Underground Railroad association sets sights on saving historic barn

PERU - When it comes to the Underground Railroad, the Stephen Keese Smith property on Union Road is well-known, particularly Keese Smith's barn.

"The barn is the most documented site in Clinton County," said Don Papson, president of the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association (NCUGRHA). "There are a lot of oral histories about places where its believed slaves were hidden, but Stephen Keese Smith actually told his recollections and they were written down."

The barn, built in the early 1800s, contains a built-in room as part of the foundation system, said Papson. And, though Keese Smith - a known abolitionist in the 1800s and nephew of Samuel Keese, head of Underground Railroad in Peru - never actually said in his recollections he had people in that particular barn, the man was said to have had "large buildings in which he concealed people."

"We're combining his recollections and the fact there is a mysterious room that is built in to the barn," said Papson.

Papson said the barn, currently owned by Frank and Jackie Perusse, has been in dire need of repair for some time. The problem, said Papson, is the previous owners cut a structurally-critical beam to adjust the height of the barn's second floor.

"Right now, the problem is one of the walls is bowing out. If it isn't stabilized, then we could lose the whole barn," said Papson.

The main focus is to raise enough funding to stabilize the structure and eventually restore it to its original condition. The NCUGRHA and the Perusses have been working with an architectural engineer and a barn restoration expert to determine the cost of an overall restoration.

The initial stage of stabilizing the building could cost up to $5,000, Papson said, estimating the total project could be as much as $75,000.

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