Cong. Richard Neal Brings Federal Funds to Leicester and May House

Published on Monday, March 30th, 2009

Becker College welcomed Congressman Richard E. Neal (D-MA) to its Leicester campus today as he announced the receipt of $380,000 in federal funding for transition of the landmark Rev. Samuel May House to a town visitor center and a museum dedicated to the Underground Railroad. Cong. Neal discussed the project on the steps of the May House at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, March 27.

“I am an enthusiastic supporter of Becker College’s efforts to convert the May House into a visitor center for the Town of Leicester. When you combine the Reverend Samuel May’s leadership in the anti-slavery movement with his wife Sarah’s work for women’s suffrage, you have a historic property that deserves special recognition. The role of the May House in the Underground Movement in the 1800’s lends added significance to the proposal.

“The new visitors’ center will help keep the region’s rich history alive for generations to come. It will be a great asset for both Becker College and the Town of Leicester. I am pleased to be able to secure federal funding for this important local landmark,” said Congressman Neal.

“Becker College first proposed the conversion of the May House into a town visitor center and museum nearly four years ago,” said Gerald N. Tuori, vice president of institutional advancement at Becker. “While Becker has long been fortunate to receive tremendous support from many sources, we thank Congressman Neal for recognizing this opportunity to promote increased tourism to the Town of Leicester along with preservation of one of the area’s most historic buildings.”

The May House was officially recognized in June 2008 as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Rev. Samuel May was a leading anti-slavery figure for over three decades and a prominent individual in the New England literary community during the mid 1800s.  His wife was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) as well as an outspoken proponent for women’s suffrage.

After extending his gratitude for Cong. Neal’s support, Interim President Joseph W. Bascuas, Ph.D. said, “Louisa May Alcott, a cousin to Rev. May and author of Little Women, spent her summers at the May House, and in light of this, the college plans to invest additional funds to renovate the upper floors of the museum and visitor center as the Louisa May Alcott Writing Center.”

Doug Belanger, chair of the Leicester Board of Selectmen, addressed those assembled and called Becker College, “an asset and an ally.”

“While Leicester residents and the people at Becker appreciate the town’s significant historical contributions, I am thrilled that this project will communicate Leicester’s national significance to populations beyond our local communities,” said Joseph D. Lennerton III of the Leicester Historical Commission. “This is a great opportunity for people outside the community to recognize the major historical roles the Town of Leicester and Leicester Academy played, with Leicester’s militia involvement in Lexington and Concord helping to defeat the British, the farm to factory movement in the early part of the Industrial Revolution, and Rev. May’s abolitionist activities.”

Members of the May family were in attendance. Elizabeth Agle, a great-great granddaughter of Rev. May, traveled from Washington, DC. JoAnn May, wife of Rev. May’s great grandson, Herbert, was there with her daughter Nancy May Cote.

The anticipated overall cost of the May House project is $1.7 million. In 2006 the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (MOTT) awarded $50,000 to the Leicester Historical Commission to preserve the May House at Becker College. The funds were used to have an architect and a preservationist prepare an Existing Conditions Report and to further document the historic significance of the building. The National Park Service’s recent authentication was one of the more tangible results of the MOTT grant. The college has applied for a $50,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council Facilities Fund and will continue to fundraise and invest institutional funds.

Cong. Neal has visited the Leicester campus on numerous occasions.  He last spoke to Becker and Leicester High School students about the Civil Rights movement, a topic about which he is passionate, in February 2008 and is expected to speak as part of the newly launched Franklin M. Loew Speaker Series in fall 2009.