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Underground Railroad will be focus of weekend events PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 14 April 2009 13:10
Jacksonville will celebrate its ties to the Underground Railroad Friday, Saturday and Sunday, April 17-19, with a series of events for the public that will benefit the ongoing restoration of historic Woodlawn Farm.

            The events include a dinner party and silent auction of antiques, guided tours of the city’s nine documented Underground Railroad sites, and a performance by the National Underground Railroad Theatre that tells the story of Harriet Tubman.

            The Underground Railroad Committee of the Morgan County Historical Society is sponsoring the three-day celebration, which they hope will support efforts to preserve the 165-year-old dwelling that reportedly provided safe haven for runaway slaves seeking freedom in the north. The group purchased Woodlawn Farm in 2003 and has made great strides in their efforts to turn the entire site into a living history museum.

            Loreli Steuer, co-chair of the not-for-profit group, said efforts continue to restore the two-story farm house build by Michael Huffaker in the 1840s. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2008, and Mrs. Steuer said the group is hopeful of completing an extensive window and front entrance replacement project that will greatly enhance the building’s structural integrity. More importantly, she said the renovation work will further preserve the site as a landmark, and enable greater number of visitors, including area school pupils, to learn how early Morgan County residents played important roles in helping runaway slaves during their perilous journey to freedom.

            The public events actually begin Friday, April 17, with an wine-and-cheese preview of fine arts and antiques. Admission to the preview in Illinois College’s Cummings Hall is free, and the public is welcome to view the various items and submit bids. The auction will feature oil paintings, prints, lithographs, various furniture items, dinnerware, jewelry, books, and even framed sheet music for “Topsy’s Song,” taken from Harriett Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” written in 1852. The public can also bid on dinner parties that will be served at the residence of the Illinois College president at Barnes House, and the historic home on east State Street once owned by Civil War hero Benjamin Grierson.

            The winning bids will be announced Saturday, April 18, at the conclusion of a gala benefit dinner in IC’s Cummings Dining Hall. Tickets are priced at $40 and will include a four-course meal and a program of musical entertainment.  The event will feature two performances from the recent Ken Bradbury and Roger Wainwright musical, “Spirit of Lincoln,” by Jacksonville’s Tim Chipman as Carl Sandburg and Sylvia Burke as Mary Hathaway. Springtime and Lincoln inspired music will be provided by soloists Addie Gramelspacher and Kristin Jamison along with the Illinois College Concert Choir and Renaissance Singers. Dinner tickets are priced at $40 and can be reserved by calling 479-4035.

            Sunday’s guided tours of Jacksonville’s Underground Railroad sites will begin at 12 noon with a presentation in Illinois College’s Beecher Hall, the oldest college building in Illinois. From there, buses will transport ticket-holders to four other sites: The Dr. Bazaleel 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, east of the city. Guided tours will take place at each site. The buses also plan to stop 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 also explain the significance of the “Africa” community in Jacksonville and the Henry Irving House at 711 W. Beecher.

            Tickets for the tour of the Underground Railroad sites are priced at $15 for adults and $5 for children ages 6-12, and can be purchased in advance at Festival Foods, 1255 W. Morton, or All Occasions, 635 E. Morton. Organizers said they can guarantee 60 seats on the buses. Others have the option of driving from site to site. Tickets will also be sold at Beecher Hall on the morning of the event.

            The weekend events conclude Sunday, April 19, with a performance at 4 p.m. of “Are You Ready, My Sister?” by the National Underground Railway Theatre in Illinois College’s Rammelkamp Chapel. The performance is part of the 2008-2009 Illinois College Fine Arts Series, and admission is $15. Students of all ages, regardless of where they attend school, will be admitted free.

            “Are You Ready, My Sister?” tells the story of famed Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman and the Quaker women who helped escort several hundred slaves to freedom. The historical adventure will be told by two actress/puppeteers using a giant patchwork quilt. As the plot unfolds, each square of the quilt comes to life with shadow-puppets and painted back-lit scenery.

            Information on each of the events planned as part of the weekend celebration is available by contacting Jim Murphy at Illinois College, 245-3248.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 April 2009 23:28