- Associated Press - Sunday, June 7, 2015

FOUNTAIN CITY, Ind. (AP) - Every dollar brings the dream of an interpretive center for the Levi Coffin House State Historic Site closer to reality.

The project has received a $50,000 boost with a grant award through the Place Based Investment Fund administered by the Indiana Office of Tourism Development and Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.

Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann announced that Fountain City was one of 11 communities receiving funding for quality of place initiatives. The other communities - Corydon, Evansville, Greenfield, Lafayette, North Manchester, Orleans, Peru, Rushville, Washington and Winona Lake - each received funding of $25,000 to $50,000 for special projects.

“I commend the initiative taken by the leadership in these 11 communities in determining the best opportunities for local placemaking projects,” Ellspermann said in a press release. “The Place Based Investment Fund rewards creativity, ingenuity and collaboration and the end results will benefit local communities and citizens for years to come.”

The grant money will be used to pay for the theater in the 5,156-square-foot, state-of-the-art interpretive center, which will provide guests with an orientation film. The film will introduce the home’s original owners, anti-slavery activists Levi and Catharine Coffin, who helped more than 2,000 escaping slaves during the 20 years they were in residence.

The home became known as the as Grand Central Station on the Underground Railroad, a loose network of anti-slavery supporters who assisted escaping slaves. Levi Coffin became known as the president of the Underground Railroad.

The theater project is collaboration involving the Town of Fountain City, Fountain City Lions Club, Indiana State Museum and Historical Sites, Levi Coffin House Association, Quigg Family Foundation, Wayne County Foundation Inc., Wayne County Convention and Tourism Bureau and the Northeastern Wayne Schools.

Janice McGuire, president of the Levi Coffin House Association, said that the grant requires a 1.5 match and the association’s partners helped contribute the $75,000 necessary to secure it.

“To me, every little bit gets us a little closer,” McGuire told the Richmond Palladium-Item (http://pinews.co/1AYZfgd).

The $3.2 million building project will include the theater, exhibit space, offices, a library and restrooms. The push in on now, McGuire said, to raise the final money for the project, about $500,000.

Ground was officially broken for the interpretive center Oct. 29, 2014, and construction is expected to begin soon. The project is scheduled to be complete in 2016, just in time for the celebration of Indiana’s Bicentennial.

The work will start with the dismantling of the Seybold-Price House at 201 U.S. 27 N., directly north across the drive from the Coffin House. McGuire said original parts of the house will be saved for use in the interpretive center or at other state historic sites.

The exterior of the interpretive center will be built to maintain the streetscape as it is today, and as it was in the Coffins’ time, with the north, west and south sides constructed in the image of the Seybold-Price house. The rear, or west, side of the interpretive center will feature a modern glass atrium.

Place Based Investment Fund, now in its third year, supports community and economic development projects that promote quality of life, improve tourism experiences, develop multi-purpose gathering places, create jobs and further establish a diverse local, regional and state economy.

“This is just going to change things for Fountain City,” said Mary Lou Griffey, a member of the town planning committee who also has been involved in raising money for the project.

The interpretive center project, first imagined in the mid-1990s, has been long in coming, and project supporters have learned patience.

“It’s taken us 50 years to get here, this small group of folks that started it all,” McGuire said. “They got the state to buy the Coffin House and get it restored.”

Although the interpretive center construction has yet to begin, there have been property changes. On Nov. 14, 2014, the house next door to the south was heavily damaged in a fire. Three months later, the property owners offered it to the association for purchase.

The association welcomed the opportunity, purchasing it for $7,000. Last week, Cox Excavating took down the house and began preparing the land to be planted in grass. McGuire expects to maintain the plot as greenspace for the historic home.

Saundra Jackson, treasurer of the Coffin House association and property manager, said the absence of the two-story house next door is taking some getting used to. The view from the rear porch now includes the flashing four-way light at Fountain City’s main intersection and the Hometown Pizza restaurant. And, noises are louder without the other house as a buffer.

Last fall, McGuire said, “Levi truly felt the good Lord was watching over him because he was doing the Lord’s work. I think the good Lord’s been watching over this building and given it all the right owners down through the years.”

She believes that applies to the Coffin House Association’s ability to acquire adjoining property.

The Seybold-Price House, which will soon be the site of the interpretive center, became available for purchase in 1998. Owning that land allowed the state to construct 17 vehicle and bus parking spaces.

In 2014, the Coffin House Association purchased the property at 205 N. U.S. 27, the first residence north of the Seybold-Price House. That building could house the construction offices for the interpretive center and eventually it will provide greenspace to the north.

“We’ve been very blessed,” McGuire said.

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Online: http://www.indianamuseum.org/explore/levi-coffin-house

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