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Jacksonville's Historic Underground Railroad
Benefit will assist Woodlawn Farm restoration PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 26 May 2010 21:07
A benefit to raise funds for the restoration of historic Woodlawn Farm will take place at Illinois College Saturday, June 12, and feature a wine and cheese garden party along with a concert by the Capital Chamber Singers of Springfield and guest soloist Joel Tinsley Hall.
 
The Underground Railroad Committee of the Morgan County Historical Society will sponsor the benefit, “Patriotic Pops: A Salute to the Red, White and Blue,” which falls two days before the traditional celebration of Flag Day and coincides with the start of the public tour season at Woodlawn Farm.   Michael Bendorf, chairman of the not-for-profit organization, said all proceeds will assist with restoration of the 1840s-era farmhouse that reportedly provided safe haven for runaway slaves traveling along the Underground Railroad.
 
Tickets are priced at $30 each, including both the reception and concert. They can be purchased in advance at the The Farmers State Bank downtown and Mortan Avenue locations, Festival Foods on West Morton Avenue, and the Jacksonville Conventions and Visitors Bureau, 310 E. State St.
 The Capital Chamber Singers include 10 talented vocalists who perform periodically at events across Central Illinois. Ensemble members include Diane Dietz, Jamie Greenwald, Susan Harris, Ron Howell, Dave Hixenbaugh, Becky Kemp, Richard McDaniel, Jody Kienzler, Julie Walker Hood and Bernie Wiseman. The group’s concert repertoire will include a mix of spirituals and patriotic tunes along with a medley of works by Stephen Foster.  Baritone soloist Joel Tinsley Hall is a recent MacMurray College graduate and an accomplished vocalist who has performed extensively in the Jacksonville area.
 
“Our long-range goal is to convert Woodlawn Farm into a living history museum and to call attention to its important role as a station on the Underground Railroad,” Bendorf said in announcing plans for the benefit. “The site has already attracted several thousand regional visitors over the last few years, and more and more tourists are stopping by from out of state. We’re eager to preserve its history and its historic buildings and share the important Underground Railroad story of Woodlawn Farm,” the group’s chairman added. 
 
The reception will begin at approximately 6 p.m. on the lawn of Barnes House, the residence of Illinois College President Axel D. Steuer and his wife, Loreli . In case of rain, the reception will be held in the lobby of Sibert Theater across from the president’s home and located near the corner of Lockwood Place and West College Avenue. The concert performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Rammelkamp Chapel on the IC campus.
 
Woodlawn Farm was established by the Michael Huffaker family in 1824 and soon began to play a prominent role in the development of modern agricultural practices that shaped much of Central Illinois during the 19th century. The two-story brick structure that sits just south of Interstate 72, approximately three miles east of Jacksonville, also served as an active Underground Railroad station for freedom seeking runaway slaves. Huffaker was known as an influential and respected landowner and was one of the first Morgan County farmers to employ free blacks.
 
Through anecdotal and documented evidence that is still being collected, research strongly indicates that the cabins occupied by Huffaker’s workers provided safe haven between the 1830s  and 1860s for slaves who were seeking to reach freedom in Canada.  Sympathetic local residents who opposed slavery served as conductors on the Underground Railroad, and at least nine sites have been identified in the Jacksonville area as places that were active in providing assistance and sanctuary for the  freedom seekers who made their way through Morgan County.  As part of the Underground  Railroad network, Huffaker risked hefty fines, imprisonment, and the possible loss of his property if caught harboring a fugitive slave.
 
The Underground Railroad Committee, which purchased Woodlawn Farm in 2003, has raised more than $300,000 in grants and private donations. Those funds have been used to build a new bridge to the homestead as well as complete extensive exterior repairs to the historic structure.  The latter include providing a  new roof and roof beams, completing the tuck-pointing of the entire exterior brickwork, and redoing all of the outside molding, soffits, and drainpipes.  As immediate past chair, Loreli Steuer, explained, “We have recently restored some 22 windows and provided a new front door entrance and it is now time to turn our attention to refinishing and re-plastering  interior rooms to further preserve the beauty and history of this landmark property.  The Patriotic Pops benefit will be a great help in beginning this new phase of restoration.”
 
Woodlawn Farm will be open to the public from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays starting June 5 and continuing through the end of August. Additional information is available at the group’s website, www.woodlawnfarm.com, or by calling the Jacksonville Area Conventions and Visitors Bureau at 243-5678.
 
Underground Railroad Tours and Chili Supper Set for Sunday 8 November 2009 PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 26 October 2009 15:49
            Jacksonville’s important link to the Underground Railroad in Illinois will be explored in detail Sunday, November 8, when nine local sites that provided safe haven for runaway slaves will be on tour.

 

            The tours will begin at 1 p.m. at Beecher Hall on the campus of Illinois College and end at approximately 5 p.m.  Included in the price of the tickets will be a bus tour and a hearty chili supper and dessert.  The limited number of bus tickets will also include stops at four of the sites where costumed guides will be waiting to take the riders into the houses and tell their stories of rescue and secret hiding places. Guides will also accompany each bus group and point out other locations in Jacksonville that were part of the Underground Railroad.

 

            The bus tour tickets cost $15 for adults and $5 for youngsters between the ages of 6 and 12.  Admission is free to children age five and under. Advance tickets can be purchased at the Jacksonville Convention and Visitors Bureau, 310 E. State St.; Festival Foods, 1255 W. Morton, and All Occasions Florist, 635 E. Morton Ave.

 

            Tickets will also be sold at Beecher Hall starting at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 8, but only the first 50 advance tickets holders will be guaranteed a place on one of the two buses scheduled for the event.

 

            Upon departing from Beecher Hall after a brief presentation of its central role in the Underground Railroad, buses will transport ticketholders to four other sites: The Dr. Bezaleel Gillett House at 1005 Grove St., the Congregational Church at 520 W. College Ave., the General Grierson Manson at 852 E. State St.,  and Woodlawn Farm, located just east of the city. Guided tours will take place at each site. The buses are also scheduled to make brief stops at the Asa Talcott House at 859 Grove St. and the Porter Clay House at 1019 W. State St.  Tour guides on each bus will explain the significance of the “Africa” community in Jacksonville and the Henry Irving House at 711 W. Beecher.

 

            Tickets and maps will also be sold at the Gillett House, the Congregational Church, the Grierson Mansion and Woodlawn Farm for those who prefer to provide their own transportation.

 

            The Underground Railroad Committee of the Morgan County Historical Society is sponsoring the tour and open houses at the four inside locations. Between 3 and 5 p.m., a home cooked meal of chili, corn bread, relishes and beverages will be served at the Congregational Church with dessert and other refreshments served at Woodlawn Farm. A large campfire on the grounds of Woodlawn Farm will serve as a signal that open house activities are underway.

 

            Additional information is available by contacting the Jacksonville Convention and Visitors Bureau at 243-5678, or by email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Monday, 02 November 2009 22:56
 
Woodlawn Farm re-opens for summer 2009 PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 19 June 2009 19:42

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 Historic Woodlawn Farm reopens for tours 

      Woodlawn Farm has an improved appearance this summer as the historic site near Jacksonville reopens for public tours.  

      Renovation work on the 19th century farm house that was completed late last fall included the complete restoration of the first- and second-story windows on the building’s north side – the portion motorists on nearby Interstate 72 can view as they drive past the location. Crews also restored the main entrance to the building and completed a comprehensive tuck-pointing project. 

      Woodlawn Farm was built in the 1840s and reportedly served as a station on the Underground Railroad. Guides in period costume will lead tours of the farm house from 1 to 4 p.m. every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through the end of August. The suggested donation is $3.  

      The structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007 and is operated by the Underground Railroad Committee of the Morgan County Historical Society. 

      Signs directing visitors to Woodlawn Farm are located along Old Route 36 at the intersection with Arnold Road, a short distance east of the Jacksonville Correctional Center. Information regarding group tours is available by calling 243-5938 or the Jacksonville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau at 243-5678.  

      Tour guides will describe the role that original owners Michael and Jane Huffaker played in developing the 19th century farmstead and their efforts in assisting runaway slaves traveling along the Underground Railroad.  

      Efforts continue to completely restore the structure to its original condition. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity provided a $75,000 matching grant in 2007 that made it possible for the owners to replace the roof and complete major structural repairs. Volunteers who staff the site and operate the Underground Railroad Committee are seeking financial assistance to finish restoring all of the building’s windows.  

      The staff of tour guides at Woodlawn Farm for the summer includes Illinois College junior Nicole Clemens of Fairview Heights. She will complete an internship at the site during the summer months. The Underground Railroad Committee operates a Web site at www.woodlawnfarm.com, and can be reached via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . 
 

 

 
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