ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The Underground Railroad Education Center has been a centerpiece in highlighting Albany’s connection to abolitionist history. Its rooms are lined with direct ties to the underground railroad—a result of 20 years of research by Co-founders Mary Liz and Paul Stewart.

“We’ve been able to identify a ton of documents that reveal a story about the underground railroad here in Albany and the Capital Region that is more built out, that includes more specific personalities and their stories,” Paul Stewart, Co-Founder of the Underground Railroad Education Center, said.

Now, they plan to expand with an $8.5 Million Interpretive Center on Livingston Ave., next to their original site. The Stewarts hope to use that space to expand on their exhibits and build a community space for children, guest speakers, artists and people interested in learning more about the area’s history.

“We think it will be a great addition to the neighborhood here, it will be something that will help us in terms of the programming that we do, in terms of drawing more members of the public to enjoy the program, but also gives us more space to do more flexible programs,” Stewart said.

The center will provide career opportunities for local residents with the goal of furthering the mission of the Underground Railroad History Project and keeping the community at the center of that mission. The new space will also include a pre-Revolutionary War era barn frame, repurposed as part of the main lobby, bringing even more local history to the heart of Albany. The purchase of the barn door was partially funded with a $75,000 loan from Pioneer.

“We’re repurposing something that, in some ways, had to do with slavery in New York,” Stewart said. “We are repurposing it in the name of freedom.”

The Stewarts hope the work will help highlight Albany’s connections to abolition and shed light on the public image of Arbor Hill and the difficulties the community has faced in the past with redlining, gun violence and urban renewal.

“Those external situations have negatively impacted the neighborhood but there is still great pride and great history here that we need, in a sense, to proclaim to the world,” Mary Liz Stewart, Co-founder, said.

Once the center is built, the organization hopes to begin internal improvements for the original site of Albany’s abolition movement: The Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence.

They are currently fundraising for the project with a goal to begin construction in 2024. If you’re interested in donating, you can call the center at 518-621-7793 or visit their website.