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Historic Northampton expands marker series to include abolitionist sites

NORTHAMPTON — Historic Northampton has been awarded a $5,000 grant from MassHumanities to expand its historic marker series, allowing the addition of sites important to Northampton’s rich abolitionist history.

Beginning in February, Historic Northampton will use the funding to research, design and install the new markers at sites associated with the underground railroad and the pre-Civil War anti-slavery movement.

“It seems to be a really worthwhile effort to expand on the existing series and tackle the topics of African-American, abolitionist and slave history in Northampton,” said Pleun Bouricius, assisstant director of MassHumanities.

The expansion comes as the result of recent scholarly research conducted on radical abolitionism in Northampton by Professor Bruce Laurie of the University of Massachusetts and David Ruggles Center committee chair Steve Strimer.

MassHumanities also provided a scholar-in-residence grant worth $3,000 for the research.

Strimer said the new markers will each interpret the story of abolitionist activity in Northampton, with a focus on the downtown area. He said the project is expected to add three new markers to the existing seven.

“Northampton was kind of a fulcrum, it’s a great way to look at the abolitionist movement. These are things you don’t want to lose sight of in the American experience,” said Kerry W. Buckley, executive director of Historic Northampton.

According to a grant narrative, authored by Buckley, three locations are currently being considered as possible locations for the new markers to be built.

They include the historical site of a utopian abolitionist community that was centered around a silk mill near the Mill River dam site in Florence, the island of Bathsheba Hull near the intersection of Conz and Old South Streets, and on Elm Street near Smith College, marking the residences of several famous abolitionists and the Dewey house, where the slave case of Catherine Linda took place.

Information will be presented at each site through the use of maps, images and narratives as well as the use of embedded web links in the form of smart-phone scannable QR codes that will send visitors to websites with additional information and videos.

The installation of the markers is expected to be completed by the end of the summer and dedicated in the early fall.

Historic Northampton first built and dedicated the historic marker series in 2008 as an “outdoor museum” that would allow visitors to experience 350 years of regional history.

MassHumanities also provided a $10,000 grant to the museum in 2006 for the development of the original series.

Historic Northampton consists of a campus of three historic buildings on Bridge Street in Northampton and is home to approximately 50,000 items spanning the history of the Connecticut River Valley from pre-Contact to the present day.

According to the grant narrative, the museum’s mission is to encourage and promote scholarship and to interpret and promote that scholarship to the widest audience possible.

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