Dreams and Collaborations…
– by Laura Minzes
How do you make dreams a reality? Luck, patience, time, money and collaborations…lots and lots of collaborations. The Levi Coffin State Historic Site is a small, unassuming Federal Style house in the small town of Fountain City, Indiana (pop. 700) about 6 miles north of Richmond, very near the Indiana/Ohio border.
Run by an incredibly dedicated group of volunteers, the Levi Coffin House Association, since it was opened to the public in 1972, the house was built by abolitionists, Levi and Catharine Coffin in 1839. During the Coffin’s 20 year residence in what was then called Newport, according to Levi in his autobiographical book Reminiscences, the Coffins assisted more than 2,000 freedom seekers in their travels north to Canada fleeing slavery.
This Underground Railroad stop, while wonderfully built and constructed for the purposes of housing freedom seekers, does not currently provide common visitor amenities nor is there space to appropriately tell the stories of those who sought freedom. For nearly twenty years, I’ve had the pleasure of being part of a team working to build the Levi Coffin Interpretive Center.
Bit by bit, trial by trial and dollar by dollar, this project has become a reality and will open in December, 2016, as part of Indiana’s Bicentennial celebrations. Already, it has been named by the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the top 10 museums to visit in 2016.
Of course, there are many, many, many people, organizations and grants supporters that helped contribute to the project but the ones closest to my heart are those that have helped through our Developing History Leaders at SHA (DHL@SHA) connections.
Collaborating with members from the Classes of 2006, 2007 (Look for their stone in the Freedom Walk at the site!), 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2014 among others is just one of the many aspects of this project that is so incredibly special. Working with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati (where Levi and Catharine moved to open a free labor goods warehouse and continue their UGRR activities) is another that has been particularly rewarding.
Often times, when thinking that this project wouldn’t happen, we would look at each other and say ”There is just something special about this place and project – let’s give it a couple of months and re-evaluate.” Inevitably, an event would occur, another grant would come through, or other components would come together and we’d keep going…I have to thank those SHA alumni for their support, patience and guidance.
Would this project have happened without the SHA connection? Maybe, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as fun!
Laura J. Minzes
Associate Vice President of Historic Sites
Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites