Visitors from across the state attend Vandalia’s Underground Railroad Days

Published 4:45 pm Monday, July 10, 2023

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VANDALIA — Cass County’s history and connection to the Underground Railroad was on full display for visitors and community members alike Saturday and Sunday.

The Village of Vandalia and the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County hosted the annual Underground Railroad Days Saturday and Sunday, July 8 and 9 with activities centered around Milo Barnes Park on M-60 in Vandalia.

Hundreds of people visited the event that celebrates the legacy of the Underground Railroad in Cass County, particularly the area around Vandalia – Calvin, Porter and Penn Townships – known as “Young’s Prairie” at the time.  The UGRR existed in this area from 1830 to 1860 and it is estimated about 1,500 fugitive slaves – now called freedom seekers – passed through this area on their way to Canada. Many stayed for a time and worked on Quaker farms. They were targets of the infamous 1847 Kentucky Slave Raid.

“It’s an unique festival, and draws Black and white visitors from the region, and across the county,” said URSCC Treasurer Cathy LaPointe. “Every year UGRR Days gets more media coverage and numbers increase.  They come for different reasons, but leave happy. Knowing and understanding our history is freeing. It allows us to move forward as a person, and a people. URSCC and the Village of Vandalia are proud to celebrate the history of this area, a community who did what was right under very difficult circumstances.”

The Village of Vandalia sponsored arts and crafts booths and the URSCC sponsored guided tours of Kentucky Raid sites and tours of UGRR sites James E. Bonine House, the Bonine Carriage House and the Stephen Bogue House. The 102nd US Colored Troops also presented a “living history” encampment on Saturday. New this year was the opening of the third floor of the Bonine Carriage House, where freedom seekers were sheltered after 1850. 

URSCC member Patricia Dryer welcomed guests into the Bonine House during the event. She estimated that approximately 200 people visited the house over the course of the event.

“I would say, 75 percent of people I’ve talked to have said they’ve driven by this house for years and always wanted to go inside and see what it looked like. I’m very happy to show this to people… (The festival) has grown over the years. It’s amazing. We’re really proud of that. Informing the public is our goal.”

URSCC member Jennifer Ray gave a presentation on Brownsville School No. 1, an integrated one-room schoolhouse believed to have opened in the early 1840s that was recently acquired by URSCC. The schoolhouse is thought to be one of the longest-running integrated schoolhouses in the country, having served students from the early 1840s to 1956, when Brownsville students were consolidated into Cassopolis Public Schools.

“It was just such a wonderful thing that people came together and worked together to make a community,” Ray said. “People who were like-minded enough and open-minded enough to create an environment that we wish we could see more. We have lessons to learn from these things.”

The Bonine House is open from 2 to 5 p.m. June through September, Monday through Friday. Just look for the open signs.  The URSCC’s 20-site self guided driving tour maps can be obtained in Milo Barnes Park in Vandalia, or online. More information on Underground Railroad Days, the role Cass County played in the UGRR and how to get involved can be found on