10th annual celebration of the area’s rich history and legacy taking place

Published 10:00 am Thursday, July 11, 2019

VANDALIA — This weekend, thousands of people will fill the otherwise quiet village green, in Vandalia, to experience the real-life telling of a story. A story so important, so rich in history and culture, full of deception and doing what was right, the story of the underground railroad. The story of the underground railroad and the role families in Vandalia played in that legacy, will be celebrated thanks to the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County and the Village of Vandalia’s collaboration for the 10th Annual Underground Railroad Days.

The Underground Railroad Days celebration begins at 7 p.m. on Friday, July 12, at Ross Beatty High School in Cassopolis, with Dr. Von Washington and his wife Fran with their performance of “Seven Stops to Freedom,” a spoken-play about the underground railroad. Admission is free and the play is appropriate for all ages.

Saturday and Sunday events begin at 11 a.m., and include Kentucky Raid guided tours, 102nd USCT Civil War Encampment, Ramptown Cabin entertainment, UGRR presentations and displays, tours of the Bonine House, Carriage House and the Bogue House, period crafters, a $10 per plate soul food dinner, family activities and Sunday outdoor community church service.

“The purpose of this event is to celebrate the legacy of the underground railroad,” Cathy LaPointe, event coordinator, said.

One of the highlights of the event, LaPointe said, are the guided tours of the Kentucky Raid, where 13 slave owners came to get their slaves, who were living in Cass County on farms, back.

“They didn’t get them, and slave catchers stopped coming after the last raid,” she said.

It celebrates that story and all the houses that were safe havens in a time of great distress: the Bonine House, the Carriage House and the Bogue house, which are all in various stages of restoration will be open for free tours, as well, LaPointe said.

“You could start your day at the Bogue House, and then move about a mile down to the Bonine House and Carriage House, and then move on to the village of Vandalia where everything else will be happening,” LaPointe said. Once you are in the Village everything else is within walking distance.

LaPointe credits the idea of this event, now in its 10th year, to a man named Bill Ayers, who worked for the village of Vandalia.

“He thought that the village ought to celebrate their heritage and role in the underground railroad. He came up with the idea and named it. We loved it, and we’ve been doing it ever since,” LaPointe said. Unfortunately, Ayers never saw his idea to fruition, as he died suddenly a few months before the first UGRR days event, according to LaPointe.

“The festival draws people from Chicago, Detroit and even further away, coming to hear the telling of our story,” LaPointe said. “Activities in the village of Vandalia are family-oriented, they have a lot of events for kids and a great soul food dinner, which is the only thing that costs any money this weekend [$10]. They have a big community outdoor church service on Sunday morning. This year they’re adding Gospel Fest on Saturday after the other events have ended.”

The event has grown over the years, and according to LaPointe always has something new. Last year was the first year the Bogue House was open for tours, this year there’s something else fun happening at the festival.

“WNIT will be there Saturday filming the festival for their Education Michiana series,” LaPointe said.

With more than 400 members from all over the U.S. the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County, it is clear to LaPointe that this story is important.

“I’m one of the founding members of URSCC, and I just found my passion, and telling this story of this community, how they did what was right under really difficult and dangerous circumstances and the courage it took for freedom seekers to make their journey north,” LaPointe said.

Parking and admission for all events are free. A complete schedule for Underground Railroad Days can be found on urscc.org and on Facebook.