman, now the Executive Director of The United Way of Southern Chester County, taught with Dugan at then-Unionville Middle School and was able to watch the impact she was able to have on the wider community after retiring from her teaching career.

“Mary was a wonderful teacher and carried her passion for education and history into her work with the Kennett Underground Railroad Center,” Freeman said. “She was a tireless community worker in preserving our area’s rich history. Her leadership will be greatly missed.”

Dugan also served as one of the founders in 1998 and subsequently the long-time president of the Kennett Underground Railroad Center — a museum dedicated to the effort to whisk slaves from southern states to the north in the years before and during the Civil War.

Finding a permanent home for the KURC was Dugan’s overriding passion in her final years, as the museum moved from The History Station in Kennett Square, to the Chadds Ford Historical Society, and limited display space in the Chester County Visitors center.

Dugan had been working closely with Pocopson Township Supervisors Georgia Brutcher and Steve Conary, right up until the time of her death, on securing a new home for the museum at the Barnard House, an actual local stop on the Underground Railroad. In part because of her dogged efforts, the building is slated to become to new Pocopson Township Building in addition to being the new home of the museum.

Although the economic downturn and the end of grant funds originally expected to pay for the project slowed the efforts to move to the Barnard House — the Wawaset Road home of Eusebius Barnard, who along with his wife Sarah sheltered escaped slaves as they made their way north to freedom — the project appears to now be moving forward, likely to be largely funded by the township.

She was a member of London Grove Friends Meeting and a memorial service is planned there for April 27th at 1 pm. All are welcome.

She also was a charter member of the East Marlborough Township Historical Commission. A resident of Marlborough Village, she fought for years to preserve the centuries-old village and sought historic designation for buildings there, specifically Marlborough Friends Meeting House. She was also a past president of Southern Chester County Historical Society.

She was also an author, having co-written a book with Ella Sestrich in 2008 about East Linden Street in Kennett Square and the Quakers who sought to create a prosperous African-American community there, a community that still exists. She also worked to research the history of many local homes — adding to the rich tapestry of local history in the greater Unionville area.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Kennett Underground Railroad Center, KURC, PO Box 202, Kennett Square, PA 19348

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  1. Lorraine Stanish says:

    I met Mary before the last election when she volunteered to notify East Marlborough residents of the then new Voter ID bill. Her activism extended further than most people realized.

  2. Elaine MacDonnell says:

    I came to know Mary through her mother, Verna, for whom she lovingly cared until her death after 104 years on this earth. Mary was a kind and attentive daughter, and I had hoped we would have her passion and caring with us for a much longer time. She has touched many lives, and her memory will live on through her tireless work with local history and the Underground Railroad Museum.

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