Students from Sam Adams Middle School will be performing their award-winning play, “The Kentucky Raid in Ten Minutes” on July 11 as a part of the Underground Railroad Days celebration. (Submitted photo)
Students from Sam Adams Middle School will be performing their award-winning play, “The Kentucky Raid in Ten Minutes” on July 11 as a part of the Underground Railroad Days celebration. (Submitted photo)

Archived Story

Food, fun and a history lesson

Published 11:37am Thursday, July 3, 2014

VANDALIA — From July 11 through 13, the Village of Vandalia will host the fifth annual Underground Railroad Days, providing visitors with an exciting “opening night” program and two full days of food, fun, music and history.

“This is our fifth year for Underground Railroad Days,” said Cathy LaPointe, treasurer of the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County. “It’s gotten bigger every year.”

Co-sponsored by the Village of Vandalia and the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County, this year’s activities will include many favorites from past years as well as some new additions to the schedule.

Started in 2010, Underground Railroad Days was originally the idea of Bill Ayers, a Quaker and the director of public works for the Village of Vandalia.

“Bill was very taken with the history of the Quakers in Vandalia. It was actually his brainchild,” LaPointe explained. “Tragically, Bill had a heart attack and passed away in May of that year, and we were left to carry out his idea. He is now one of the guiding spirits of the festival.”

The weekend kicks off with an opening night program at Sam Adams Middle School in Cassopolis.

Beginning at 7 p.m., the evening’s program will include a staging of the Sam Adams Middle School students’ play, “The Kentucky Raid in Ten Minutes.” That play won this year’s Michigan State Youth Performance Award for Michigan State History Day.

Their play will be followed by a dramatic reading of Dr. Von and Fran Washington’s Underground Railroad play, “A River to Cross.”

On the following two days, Milo Barnes Park, located at the corner of State and Water Streets, will be one of the main focal points for the festival’s events.

Guided van tours of Cass County’s Underground Railroad sites will begin and end there on Saturday and Sunday, and tickets for the tours can be obtained there.

In addition, a replica of a Ramptown cabin will be set up on the grounds of the park, and many activities will be taking place there.

“We added the replica of a Ramptown cabin last year,” LaPointe said, explaining that Ramptown was a small African American settlement on the Bonine property. “They were allowed to live there in exchange for clearing the land.”

An Underground Railroad Society information booth will be set up in the park, and a number of free concerts and other presentations will be taking place there as well.

“There will be music, poetry, choirs, art and everything going on all day long at that cabin,” LaPointe said. “The cabin’s become almost symbolic of the festival.”

Other highlights of the festival include a classic car show on Saturday, a “soul food dinner” available on both days, a number of arts and craft booths, guided tours of the Bonine House, and a Civil War living history encampment.

“The Michigan 1st and the 102nd Colored Troops will be involved with that,” LaPointe said. “These are all Cass County folks, and many of the 102nd Colored Troops are from right around Vandalia.”

Several informative presentations will also take place on Saturday.

“One is about Cass County in the Civil War by Keith Harrison, and one is about two early African American pioneer families, the Sanders and the Allen families. That will be presented by Maurice Sanders,” LaPointe said, noting that those would take place in the Village Youth Center at 1 and 3 p.m., respectively.

Later in the day, at 5 p.m., Mary Charlotte Bonine Roberts will be at the Bonine House to talk about what it was like to grow up in the house during the years from 1934 until 1953 when the family moved.

Sunday’s activities will begin with a community church service 11 a.m. in Milo Barnes Park. Then, at 1 p.m., the students from Sam Adams Middle School will present their “Cass County Underground Railroad Wax Museum” in the Youth Center.

“The premier speaker is Anna-Lisa Cox. She’s a nationally-known author, and she will be speaking at 3 p.m. on Sunday about African American migration in Cass County and Southwest Michigan,” LaPointe said. “A lot of our families here are the descendents of those people.”

With the exception of the soul food dinner, all of the activities, presentations and tours during Underground Railroad Days will be free.

However, as LaPointe noted, “Donations will be happily be accepted for the tours and the presentations at the middle school.”

More information about Vandalia’s Underground Railroad Days, including a complete schedule of events, can be found at www.urscc.org. Information on booth space and car show entry is available by calling Vandalia Village President Beverly Young at (269) 476-2344.  Other questions can be directed to info@urscc.org or to (269) 445-7358.

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