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On a cold and rainy October night in 1835, hundreds of Central New York residents, determined to end slavery in the United States, reached Peterboro, New York after a long and taxing voyage. Many had walked miles in the cold, wet weather but still arrived singing aloud with hope in their hearts about the revolution they would soon initiate.

More than 400 abolitionists squeezed into the town’s small Presbyterian church for the New York State Anti-Slavery Society inaugural meeting, where the state’s abolitionist movement was born. Nearly 200 years later, that same building has opened its doors to the community to honor the lives of those who began the fight for equality. 

In 2004, this now-historic building became the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF) to preserve and honor abolitionists, their work to end slavery and the legacy of that struggle. Using descriptive exhibits, the museum strives to teach its visitors that each abolitionist honored throughout was an ordinary person who chose to take a stand and make a difference.

“Racism is still a large issue within our community and we want people to see that anyone can commit to making a change,” said Dorothy Willsey, president of NAHOF. “Through our efforts, it is our intention to complete the second and ongoing abolition — the moral conviction to end racism.” 

Photos and stories of anti-slavery pioneers line the walls of the museum. Over the course of the year, NAHOF hosts various events, lectures and tours. To accommodate the wider community, nearly all of the exhibits are mobile and available for renting by libraries, schools or other museums.

While the building has been very active through the years, deteriorating stairs leading to second floor exhibition space have made it inaccessible for some. 

“We strive for inclusion but due to the steep stairs, the building is not physically inclusive for people with mobility issues,” said Willsey. “The stairs also make it difficult when moving equipment, materials and food, hindering our opportunity to host many events.”

With the help of a Community Foundation grant, NAHOF will install a vertical elevator lift and build a new ramp at its back exterior door. When this accessibility project is completed, NAHOF will have the ability to invite tour groups, class field trips, residents from senior living homes and elderly community members to enjoy the museum. 

“The new lift will truly enhance the experience for those people who wouldn’t otherwise have access,” said Willsey. “We are excited to see an increase in the diversity and number of visitors to the museum, in hopes that we can fight and end racism together.”