Construction to Begin on Historic Site Center

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A private groundbreaking ceremony is set this month on a $3.2 million dollar visitor center at the historic Levi Coffin House in Fountain City. The site was part of the Underground Railroad and was the home of 19th-century anti-slavery activists Levi and Catharine Coffin.

October 14, 2014

News Release

Fountain City, Ind. - A much-awaited multimillion-dollar visitor center at the historic Levi Coffin House will mark a new chapter in the attraction's history when completed in 2016.

The Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, in conjunction with the Levi Coffin House Association, will hold an invitation-only groundbreaking ceremony for the new Levi Coffin House Interpretive Center on Wednesday, Oct. 29 just adjacent to the home, located 113 U.S. 27, Fountain City. The event coincides with the 175th anniversary of the home.

A current structure at the site of the development will be renovated from an abandoned property to make way for the 5,156-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that will tell the story of Indiana's connection to the Underground Railroad.

The new center will symbolize and celebrate the spirit and courage of freedom seekers - escaped slaves - and 19th-century anti-slavery activists Levi and Catharine Coffin, as well as their home, which serves as one of the best-documented and important Underground Railroad sites in the United States. The site saw more than 1,000 freedom seekers pass through in route to freedom.

The project will include repairs to the home. The budget is $3.2 million, with commitments for nearly 70 percent of that amount received to date.

"The new interpretive center will dramatically increase accessibility to the Levi Coffin House," said Tom King, ISMHS president and CEO. "This national treasure stands as a reminder of courage and conviction - not just that displayed by Levi and Catharine, but also of those whose desire for freedom and dignity led them to escape the burden of slavery."

Susannah Koerber, ISMHS senior vice president of Collections and Interpretation, said, "When the center opens in two years, visitors will have the opportunity to explore what Levi Coffin called the 'Mysterious Road.' They'll review the conscious choices made by those whose stories are told through a dynamic exhibition and consider how they might have responded themselves."

In addition to an orientation area, expanded gift shop and offices, the facility will feature an exhibition, Souls Seeking Safety: Bringing Indiana's Underground Railroad Experience to Life , which will put the Coffins' work in national context and share the voices and experiences of the freedom seekers. It also will explain how individuals battled the economics that supported slavery through the Free Labor movement, a precursor for today's Fair Trade efforts, and Levi Coffin's significant work in this area.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and other elected officials are slated to speak at the groundbreaking.

Source: Indiana State Museum