Keese Homestead's historical marker replaced, unveiled

PERU - The North Country's connection to the Underground Railroad and a family credited for playing an important role in the abolitionist movement has been restored.

A new historical marker honoring the Keese Homestead on Harkness Road was unveiled in a ceremony Aug. 20. The original marker was lost a few years ago as the result of a motor vehicle accident.

Lita Paczak, a teacher with Seton Catholic Central School who has taken students on field trips to the site, was credited for being one of the driving forces behind helping the property's owners, Lincoln and Ann Sunderland, getting the marker replaced.

Though the original marker was paid for by the state, said Paczak, it was learned the cost of a replacement marker - which amounted to a little more than $1,000 - would be the burden of the property owner. Paczak reached out to Neal Burdick, a descendant of the Keese family, and the two worked together with the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association to host a fundraiser last November at Peru Community Church

"It just made sense," Paczak said of raising money to replace the marker.

The benefit raised more than $600 and, thanks to the added generosity of neighbor Jon Rulfs and Ann Keese Chien, another Keese family descendant, the remaining balance of the cost was covered.

The unveiling of the new historical marker was personally gratifying for Burdick, who is the great-great-grandson of Stephen Keese Smith, a leading citizen in the Quaker Union and first cousin, once removed of Peter Keese, who built the stone house that stands today at the Keese Homestead.

"There was a very important social movement that took place here," said Burdick. "Peter Keese was threatened for being an abolitionist because it was illegal to harbor runaway slaves. It's not something you did lightly or casually."

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