Levi Coffin House expands, offering closer look into Underground Railroad activities

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FOUNTAIN CITY, Ind. (Feb. 15, 2016) -- A historic site that has been called the "Grand Central Station" of the Underground Railroad is undergoing a major expansion.

The Levi Coffin House in Wayne County has been run entirely by volunteers since the state bought it in the 1960s and restored it.

Levi and Catharine Coffin built the home in 1839. The Quaker couple, who moved to Indiana from North Carolina because of their opposition to slavery, owned a general store and spent their 20 years in the area as active abolitionists.

"It didn’t take very long for the word to get out, so to speak," said Janice McGuire, President of the Levi Coffin House Association.

The home contains unique features believed to have been built to aid in the Coffins' Underground Railroad work. It has often been referred to as the "Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad," because the town was a meeting point of multiple routes from the south to Canada and Coffin was one of the most active members.

"They helped about 100 freedom seekers per year... (so there are) nearly 2,000 we think they assisted," McGuire said.

Some of the features include a hidden door in an upstairs room, where slaves could hide in the event of a raid. The door is easily concealed by placing a bed frame in front of it.

"(It) would’ve been a last resort," McGuire said.

There is also a spring well located in the basement of the home, allowing for easy access to water without tipping anyone off to extra visitors.

Every year, thousands of Hoosier students visit the home.

"We have about 2,000 students and teachers on field trips. We’re open in April and May specifically for students," McGuire said.

Soon, more people will be able to access the home, which offers only limited hours right now. A $3.2 million Visitor's Center expansion is being built next door, which will include expanded hours, exhibits and an introduction to the home before tours begin.

The Visitor's Center is a Bicentennial Legacy project, but it's being funded almost entirely by donations. McGuire said that they still need to reach the goal and are hoping more Hoosiers will donate.

You can get more information and contact the Levi Coffin House Association to donate at the link here.

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