2011 Lakes to Locks Passage Annual Partnership Award

The Lakes to Locks Passage Annual Partnership Award is presented to an organization or individual that has done exemplary work in the stewardship of natural, cultural, recreational and historic resources while fostering inter-municipal cooperation; thereby furthering the vision, goals and objectives of Lakes to Locks Passage.

The development of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum bythe Town of Chesterfield and North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association exemplifies the cooperation Lakes to Locks Passage strives to foster in our efforts to support community revitalization and infrastructure for authentic place-based tourism.

Ten years ago Don Papson had a vision for researching and interpreting the history of African Americans seeking freedom in Upstate New York. Early on, it was clear that he would succeed. His vision grew, and he organized the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association. As more individuals and communities came to share in the vision, the new association began to dream of having a facility that would celebrate the lives of abolitionists and fugitives from slavery who traveled on the Champlain Line of the Underground Railroad through seven northeastern New York counties and contiguous areas in Vermont and Canada.

In 2005, the Red Hummingbird Foundation, which had been founded by Vivian and Don Papson in 1999, secured funding from Senator Betty Little to assist the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association with its first project: a DVD titled “Northward to Freedom.” This short, but powerful, video not only provided an introduction to the Champlain Line of the Underground Railroad, it demonstrated that vision was becoming reality.

Meanwhile, Town of Chesterfield Supervisor Gerald Morrow had been working on his own vision for the past decade. He wanted a Town of Chesterfield Heritage Center, and he secured a Federal Highway Administration National Scenic Byway grant. The Town accepted the donation of the Estes House from the Ausable Chasm Company and forged a unique partnership between the Town of Chesterfield, the Chasm Company and the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association. The Town secured additional funding from the Environmental Protection Fund of the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and the New York Stare Canal Corporation’s Erie Canal Greenway program.

Supervisor Gerry Morrow’s dedication to the project persevered through numerous challenges. Through his supervision, a pile of contracts became consultants and contractors who transformed the Estes House into the Town of Chesterfield Heritage Center and North Star Underground Railroad Museum. In May of 2011, after two years of construction and hundreds of hours of volunteer time, the museum opened to the public. This facility now serves as a Heritage Center for travelers along Lakes to Locks Passage, and through our collaboration with National Geographic, we will work to promote Chesterfield and the story of the Underground Railroad to national and international audiences.

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