Monday, December 8, 2014

History Found Off the Interstate

Last September while we were in Indiana, we made a trip to Kalamazoo, Michigan to visit our grandson who attends Western Michigan University.  It was so good to have this time with Jackson.
On our way back to our son's home in Granger, Indiana, we decided to take a rural route through the south Michigan landscape.  Outside Niles, we came upon this house right out in the middle of no where.
Our interest was captivated and decided to see what we could see.
We found a man out back who happened to be the carpenter who was helping to restore this old home.  And it was then that the history lesson began.
The James E. Bonine House has been a landmark in Cass County since the earliest years of settlement of this area.  It is known as a prime example of Victorian architecture in southwestern Michigan and Northern Indiana.  It is well known for its connections to the Underground Railroad (UGRR) activity in this area.

Recently, it has been discovered that the Bonine House was originally built as a Greek revival structure in the 1840's.  By 1853 James and his father owned over a thousand acres making them one of the largest landowners in Cass County.
Originally from Virginia, the Bonine family was part of a group of Quakers who left the state to get away from the hated practice of owning slaves.  This group originally settled in Richmond, Indiana and some later moved to northern Indiana and southern Michigan.

James Bonine arrived in Cass County in 1843 from Indiana, following his father who had moved a year earlier.  He purchased 80 acres on arrival and soon married Sarah Ann Bogue, daughter of UGRR stationmaster and neighbor, who was a member of Young's Prairie Anti-Slavery Friends and staunch abolitionists.

Many of these families set aside 10 acres of land for five years so  these freedom seekers and Freedmen could get established and save to buy their own farms.  Many of them went on to settle permanently in the area.

The old carriage house across the road from the home was where the runaway slaves were evidently hidden in order to avoid being sent back south upon capture.
Notice the intricate Victorian trim still remaining on the Carriage House
After the Bonine family made their money during the Civil War, the Bonine house was restored in the 1870's with ornate Victorian features.

After many years of being vacant and in disrepair, the Bonine Home was purchased by the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County, Michigan (URSCC) in 2010.  It is under their foundation and donations that this wonderful old house, and eventually the Carriage House, is being restored.  The desire of the URSCC is that these two restored structures will again be the beacons of freedom they once represented.
 The exterior side of the original front doors were refinished shortly before our visit.  I found the door windows very unique.
The carpenter allowed us to walk through the house.  There were several pieces of art that have been donated to the society, but on an entryway wall a painting caught my attention.
 I learned that it was painted by celebrated artist Paul Collins in 1978 titled, "Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad."  A beautifully framed giclee (zhee-clay) was purchased by a board member and donated to the Society.
 These are some scenes from inside the house.

This hand stenciled ceiling decoration was discovered and is being painstakingly repainted.
This ugly but sturdy original staircase leads to the bedroom section of the 3-story house.
On the 2nd story, we discovered this little narrow staircase leading to the 3rd level.
From this little room we were able to look out over the Carriage House across the street through small round windows.
This was the little door that leads into the cupola that has recently been restored.  We decided to not ask for a ladder.
 Watch your step going back down!
We were so excited to have discovered this hidden gem of a house with its captivating history.

There are amazing things to be found once you leave the interstates and venture into the country side.  Who would have known!


  1. That is so cool! I live near Grand Rapids, so this isn't very far from me. Thanks for sharing this find!

  2. Oh what a find! I LOVE things like this. How interesting to see and hear about all of this...thanks for sharing it all with us! Enjoy your week!

  3. You two never cease to amaze me! Another great find!


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