Center For Arts & Equity

David Ruggles Center for History and Education

The David Ruggles Center was founded on April 8, 2008. A natural outgrowth of the Sojourner Truth Memorial Statue and the Florence History Project, it was an immediate response to the imminent destruction of an 1848 factory dwelling house. This modest home at 225 Nonotuck Street in Florence, Massachusetts is situated directly across from the site of the former silk mill of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry. Spearheaded by Florence historian Steve Strimer, early members of the Save 225 Nonotuck Committee formed the DRC to promote a new purpose for the building: a museum and education center that would honor and interpret the lives of the abolitionists who founded Florence.  Their appeal to the Northampton Historical Commission to delay the demolition was approved and a joint sub-committee of the NHC was appointed to work with the owner to arrive at a positive outcome.

Tris Metcalfe, one of the early members of the DRC and a well-known local architect, worked up plans that would allow the house to stay on its original foundation and provide a build-out on the property for three live/work condominiums. The owner, Jim Harrity, approved the plan. The DRC then prepared an application to the Northampton Community Preservation Commission for a grant of $150,000 to purchase the property which was approved unanimously by the CPC and the City Council. This grant, along with a low-interest loan and contributions from the Florence Savings Bank, allowed the Committee for Northampton, Inc. (the non-profit umbrella for both the Sojourner Truth Memorial Statue and the DRC) to close on the property on June 26, 2009. Architect Tris Metcalfe, lawyer Mark Nejame and realtor Craig Della Penna waived their fees as a show of support for the project.

On August 26, 2009 the David Ruggles Center was accepted as a facility of the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, joining the Dorsey/Jones House and the Hill/Ross Farm as Florence elements in the Network.

DRC member Kris Thomson, a restoration carpenter and contractor, worked from Metcalfe’s plans to restore the structure and fit it out as a museum. Thomson has donated much of his time and labor to the cause. He constructed our accessible ramp, funded by the Network to Freedom and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. In 2015, on the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, the David Ruggles Center for History and Education, all permits in hand, was opened to the public.

The David Ruggles Center for History and Education honors the contributions made to the abolition of slavery by courageous individuals in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts. Our location in the village of Florence within Northampton commemorates those who came here to challenge slavery, live in freedom, and establish a community based on principles of race, gender, class, and religious equality. We seek to educate and inspire our visitors to possibilities in the present by sharing these powerful voices from the past.

We offer guided walking tours on the second Saturday of the month May–October  at 10:30 AM, and by special arrangement. Visitors may view permanent and rotating exhibits at the museum on Sundays, 12:00–4:00 PM, June–October, and by appointment.

We sponsor a range of regularly scheduled events for diverse audiences. We share our history with school groups and educational organizations. Researchers may contact us to access our archives and library.

The DRC is run by volunteers who serve on the General Committee, which meets monthly. Inspired by the Northampton Association, we operate on a consensus model. All General Committee members serve on one or more smaller committees that oversee different aspects of the DRC work.

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