ROUSES POINT - The village of Rouses Point is receiving recognition for its role in the history of the Underground Railroad.
The North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association - a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the part the region played in helping slaves escape to freedom during the 19th century - has received funding for a new interpretive panel to be installed on property owned by the village on Montgomery Street. The bilingual panel, explained NCUGRHA president Don Papson, will describe in English and French how the now privately-owned Sportsmen's Pier was the most important stop on the Underground Railroad on Lake Champlain from 1850 to 1865.
"This is important because this is the first recognition on Lake Champlain of a site that was a major one on the Underground Railroad," said Papson.
What made the location so important, Papson explained, was that Sportman's Pier - then known as Steamboat Landing - was a hub for both steamboat and rail transportation. Rail lines from Vermont connected the region to New York City and Boston, Mass., and a floating bridge across the lake installed in 1851 gave passengers direct rail service from Boston to Ogdensburg. That rail line allowed for runaway slaves to enter Canada at the narrowest point on the St. Lawrence River.
"Which was very easy to cross," said Papson.
The North Country is rich in history when it comes to the Underground Railroad, said Papson, but Lake Champlain has long been overlooked in some circles, he noted. Many maps of Underground Railroad routes don't have Lake Champlain listed on them, however written and oral histories describe the region's importance to the network of abolitionists and abolitionist-supporters.
"When we started this organization in 2004," said Papson, referring to the NCUGRHA, "my goal was to put us on the map. This is doing it. It's giving recognition to a history that was never really documented thoroughly."