Underground Railroad Museum offers local resources | News


PLATTSBURGH — The North Star Underground Railroad Museum at Ausable Chasm, located at 1131 Mace Chasm Road, is a local community resource “lighting the road to freedom.”

In 2021, around 1,200 people visited the museum, which was only open for three days – Friday, Saturday, Sunday – due to the pandemic.

“Our organization promotes freedom for all,” said Jacqueline Madison, president of the North Country Underground Railroad Association, in her video for National Day for Racial Healing.

“And we oversee the North Star Underground Railroad Museum which tells the stories of the Underground Railroad in the Lake Champlain region. Today, I offer you a mini tour of the museum. And I encourage everyone to visit the museum, either during our open season, which is between Memorial Day and Columbus Day, or you can call to arrange a visit during our off season.”


The decade-old museum is located in the Heritage Center of the town of Chesterfield and reveals the hidden history of the Champlain Line of the Underground Railroad.

The museum and center are operated by the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association founded nearly two decades ago by Cliff Haven residents Don and Vivian Papson.

The exhibits depict compelling stories of fugitives from slavery who traversed northeast New York and the Champlain Valley en route to Quebec and Ontario, Canada, according to the museum’s website.

Madison said near the entrance is a sign, a timeline of freedom in New York State, from 1626 when the first enslaved Africans arrived and ending in 1970 when African American men gained the right to vote with the 15th Amendment to the Constitution.


The museum is the converted home of Herbert Estes, a veteran of the Grand Army of the Republic and master machinist in charge of the Ausable Horse Nail Works at Ausable Chasm.

An exhibition retraces his life in the reception area of ​​the museum.

“It’s a photo of him in his later years reading the Bible to his grandsons,” Madison said.

“It’s an Estes family exhibit. Herbert Estes was sympathetic to the abolitionist movement according to his family, but we have no documentation showing that he was part of the Underground Railroad. He was in the army. He was in the Union Army (Pvt. Company K of the 35th Regiment, Massachusetts Vol. Infantry), and he was captured in Salisbury, North Carolina, and served time in the notorious Confederate prison.

“Herbert kept a diary while he was there, and when he got home he was asked to come to the convention to talk about it (imprisonment). But he read his entire diary and you can find it online at the northcountryundergroundrailroad.com website.


The museum’s three main areas of interpretation are: ‘The John Thomas Story’, an object theater that examines the life of the self-emancipator who fled slavery in Queen Anne County on the east coast of Maryland to become a successful Adirondack farmer; “The Church Room”, which examines the positions of local religious communities – Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Quakers – and pivots on slavery and the abolitionist movement; and “Northward to Freedom”, which features a video of the same title, which shows how the secret network operated. Members of the local community were the talent of the featured video.

“My part was to show that we had community activities around people of color,” Madison said.

“I was really showing what we had in the museum that was showing people – African American, Chinese American, and even today where you have immigrants coming in and out of the country (Roxham Road in Champlain) because they really don’t feel safe in America.”


Madison’s presentation illustrated how people can use community resources to learn more about race and understand differences, conflicts and find common ground within humanity.

“We are as far as I know,” she said.

“MLK (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee) would probably be another one, but they really don’t have anything that features the work of MLK. They just do the scholarship and do a program every year.

“All the other museums don’t really talk about people of color per se. I think the closest would be the Clinton County Historical Association and Museum, but they kind of just talk about the native people who were here.


Upcoming programming includes Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Juneteenth and Solomon Northup Day in July 2022.

“For this region, when it comes to information about people of color, we are, per se,” Madison said.

“So you want to at least show that there’s something in the community that students on campus and people in the community can go to learn more about. I presented the museum and what it contained.

“If anyone is interested in volunteering with the organization, contact us by email at [email protected]

Email Robin Caudell:

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Twitter: @RobinCaudell


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