The restoration of the historic May House, a designated part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, is currently underway and is scheduled to be completed and open to the public by the end of 2012. It is to become a town visitors’ center and museum dedicated the anti-slavery movement and the accomplishments of Rev. Samuel May.
In the 19th century, more than 100,000 people sought out freedom in the Northern states of America, Canada and Mexico through the Underground Railroad, a network of people, places and transportation used to help fugitive slaves escape their lives of servitude. Along the way were stops that the National Park Service later designated as official stops on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom in 2008. One of these stops was the home that once belonged to abolitionist Rev. Samuel May in Leicester, Mass. and now a part of the Becker College campus.
Rev. Samuel May (1810-1899) was a iconic figure in the anti-slavery movement during the 1860s. Both he and his wife, Sarah, were active proponents for the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage. After graduating from Harvard Divinity School in the early 1830s, May relocated to Leicester to become the first minister of the Leicester Unitarian Church. But because of his views on slavery and segregation in the church, Rev. May lost many friends and was forced to abandon his ministry, where he served from 1846-1870. It was during this time that he had also taken up the post of general agent of the Massachusetts Antislavery Society in Boston. Rev. Samuel May is currently survived by his great-great-grandson, S. Judson May, 64, who is a professor of Geology at Collin College in Texas.
The May House was the first home built, by Rev. May’s father in the mid-1830s as a wedding present for Rev. May and his wife Sarah, in the town of Leicester and was occupied by the May family until it was purchased by Becker College in 1966, according to S. Judson May. Forty-three years later, in 2009, US Representative Richard E. Neal, Springfield, Mass., came to Becker’s Leicester campus to donate $380,000 in federal funding to the college to be put towards making the May House into a new town visitors’ center and an Underground Railroad museum. So far, approximately $40,000 has been received by the college to cover for architectural, environmental and legal costs, says Becker College spokesperson Sandy Lashin-Curewitz.
The project is being led by Bargmann, Hendrie and Archetype Inc. in Boston and is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. According to Jack Glassman, Director of Historic Preservation at Bargmann, Hendrie and Archetype, in an interview with the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, the drawings for the project are almost complete and work is currently being done on the first phase of the transformation, which includes the restoration of the three first-floor rooms. These three rooms have been designed with interconnecting themes: the May family, the Underground Railroad and the history of Leicester. Additional phases are being planned and will be fulfilled as more of the federal funding becomes available.
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