As a parent, I love 4th grade because that is the year students in Indiana study our state history. In order to expand on what kids learn in the classroom, it’s great to get out and tour some historic sites and see first hand what they read about in class. One excellent tour stop is the Levi and Catharine Coffin house in Fountain City, Indiana – just one and a half hours east of Indianapolis. The Coffin house has been called the Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad. From 1826-1846, this couple helped shelter and transport over 1,000 freedom seekers.
Learn the Stories of Freedom Seekers
Next door to the Coffin house is the interpretive center. This is where the tour starts. You’ll also find a gift shop, restrooms, and library in this building. While you wait for your tour to start, there are displays inside the center that tell the stories of two freedom seekers and how they each arrived at the Coffin house. You can read or listen to their stories in this exhibit. One was shipped in a crate while another traveled hidden in a wagon. Examples of both the crate and wagon are on display. Another area explains how the Coffins ran a general store in town. This helped provide supplies to the freedom seekers. I found it interesting that the Coffins made a business decision to not offer products made with slave labor so as not to participate in the economy that support southern plantations.
Experience History in the Coffin House
The tour starts with a movie in the interpretive center providing the background of the Coffins, who grew up and later settled in the area. You then walk next door and get to see inside the Coffin home. There are some interesting areas in this house where the freedom seekers could hide and the tour guide does a great job pointing those out and telling you a couple of real stories that took place in the house. If you are interested in architecture or antiques, those items are also indicated on the tour and will give you and your kids a view of what life was like in the early 1800s.
Probably the most fascinating thing in the house is found in the cellar/basement. Here, the Coffins had a free flowing well, allowing the family to get water any time of day or night with no one noticing. The tour concludes behind the house in the barn where you can see another example of a wagon with a false bottom that could be used to help freedom seekers move on to the next stop.
Planning Your Trip
The tour lasts an hour and it is suggested that you buy your tickets online ahead of time as they have 2 tours a day with limited capacity. They also give tours to school groups so it’s great if you can plan your visit around those. There is a fee to tour the house, but the information provided in the tour as well as the stories are well worth the small investment!