ROUSES POINT - The village of Rouses Point is receiving recognition for its role in the history of the Underground Railroad.
The North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association - a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the part the region played in helping slaves escape to freedom during the 19th century - has received funding for a new interpretive panel to be installed on property owned by the village on Montgomery Street. The bilingual panel, explained NCUGRHA president Don Papson, will describe in English and French how the now privately-owned Sportsmen's Pier was the most important stop on the Underground Railroad on Lake Champlain from 1850 to 1865.
"This is important because this is the first recognition on Lake Champlain of a site that was a major one on the Underground Railroad," said Papson.
What made the location so important, Papson explained, was that Sportman's Pier - then known as Steamboat Landing - was a hub for both steamboat and rail transportation. Rail lines from Vermont connected the region to New York City and Boston, Mass., and a floating bridge across the lake installed in 1851 gave passengers direct rail service from Boston to Ogdensburg. That rail line allowed for runaway slaves to enter Canada at the narrowest point on the St. Lawrence River.
"Which was very easy to cross," said Papson.
The North Country is rich in history when it comes to the Underground Railroad, said Papson, but Lake Champlain has long been overlooked in some circles, he noted. Many maps of Underground Railroad routes don't have Lake Champlain listed on them, however written and oral histories describe the region's importance to the network of abolitionists and abolitionist-supporters.
"When we started this organization in 2004," said Papson, referring to the NCUGRHA, "my goal was to put us on the map. This is doing it. It's giving recognition to a history that was never really documented thoroughly."
Mayor George A. Rivers commended the work of Papson and others involved in the process of bringing the panel to the village.
"The people involved in this deserve a lot of thanks for all the research and everything they've done," said Rivers, who also credited Favreau and Racine for their parts in the effort. "If this brings more tourists into the village, I'll be very happy."
The dedication of the panel will be held at American Legion Montgomery Post 912, 29 Pratt St., this Sunday, April 10, beginning at 2 p.m. The event will be emceed by Rouses Point-Champlain Historical Society president Geri Favreau and include remarks from Papson and village historian Donna Racine. Sherry Jackson, regional coordinator for the National Park Service's National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, and Jim Branagan, assistant director of the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership, will also speak.
The Grays and Blue of Montreal will also discuss the role of Canadians during the Civil War. A performance by Lita Kelly will round out the event.
The dedication will be open to the public.
For more information, contact Favreau at 297-2064.