Karen Davidson is a great-great-great-great granddaughter of John Haff, one of Peru New York's earliest settlers. She visited the North Star Underground Railroad Museum on October 26, 2011 and then John Haff's restored 1804 home on the Union Road now owned by Joe Stemper. She also had a tour of the farm her great-great-great grandfather Rev. Abram Haff owned across the road.
Rev. Haff was a Methodist minister and a veteran of the War of 1812. He built a home on his farm in 1813. In 1852, he sold it to Quaker Underground Railroad agent Stephen Keese who concealed fugitives from slavery in large buildings on the property. The North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association has raised $2,000 to begin the process of saving the largest of three old barns where it is believed Keese-Smith concealed people in a hidden room. Years ago, a beam was cut in the back wall of the barn. This caused one of the side walls to start to slide off the badly damaged stone foundation.
Architectural engineer Glenn Erb and barn restoration expert Bill Umbreit began the painstaking work of rebuilding the barn's foundation this fall. They plan to cable the two side walls together, so the barn will stay standing. For two years now, archeologist Andy Black has conducted exploratory digs on the property. This past summer he was assisted by members of the Champlain Valley Metal Detectors Club. Andy found a large quantity of objects behind the house near the former site of a summer kitchen where cold and hungry fugitives from slavery were warmed beside the fireplace and fed. These objects are now at SUNY Plattsburgh for further study.
While Andy Black is trying to find an object which links the farm to the Underground Railroad, NCUGRHA's Historic Sites Committee is searching for a primary document such as a letter, journal or diary entry linking Stephen Keese Smith's underground railroad activity to agents in Albany, Troy and Glens Falls. We invite anyone in possession of such a document to contact NCUGRHA president Don Papson at email@example.com. We also invite anyone who would like to join our Historic Sites Committee or Barn Restoration Committee to contact Don.
Donations to the S.K. Barn Restoration Fund are also needed. The water table is so high now the hidden room is constantly flooded. We must find a way to drain the water from the barn. Simply indicate on your check that your contribution is for the Barn Fund.
Visiting the homes of her Haff ancestors was an overwhelming experience for Karen Davidson. In gratitude, she wrote, "I feel like a different person."
Here is Karen's photo album of the day that transformed her life.