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Grant helps Rokeby undergo preservation updates

VISITORS CHECK OUT some of the outbuildings on the grounds of Ferrisburgh’s Rokeby Museum, which is getting preservation upgrades this month thanks to a gift of $20,000 in construction work from PC Construction of South Burlington. Independent photo/Steve James

FERRISBURGH — The Rokeby Museum urgently needed repairs to its 200-year-old home in Ferrisburgh. PC Construction Co., an employee-owned business in South Burlington, was looking for a good project for its annual plan of community giving and involvement.

And so, they’re partners.

PC Construction will complete $20,000 worth of repairs this month — adding accessible handrails, replacing deteriorated porches, fixing the grainery, and removing and replacing plaster on some interior walls.

“We hope this partnership will help broaden the museum’s reach, allowing more Vermonters and visitors to learn about this site’s historical significance to the Underground Railroad and the abolition movement, and Vermont’s early connection to social justice issues,” said Jay Fayette, president and CEO of PC Construction.

“Quaker Thomas Robinson left Newport, R.I., to stake his claim in Vermont — a brand new state with a bright future — in 1792. His children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren lived and thrived on the land he purchased in Ferrisburgh for the next 170 years. The Robinsons remained productive and respected members of their community until 1961, when the site became a museum,” according to the museum’s website.

Through the decades, what’s now the Rokeby Museum brought together Quakers, abolitionists, farmers, artists and authors. It is considered one of the best-documented Underground Railroad sites in the country, and the National Park Service calls its historical integrity “unrivaled,” according to the museum website.

In 2019, trustees broadened the vision of the museum to include social advocacy to become “a center for the exploration and discussion of contemporary social justice issues.”

However, the Rokeby is 200 years old, and its age was showing in some areas.

“Everything has a lifespan, and there were certain elements of the historic home that were at the end of its life,” Museum Director Lindsay Houpt-Varner said. She described repairs as “essential preservation” to maintain its integrity.

“If the Robinsons came back today and looked at this, they would recognize this as their home. We’re still using plaster and not replacing it with drywall,” she said.

The historic home will reopen in September. In the meantime, the museum education center and its award-winning permanent exhibit will be open to the public, as will a seasonal exhibit and historic farm buildings.

“We know that it’s something that people absolutely love to see when they come to visit,” Houpt-Varner said of the historic home. “It’s an important piece of telling the story of the family, and we know people have been disappointed that it’s been closed.”

The Rokeby is looking to the long term, and the structural repairs are essential to the museum’s operations well into the future.

“It’s about maintaining that long-term historic feel of the house in a way that honors the Robinsons who lived there,” she said.

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