Underground Railroad Society of Cass County receives grant

DOWAGIAC — Help is on the way for The Underground Railroad Society of Cass County.

The historical organization was awarded $10,000 by the Michigan Humanities Council on Thursday. In a press release, the MHC announced it had granted $661,085 in emergency CARES Act funding to 116 Michigan cultural and community organizations impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Cass County, the URSCC, the Marcellus Township Wood Memorial Library and the Dowagiac Area History Museum were recipients of the grant.

When the MHC received a block of grant money as part of the CARES Act, it offered all nonprofits in their database the opportunity to apply for a different type of grant, said Cathy LaPointe, a member of the URSCC. “This money would offer general operating support, as opposed to funding particular programs. They realized, as a result of COVID-19, programs would be postponed or canceled, funding would be affected, and there was concern that organizations couldn’t meet their ongoing financial responsibilities.

Founded in 2009, the URSCC is an organization dedicated to providing a focal point for exploration into the origins and activities of the Underground Railroad system in Cass County.

Due to COVID-19, URSCC had to shut down operations, including Cass County Wax Museum events in the spring as well as its annual Underground Railroad Days festival. Hosted during the second weekend of July, the festival is a collaboration between the URSCC and the village of Vandalia, which celebrates the legacy of the Underground Railroad.

The James E. Bonine House, the Bonine Carriage House and the Stephen Bogue House — three Underground Railroad-related buildings in the process of being restored — are closed for tours, usually occurring from June through September.

Memberships and donations to URSCC have understandably and drastically declined during this time, LaPointe said. The grant from MHC is allowing URSCC to pay utilities, security, lawn care, pest control and other obligations connected with our three properties. Since we are all volunteers, none of the money has gone for salaries, another approved use. Having this fund to draw on has meant security during this uncertain time. We are very grateful to Michigan Humanities Council, the National Institute for the Arts, and the U.S. Congress for extending a helping hand to URSCC and many other organizations like us.

Underground Railroad sites may be closed for the time being, but it is possible to visit them online at urscc.org. The website features narrated PowerPoints, locally written and illustrated books and a 19-site, self-guided driving tour that can be downloaded.

LaPointe hopes that the URSCC will be able to host Christmas at the Bonine House — an annual event hosted at The Bonine House in Vandalia — in December and plans on the organization being fully operational in 2021.

Donations to URSCC can be made online at urscc.org or by check to P.O. Box 124, Vandalia MI 49095.

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