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Goodridge Freedom House Museum hopes to open by mid-May
William C. Goodridge was born a slave in Maryland, was freed, became one of the richest men in York City and risked everything he had to help people he had never met.
The Crispus Attucks Association has been working to make Goodridge’s old house into a museum for many years, and on May 21 the group will host a soft opening for the first floor of the 1800s-era house.
“This really is a York treasure,” said Carol Kauffman, community development director for Crispus Attucks. “It has a big place in U.S. history. York is blessed to have something that exemplifies American freedom.”
The Goodridge Freedom House and Underground Railroad Museum, 123 E. Philadelphia St., will have a glass floor for people to look into the area where slaves were hidden away for the Underground Railroad. Kauffman said she doesn’t know how many people came through Goodridge’s house looking for a safe-haven.
“We’ve heard hundreds, and we’ve heard thousands,” she said. “There’s no way to really tell. No one knows.”
Slaves on the run would hide in an area in the basement, which was carved out of the clay using a pickax. Lines in the clay from the tools used are still visible, and the stairs down to the area have worn ridges where feet were repeatedly placed.
“You think of who’s been here, what they’ve been through, where they were going,” Kauffman said. “It’s phenomenal.”
Museum plans: The first floor of the three-story house will have trained docents in costumes portraying Goodridge and his family. Kauffman said she hopes people will engage in conversations about the freedoms they take for granted in America today.
“We want to really help people think through what Mr. Goodridge went through to help people get their freedom,” she said. “This is really going to be a freedom center.”
The second floor of the building will have traveling exhibits from the era, Kauffman said. The exhibits will rotate as things become available, making the museum an interesting place to check out again and again.
“The goal is to really make this a world-class destination,” she said. “It’s been so long coming. This could have been done years ago if we had the money. We’ve had so many volunteers. They’ve been great. The community support has been great.”
Setbacks: Despite getting nearly $1.1 million through 39 grants through the years, there have been setbacks. Restoration efforts were seriously set back in 2011 when Tropical Storm Lee caused water damage and workers had to focus their attention on fixing those issues.
Kauffman said the group had to come in, open the windows and air the place out with fans every day after Hurricane Sandy.
After all of the work many groups have put in, she said it’s nice to be able to open a bit of it to the public. There is still a lot of work to go, though, she added.
“We want to make it a part of York heritage,” Kauffman said. “It’s rare to have sites whose center focus is an African American. Most of the time they’ve been eliminated from the history books. To me, it’s intriguing, necessary to learn about Mr. Goodridge and all he’s accomplished.”
How to donate: To make a donation to the Goodridge Freedom House and Underground Railroad Museum, go to goodridgefreedomhouse.com. Enter “Goodridge House” in the description box so donations go to the project.
Donations also may be made by contacting Carol Kauffman at 717-848-3610, ext. 230, or firstname.lastname@example.org