VANDALIA, Mich. — Restoration work on a house and carriage house that served as an Underground Railroad stop for slaves fleeing north is entering its sixth year.
A Bullseye Construction crew of Amish craftsmen began restoring the south and east walls of the carriage house by installing temporary steel beams and cribbing. They eventually will install massive new perimeter beams using some tools that date back to the mid-19th century, when the house and carriage house were constructed.
Quality Masonry will finish the foundation when the crew has completed their work.
The next steps in the carriage house restoration include, removal of the concrete bunker in front, installing a new roof and restoring the windows, doors and siding. At some point, the structures in front of the carriage house will be moved elsewhere on the property.
The Underground Railroad Society of Cass County, which purchased the property in 2010, hopes to complete work by the end of 2018 at a projected cost of $200,000. When completed, visitors will be able to experience a genuine station on the Underground Railroad, as well as a period museum.
Quaker abolitionists James E. and Sarah Bogue Bonine had the Victorian style house built in 1845 at Penn Road and M-60 in Vandalia, which is about 15 miles north of Elkhart. The carriage house was built about five years later across M-60 from the main residence.
Both structures secretly housed slaves fleeing north to escape their masters along Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad.
When the Underground Railroad Society obtained the structures in 2010, the main house was in danger of collapse while the carriage house had serious structural problems. Four years later in 2014, the house was stabilized so the focus switched to the Gothic Revival style carriage house.
Work completed on the carriage house so far includes cribbing to stabilize the southwest corner, new beams and rebuilding the foundation with fieldstones and cobblestones.
More information about the Underground Railroad Society, the Bonine House and carriage house restorations, and the Underground Railroad in Michiana, can be found at www.urscc.org.