Photo of Valentine Hick's home, circa 1840's, almost a century...

Photo of Valentine Hick's home, circa 1840's, almost a century before it became Main Maid Inn. Credit: Jericho Public Library Archives

The most prominent Long Island stop for escaped slaves on their way to freedom is up for sale and may fall victim to the wrecking ball, but a SUNY Old Westbury professor has launched a campaign to make it part of the National Park Service's Underground Railroad network.

The Maine Maid Inn in Jericho served as a Long Island stop on the Underground Railroad. Its owners in the 1800s, abolitionist Quakers, were part of an effort to assist escaped slaves through a secret network across United States.

For the past two years, the inn has been closed, and its fate is unclear.

"I would love to see it taken over and revitalized as an inn," with educational tours of the building focusing on its role in the Underground Railroad, said the professor, Kathleen Velsor, co-author of "Angels of Deliverance: The Underground Railroad in Queens, Long Island and Beyond." "It's an authentic piece of history. [But] we're losing our history."

Velsor envisions the inn becoming the linchpin of a park attracting history buffs who would also see a nearby centuries-old Quaker meeting house.

If the National Park Service approves the inn, it would become the first place on Long Island to be designated part of its Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, which is growing nationwide, with 425 locations.

Nassau County officials said they will take a serious look at purchasing the inn to preserve it, and that they may have the $1.6 million asking price.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano "is always interested in preserving open space and historic sites," the county said in a statement. "If funds from the 2006 Environmental Bond Act are available, the county would be interested in preserving this historic site for future generations."

The county said that environmental fund has $6 million. In addition to appropriating the money, the county would need two appraisals and approval by the county legislature.

Long Island's connection to the Underground Railroad is a little-known facet of the region's history. Velsor has spent the past 16 years documenting it, identifying nine locations in Nassau and Suffolk linked to the anti-slavery movement.

The Maine Maid Inn is in an area known as the "Jericho Preserve," which includes the Jericho Meeting House built in 1788 and the home of Elias Hicks, perhaps Long Island's best-known opponent of slavery. Hicks and other Quakers there were the fulcrum of anti-slavery and Underground Railroad activity on Long Island, Velsor said.

Valentine Hicks, the son-in-law of Elias Hicks and the second president of the Long Island Rail Road, lived near the meeting house in a large 1789 farmhouse, which later was turned into the Maine Maid Inn. Hicks hid escaped slaves in the building's attic, Velsor said.

To qualify for the park service's Underground Railroad network, Velsor would have to document that, said Sheri Jackson, head of the program for the Northeast. Velsor said substantial documentation exists.

The network, in existence about a decade, gives official recognition to sites that were linked to the Underground Railroad. Some of the most prominent are Harriet Tubman's home in upstate New York and Frederick Douglass' home in Washington, D.C.

Recognition by the park service does not mean a site would receive park rangers, but it would mean it has obtained official approval that the site was an authentic part of the Underground Railroad.

Velsor called that recognition for the Maine Maid Inn "long overdue" - more so than ever with the National Park Service Underground Railroad program taking off. "It's a big national movement," she said, "and we're missing it."

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