Since April 8, when our good friend and President of the Kennett Underground Railroad Center Mary Dugan died, we’ve read and heard countless cherished memories about her life, her love of local historical research and writing, and her URR events, including re-enactments – all of which keep local history alive. Firm, and equally important to Mary, was her commitment that this period in our local history remain “vital” for present and future generations.
There is a difference between seeing a picture of an Underground Railroad station in a book and seeing it first hand on a guided tour bus. That trip can be awe inspiring. Presenting opportunities for the community to get a real sense of the heroes involved in the URR through newspaper articles, re-enactments, speaking engagements, movie presentations, and partnering with other local programs’ events, also keep the history vital. These are the kinds of activities that Mary aimed for, and that our Kennett Underground RR Center Board continues to plan at every meeting.
Less well-known to our community was Mary’s “behind the scenes” activities to protect and preserve Underground Railroad “station” houses from deterioration and eventual demolition. This work was a priority for Mary because she knew with each house demolished, our amazing local history would become less vital, less known, less appreciated. An example of her commitment to save URR station houses continues to this very day. From 2006 until her death, Mary urged Kennett Township officials to meet with the owners of the Fussell House, or “The Pines,” to prevent the further deterioration of the building, or at least to “mothball” the house as Longwood Gardens mothballed that important URR house, The Cox House, on Route 1.
For six years, The Pines, which sits on the Fairfield Inn property, has been allowed to grow mold and wallow throughout the seasons. Soon there will be no recourse but to allow the wrecking ball to take it down.
It is a great challenge for KURC to change the house’s course, and it is sad for all of us to witness its decline into obscurity. It was a great house, at one time known far and wide. According to R.C. Smedley, for “nearly all of the distinguished persons who visited Kennett Square, in the exercise of anti-slavery duties, were at one time or other entertained there as guests.”
We at the Kennett Underground RR Center believe letters and opinions from the community, students, parents, and travelers might be the answer. We urge everyone to try. We, at the Kennett URR, believe that’s what it will take.
Acting President, The Kennett Underground Railroad Center