State Grant Will Assist with Restoration at Jacksonville's Historic Woodlawn Farm
A grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will underwrite an extensive renovation project at historic Woodlawn Farm near Jacksonville.
Details of the grant were announced Wednesday (July 25) at a news conference held on the grounds of the Morgan County site. The award provides $75,000 toward tuck-pointing, a new roof and replacement of the soffit, fascia and gutters at the original home of Woodlawn Farm founders Michael and Jane Huffaker. The structure was built in the early 1840s and is in need of extensive repair, according to Loreli Steuer, co-chair of the UGRR Board of Directors.
The DCEO grant must be matched by $75,000 in funds raised by the not-for-profit organization.
An earlier DCEO grant provided $69,000 toward a comprehensive architectural and archaeological study completed by the Sangamon Researchers team of Edward Russo and Curtis Mann, both of Springfield. That study, done under the guidance of the Illinois State Museum, pointed out the structural issues that are being addressed by the second DCEO grant. The findings were also instrumental in the decision earlier this year to add Woodlawn Farm to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Morgan County Historical Society acquired the 19th century farm home and six acres of adjacent property in 2003. Mrs. Steuer said the Underground Railroad Committee intends to make Woodlawn Farm the centerpiece of Jacksonville's plans to celebrate its heritage as a focal point of Underground Railroad activity during the 1830s and 1840s. Documents collected by local researchers indicate that Woodlawn Farm served as a station for freedom-seekers who sought shelter along the network during their perilous journey north to Canada.
"The Underground Railroad Committee is both celebrating these two wonderful gifts and expressing our profound gratitude to the State of Illinois' DCEO and Bureau of Tourism," UGRR Committee co-chair Jim Muprhy said in announcing details of the latest grant. "We believe their show of confidence by awarding us nearly $150,000 to advance the development of Woodlawn Farm as a state and national Underground Railroad site and living history museum is extremely gratifying," he added.
Rand Burnette, president of the Morgan County Historical Society, echoed the sentiments of the committee co-chairs and said the DCEO grant will be a stimulus on the collective efforts to showcase the role that many of the region's early settlers had in sheltering runaway slaves.
"This latest grant will have a significant impact upon how we share and celebrate the story of the Underground Railroad in west central Illinois," Burnette remarked.
Jacksonville is home to nine sites that have documented ties to the Underground Railroad, and Mrs. Steuer said talks have been held with state tourism officials in an effort to call attention to the role Jacksonville and the surrounding area played during the height of the Underground Railroad. Another one of the group's goals, she added, is to establish Jacksonville as a center for research and further study on the Underground Railroad
"This has been a giant step toward preserving Woodlawn Farm and telling its beautiful story about one of the most courageous and principled movements for human rights and dignity in American history," the local UGRR leader remarked.
Jacksonville Mayor Ron Tendick said the work of the local historical society in preserving and restoring Woodlawn Farm has far-reaching implications, and the benefits will be felt by students, scholars, tourists and the local population.
"The Underground Railroad Committee has been and continues to be an asset to the growing number of educational and economic development opportunities taking place across downstate Illinois," the Jacksonville mayor said in remarks prepared for the grant announcement. "Their work is helping to identify Jacksonville as a center for the study of this important period in our state's history."
Woodlawn Farm is located three miles east of Jacksonville and is open for tours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons through August.