The fourth annual Underground Railroad Days will be July 13-14 in Vandalia. (Leader photo/Provided)
The fourth annual Underground Railroad Days will be July 13-14 in Vandalia. (Leader photo/Provided)

Archived Story

Underground Railroad Days July 13-14

Published 3:25pm Wednesday, July 3, 2013

It started out as an idea written out on a lined yellow sheet of paper.

Four years later, the Underground Railroad Days in Vandalia is still growing.

The late Bill Ayers was the brainchild behind the celebration. Before his sudden death in 2010, Ayers, a Quaker, drew up a plan on that yellow sheet of paper and the Underground Railroad Days were born.

“Bill came up with the idea of having a celebration,” said Cathy LaPointe, who is the treasurer of the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County. “He wanted to call it Underground Railroad Days. He wanted a car show, he wanted a softball tournament, he wanted arts and crafts booths and he also wanted tours of the Underground Railroad sites to tell that story. He was absolutely the inspiration for it.”

The former public works director for Vandalia wanted to see classic cars, music, yard sales, crafts, tours of the Underground Railroad sites and a softball tournament.

The first Underground Railroad Days in 2010, held in July, had all those items, save the softball tournament.

In its second year, following his death, the celebration added the tour of the Bonine House, which had been purchased by the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County.

Some 500 people toured the historic home during the two-day festival, held again in mid-July.

Last year, the third annual Underground Railroad Days added a lead-up week filled with events. The celebration was moved to late June and featured a movie, the Underground Railroad “safe house” experience at the museum at Southwestern Michigan College, a kids day at the Bonine House and the play “Seven Stops To Freedom” held at Ross Beatty Jr./Sr. High School enacted by Dr. Von and Fran Washington.

The festival itself continued to have the classic car show, booths, arts and crafts and all the original features.

Now in its fourth year, the Underground Railroad Days continues to add features to the festival, which will be held July 13-14.

There will once again be a lead-up week. It will feature the following:

• July 8: Underground Railroad film, Cass District Library, 6 p.m.

• July 9: Sam Adams “wax museum,” Bonine House, 1-2:30 p.m.

• July 10: Underground Railroad “safe house” experience, Dowagiac Area History Museum, 1-3 p.m.

• July 11: Panel discussion “Growing up in Cass — a legacy of the Underground Railroad,” Cass District Library, 6 p.m.

July 12: Dr. Von and Fran Washington present “Seven Stops to Freedom,” a play about the Underground Railroad, Ross Beatty Jr./Sr. High School, 7 p.m.

The two-day festival, July 13-14, will feature a classic car show, “The Legacy of Chain Lake Baptist Church,” Cass County and the Cival War and Cass County and the Underground Railroad on Saturday.

Sunday’s events include a community church service, Quakers and the Underground Railroad and poetry of the Underground Railroad by Cass County’s Poet Laureate Lois Cross-Hart.

Tours of the Bonine House will be available throughout the two-day festival.

“The people who were escaping slavery came up here to gain their freedom, but it was also the freedom of the abolitionists to exercise their will,” said Mike Moroz, president of the society. “Even though it was illegal to help them, they felt it was important to take it upon themselves to help these other people. That legacy lives on.

“If you look at some of the issues of today politically, a lot of them run parallel with what was going on back then, which is hard to believe all these years later. That’s why this story is so important. These issues are still alive today.”

New to the event this year will be a Civil War encampment, a replica of a “Ramptown” cabin and a Soul Food dinner, which will be held at the village hall both days.

A complete schedule of activities can be found at www.urscc.org.

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