PERU - Lincoln and Ann Sunderland are inviting the public into their home and to have a glimpse inside a piece of the North Country's past.
The Sunderlands, who own the historic Keese Homestead at the corner of Union and Harkness roads, are welcoming people into their home in what will be a rare public viewing next weekend, Friday, Oct. 22, and Saturday, Oct. 23.
"We seldom open the house for tours," said Ann. "This won't happen again for a long time, if ever."
The Sunderland home is a stone high-style Georgian house built in 1837 by Peter Keese, son of Richard Keese, for whom the village of Keeseville was named. Peter Keese is credited for being an abolitionist whose support for the anti-slavery movement was evidenced with his signature on a petition for the formation of the Clinton County Anti-Slavery Society, also in 1837.
Though not officially documented, the Keese Homestead is believed to have been one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad in New York State before fugitive slaves made their way to Canada. Slaves in the south would make their way to New York City then travel further north to Albany, Troy, Glens Falls and then Peru before heading to Champlain and crossing the border in Lacolle, Quebec.
In August 2009, the property's connection to the anti-slavery movement was reestablished when an historic marker was reinstalled at the site. The original marker was lost a few years ago as the result of a motor vehicle accident.
Opening the 19th century building to the public will serve as both a fundraiser for the Peru Community Church Ladies Guild, said Ann, and as a chance for people to learn more about the area's role in abolitionism.
"Our church, like most churches, can always use some extra money," she said. "It's also a chance to see history. There are very few houses still standing around here that are this old with this kind of history involved."
The Sunderlands' 5,596-square-foot house still has many of the amenities that were incorporated into the structure when it was built, said Ann, including a kitchen fireplace with a crane and baking oven.
"We've tried not to change the structure much," said Ann. "We feel very strongly that [buildings like this] should be kept even though it's a challenge to preserve them."
Guided tours of the house will be offered Oct. 22 and 23 from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The cost of admission will be $5 per person, with children age 6 and younger admitted free. Free cider and snacks will be served following the tour.
A Chinese auction will also be held - winning bidders need not be present to win. Proceeds of the auction will also benefit programs of the Peru Community Church Ladies Guild.
For more information, including directions, call Peru Community Church at 643-8641.
Though the Keese Homestead house officially stands within the boundaries of the town of Ausable, it is often considered to be part of the town of Peru. Prior to Ausable's formation and the changing of boundary lines in 1839, the house stood in Peru. In fact, the Keese Homestead was Peru's first settlement, established in 1789 by Keese family ancestor William Keese, who claimed the spot as payment for his surveying services following the American Revolution.