Benefit will assist Woodlawn Farm restoration PDF Print E-mail
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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.