Ms. Bonine's Class
Take a Stand! Testify!
Ms. Duebner's Class
Click on the poster to download a printable version.
Take the UGRR 20-Site Driving Tour!
From 1840 to 1850 two lines of the Underground Railroad (UGRR) terminated in Cass County, MI. The Quaker Line started in Cincinnati Ohio, west to Wayne County Indiana, north to Bristol, IN and into Michigan to 'stations' in Porter, Penn and Calvin Townships, known as "Young's Prairie" at that time. The Illinois Line came north from St. Louis to Niles, MI and west to Young's Prairie. UGRR stations were homes, barns and other buildings where fugitive slaves, now known as freedom seekers, were given shelter until taken to the next station by "conductors." Freedom seekers were taken to Schoolcraft, then Battle Creek and to other stations roughly following I-94 to Detroit and Canada. It is estimated that over 1500 freedom seekers were helped on their journey to Canada. Most freedom seekers who came here were from Kentucky and came up on the Quaker Trail. Most UGRR stations in Young's Prairie were on Quaker farms--the names Bogue, Bonine, Shugart, Osborn, East and Lee are well known stationmasters, some of them targets in the infamous 1847 Kentucky Slave Raid. Henry Shepard was a self- manumitted (freed) freedom seeker who settled in Vandalia, became a stationmaster and conductor on the UGRR, and also was part of the Kentucky Raid.
Free black families and black churches, primarily in Calvin Township, were also active in anti-slavery activities and helping freedom seekers on their journey. In the mid to late 1840's free black families came here from primarily Virginia and North Carolina. Stewart, Allen, Ash, Wilson, Hawks, Byrd and Sanders are among several families who settled here during that time. They came here with money and skills. They purchased land and established prosperous farms, becoming valued members of the community. There are several sections owned by free blacks on the 1860 Cass County plat map. Chain Lake Baptist and Mt. Zion AME churches were founded and involved in helping freedom seekers and those wanting to settle here in this safe haven.
One historian says "The story of the Underground Railroad in Cass County is one of cooperation, respect and mutual trust to combat the hated institution of slavery. The interdependency of these groups created a unique environment that helped minimize racism, promote cooperation between the races and create an African American community unique to the North."
Below are some photos from the Bonine House and the Carriage House.
Click the little arrow to start the slide show.
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The album as we originally received it.
The Kentucky Raid
In 1847 black and white residents of Vandalia and Cassopolis stood up and stopped thirteen slave catchers from taking nine kidnapped slaves back to Kentucky. They showed great courage and determination in stopping what they saw as a grave injustice. Freedom seekers were allowed to testify in court and won.
When we encounter bigotry, intolerance and injustice we must find our own courage to do what is right --
Take a Stand! Testify!
-- A Precious Memento Makes Its Way Home --
On June 3, 2020 URSCC members wrote to me about a photo album available on Ebay. It was African Americans from Calvin Township and Vandalia, MI dating back to the 1850's, including many tin types, a priceless album. (More)
Our 10th Annual Underground Railroad Days was fun, interesting, educational, and historical with something for everyone. Vandalia expanded their offerings to include a Gospel Fest on Saturday night that was well attended with wonderful talent. Over 200 were under and outside the tent for the Sunday morning community church service. The soul food dinner sold out, and kids of all ages were entertained with family events. Kentucky Raid guided tours were full. Hundreds toured the Bonine House, Carriage House and Bogue House, meeting Mary Charlotte Bonine, and loving her stories of growing up in the Bonine House. Larry Collins demonstrated his fantastic woodburning portraits outside on the lawn. The 102nd Colored Troops living history encampment were a highlight as always. Visitors enjoyed watching a blacksmith and spinner as well as talking to a Michigan frontiersman, while listening to various musical acts in the "Ramptown Cabin." Presentations in the Youth Center were well attended, and Von Washington's "Opening Night" play drew an appreciative audience.
URSCC thanks Michigan Humanities Council for their support of Underground Railroad Days. See you next year--second weekend in July!
Ms. Struble's Class
Visitors can tour the Bonine House, Bonine Carriage House and Bogue House June through September. Docents will tell you the history of each site.
URSCC Annual Events are:
Cass County UGRR Wax Museum at the Bonine House -- Cancelled
Underground Railroad Days -- second weekend in July Cancelled
Christmas at the Bonine House -- first and second weekends in December
June 7, 2019
Ms. Pike's Class
The Bonine House was host to hundreds of smiling visitors enjoying the lovely rooms decorated by members of URSCC. Santa, Mrs. Claus and Jingles the elf were busy greeting kids of all ages. Many come every year to see the progress on the Bonine House. This year the highlights are the c. 1845 fireplace opened in the kitchen, and the lovely downstairs bathroom remodel. The Bonine Family dining room furniture returned home in September, thanks to 6th generation descendant Jane Bonine Reilly of St. Charles, MO.
Click on the links below and the video will take you on a tour - each about 10 minutes long.
Enjoy the tour and Merry Christmas from URSCC!
Underground Railroad Society Honors Black History Month
"The Underground Railroad in Cass County"
We've Come a Long Way!
The Stephen Bogue House at M-60 and Crooked Creek Rd.
December 7, 8 and 14, 15
The Bonine House is closed for the present. Stay safe. We will see you when things open up again.
Click on the icon above to see a larger image.
Our beloved friend Mary Charlotte Bonine passed away recently. She had been visiting the Bonine House, her childhood home, since 2012. Click here to view a video photo album of her visits, Click here to read her memoir "Growing Up in the Bonine House." Click here to see her interview "Growing Up in the Bonine House".
We miss you Mary Charlotte.
Click on each icon above to see a larger image.
Our 10th Annual Underground Railroad Days 2019
April 30, 2019
Stacey Bonine's 4th Grade class at Lake Center Elementary in Portage MI presented their UGRR Wax Museum--Cass County and Beyond-- on June 7th. Fellow 4th graders who participated in the program but did not present, also attended. All the students toured the Bonine House and Carriage House, then boarded a bus for the Kentucky Raid Tour that included a stop at the Stephen Bogue House. Stacey's 4th graders have been presenting their UGRR Wax Museum since 2012. They are always well prepared and delightful, and this year followed true to form.
Mary Charlotte Bonine
July 17, 1934 - January 15, 2021
Lake Center Elementary 4th Grade Cass County UGRR Wax Museum
Take the URSCC self-guided driving tour of 20 UGRR sites within four miles of Vandalia, MI. Click here or on the image. to view the tour and download a printable map. Maps are also available at the UGRR Historical Marker in MIlo Barnes Park on M-60 in Vandalia. The tour takes about an hour if you don't stop to explore.
You are welcome to use the following resources to learn about the Underground Railroad in Cass County.
The Carriage House
The Underground Railroad Society of Cass County organized in 2009 with a mission " to provide a focal point for exploration into the origins and activities of the Underground Railroad; the unique role the people of Cass County and the surrounding area played throughout its existence, and how it impacted local, state and national history".
Mary Charlotte Bonine Roberts 86, died on January 15 in Valdosta, GA from complications of Covid-19. She was the daughter of State Senator G. Elwood Bonine and Ruth Morse and grew up in the Bonine House, the Victorian home at Penn Rd and M-60, built by her ancestors James E. and Sarah Bogue Bonine, stationmasters on the Underground Railroad. Mary Charlotte was part of the first graduating class from Cassopolis High School and returned for her 50th reunion in 2002. It was then she saw her beloved home almost in ruins, and hoped an organization could save it. She was thrilled when the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County (URSCC) purchased the Bonine House and the Bonine Carriage House across the street in December, 2010.
From 2012 to 2019 she visited her home during Underground Railroad Days the second weekend in July where she delighted in greeting visitors and telling them about growing up on Elk Park Farm. She was accompanied by family and friends on these trips. Over the years she donated Bonine family photos, furniture and artifacts to the Bonine House.
Mary Charlotte was a concert pianist, a dog and cat lover and a sports enthusiast. A farmer at heart she always referred to the Bonine House as 'home.' Memorials in her name can be made on line or mailed to URSCC PO Box 124, Vandalia, MI 49095.
The Bonine House was lit in amber throughout the month of January to remember and honor those who have been victims of Covid-19, and the health care workers who have been working so tirelessly.
(photo by Cindy Yawkey)
A rainy day didn't dampen the spirits of Sam Adams Elementary School 5th graders as each class jubilantly jumped off the bus, and gathered on the front steps of the Bonine House, home of UGRR stationmasters James E. and Sarah Bogue Bonine. They entered the house and sorted into six groups in various rooms-- The Kentucky Raid, Freedom Seekers, Pioneer Black Families, Civil War/102nd USCT and Connecting Lines. Characters in each group were in costume and stood silently in their 'wax' pose. Family and other visitors were welcomed to the house and given a program that gave an overview of each group, noted each character's name, and the name of the student playing that character. They visited each room, and pressed a 'button' on each character, who came to life and gave a one minute speech about who they were and how they were a part of the Underground Railroad in Cass County, then went back to their 'wax' pose. Each class presented for 1-1/2 hours. The Bonine House rang with the chatter of UGRR characters, and shone with the smiles of those learning about them.
Sam Adams has presented the Cass County UGRR Wax Museum since 2013, but this is the first year it became part of the 5th grade curriculum, with all students participating,
Sam Adams 5th Grade Cass County UGRR Wax Museum
Click on the icons above to read our letter to Santa and the Bethlehem Room poem
Christmas at the Bonine House 2019
James E Bonine Carriage House M-60 and Calvin Center Road, across M-60 from Bonine House. (Photo is from the back of the building.)
James E. Bonine House corner of M-60 and Penn Rd., Vandalia, MI
Preserve and restore the James E. Bonine House and Carriage House as outstanding examples of Victorian domestic architecture.
Create an education and community events center in the Bonine House as a focal point for understanding the role local Quakers, African-Americans and other abolitionist groups played in the UGRR. Restore the Carriage House as a period museum and station on the Underground Railroad. Preserve the Stephen Bogue House as a station on the UGRR and home of Young's Prairie Quaker Anti-Slavery Meeting.
Create a cultural tourism destination for Underground Railroad enthusiasts that will bring visitors and tourism dollars into the community.
The mission of the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County (URSCC) is to provide a focal point for exploration into the origins and activities of the Underground Railroad; the unique role the people of Cass County and the surrounding region played throughout its existence, and how it impacted local, state and national history.