The Bonine House
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Learn the History of the Underground Railroad in Vandalia

If you’re a history buff or an Underground Railroad enthusiast, Cass County is right up your alley. The Village of Vandalia played an important part in the Underground Railroad system. Additionally, the county was where the 1847 Kentucky Raid occurred.

About the Underground Railroad in Vandalia Michigan

Near the village of Vandalia Michigan, there’s a historical marker on M-60 that points out the intersection of two main lines in the Underground Railroad — the Quaker line from the Ohio River and the Illinois line from St. Louis. The Quaker line was manned by Quakers in Cass County. From that intersection, the line led into Canada.

Most people who visit towns and villages in the county do so for the lakes, parks, and other recreational activities. However, the Quaker and Illinois lines of the Underground Railroad helped nearly 2,000 freedom seekers pass through Michigan over 150 years ago.

Although many of the landmarks and safe houses that were a part of this time in history are gone, some of them still remain. The James E. Bonine House is a Greek Revival farmhouse — which may not be open for tours but has beautiful architecture — that was owned by loyal abolitionists. In fact, Bonine was a Quaker who set land aside for freedom seekers and Freedmen to farm.

There are even stories of tunnels between the Bonine House and the carriage house across the street. It’s believed that abolitionists hid runaway slaves in the carriage house, but no concrete evidence has been found.

Another site of significance to the Underground Railroad is Ramptown, a parcel of land outside of downtown Vandalia. This is the land that Bonine divided among the freedom seekers in exchange for their help with farming it. According to eyewitnesses, there was a school and cabins for 30 families, but those buildings are long gone. Today, you can read a historical marker about it.

Even more related sites exist throughout the area, and the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County has put together a self-guided driving tour. You can use these maps to visit 20 sites within 4 miles of Vandalia. Also, you can get maps in Milo Barnes Park at the UGRR historical marker. The drive takes about one hour if you don’t stop along the way.

Boninehouse Andimariem
photo courtesy of @andimariem

Underground Railroad Days in Vandalia Michigan

If you’re looking for something to do in mid-July, be sure to check out the annual Underground Railroad Days festival in Vandalia. The festival includes historical presentations, classic car shows, vendor/craft show booths, and lots of yummy food!

Other Things to Do and Restaurants in Cass County

If you want to do some activities while you’re in Vandalia, there’s plenty to do at Dr. T.K. Lawless Park — mountain biking, hiking, fishing, disc golfing, open-field games, horseshoe, volleyball, picnicking, and more. It’s among few parks in the world that have earned the International Dark Sky Park designation, which it received in 2019.

Similarly, Rudolphi Woods in Dowagiac is open all year for hiking and running. While you’re in Dowagiac, you could watch a movie at the 5 Mile Drive-in, one of the last operating drive-in theaters in Michigan. The concession stand offers fresh popcorn, drinks, and snacks.

For a bite to eat on your journey, Marcello’s Pizza & Subs makes Chicago-style pizzas, breadsticks, garlic bread, sub sandwiches, wraps, and pasta. Whether you need a jolt of caffeine or a tasty sweet, The Baker’s Rhapsody in Dowagiac offers the ultimate bakery and coffee shop experience. You can order hot or cold coffee creations, individual cakes, cookies, cupcakes, Danishes, and more. The menu even includes hot chocolate, mocktails, and teas.

The Wood Fire Trattoria is the best place to go if you want authentic Italian cuisine. The menu features wood-fired pizzas, seafood, steak, and exotic dishes. For dessert, you could go to The Wildpatch in Marcellus for soft-serve ice cream in every form imaginable. The small eatery has sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, and pizza too.

Where to Get a Campsite in Cass County

Because of the abundance of nature in Cass County, it has several campgrounds. Most of them are on the east side of the county:

Additional Lodging Options Nearby:

Photos of Vandalia’s Underground Railroad Historical Sites


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