“I had already risked every thing in the work – life, property, and reputation – and did not feel bound to respect human laws that came in direct contact with the law of God.” – Levi Coffin
A new interpretative center has opened at the Levi and Catharine Coffin State Historic Site in Fountain City. As part of the Indiana State Museum’s INVision Campaign of historic site renovations, the new 5,156 square foot interpretive center “symbolizes and celebrates the spirit and enduring courage of freedom seekers – escaped slaves – and the 19th-century anti-slavery activists Levi and Catharine Coffin,” said site manager Joanna Hahn. The new center was listed as one of the twelve new museums to visit in 2016 by the Smithsonian Magazine – in the entire world.
Levi (1798-1877) and Catharine (1803-1881) Coffin were Quaker abolitionist leaders that played a significant role in the Underground Railroad in Indiana. From the 1820s through 1847, the couple harbored several thousand freedom seeking black men, women, and children in Indiana as they escaped the bonds of southern slavery for the relative freedom of the north. The Coffin’s home in Fountain City (then known as Newport) became known as the Grand Central Station in the Underground Railroad. The Coffins later moved to Cincinnati and continued their work until the end of the Civil War.
The Levi Coffin House is a national historic landmark and was built in 1839 in a federal architectural style and has been one of the most visited historic sites in the state of Indiana. Operated by Indiana State Museum and the Historic Sites Corporation, the house and the new $3.8 million interpretative center allows for visitors to understand the role the Coffins played in context of the national abolitionist Underground Railroad operation, or what Levi Coffin referred to as the ‘Mysterious Road.’
The Indiana State Museum hosted a special ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday, December 8 for a crowd of about one hundred people. Tom King, president and CEO of the ISMHS and Robin Winston, ISMHS board member and chair of the Levi Coffin State Historic Site Campaign both spoke about the importance of the new center to assist the public in better understanding the national significance of the site.
The interpretative center opens to the public on December 10, 2016 and debuts a new exhibition titled Souls Seeking Safety: Bringing Indiana’s Underground Railroad Experience to Life. The three-story facility sits adjacent to the Coffin’s House on U.S. 27 and features a theatre, meeting facilities, and exhibition space. The center and house are open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.. Admission to the center is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $5 for children ages 3 through 17.
The Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites’ INVision Campaign seeks to revitalize their central museum and reinterpret, or restore eleven other state historic sites by the ISMHS’ sesquicentennial in 2019. Along with the Indiana State Museum, the other sites include Angel Mounds, the original capitol building at Corydon, the Culbertson Mansion in New Albany, the Gene Stratton-Porter historic site in Rome City, historic New Harmony, the Lanier Mansion in Madison, Limberlost in Geneva, the T.C. Steele homestead in Nashville, the Vincennes historic site, the refurbishment of the Ben Franklin III canal boat at the Whitewater Canal state historic site, and of course, the Levi and Catharine Coffin House and Interpretative Center. The ISMHS has raised $15.7 million for the effort and anticipate being complete by 2019.
Watch this video to learn more about the INVision Campaign:
To learn more about the Underground Railroad in Indiana, watch Freedom is Written in the Stars: