Underground Railroad History in Michigan

So excited!  As a lover of American history – both its good and its bad history – I have found that there is a wealth of history on the Underground Railroad in the state where I recently became a resident.

I recently wrote a couple of blogs about statues of African-Americans in the USA.

Crispus Attucks and the Boston Massacre Memorial  and

Denmark Vesey – Leader of Failed Rebellion

I knew there was a statute of Harriet Tubman in New York City.  This statute was dedicated in 2008 and is located on Frederick Douglass Boulevard.

Tubman

However, I was surprised to find out there is not one, but two statutes of Tubman in Michigan.  In researching information on these statutes, I discovered that Michigan was very much involved in the Underground Railroad.

Looking at the map of Michigan it is easy to see why this location would have been perfect for those trying to escape slavery and find freedom in Canada.  Surrounded by three of the Great Lakes – Michigan, Huron and Erie, Michigan’s eastern cities are only a short distance from Canada.

The first monument is a bronze statue of not only Tubman but local conductors of the Underground Railroad, Erastus and Sarah Hussey.  This statue in Battle Creek, Michigan depicts Tubman and the other two conductors leading a group of runaway slaves to safety.   Created in 1993 by sculptor Ed Dwight the W. K. Kellogg Foundation commissioned the work.

Tubman 2

The second statue of Tubman is in Ypsilanti, Michigan.  Located in Washtenaw County in Southeast Michigan there are numeous sites connected with the Underground Railroad.

Statue_of_Harriet_Tubman_Ypsilanti_Michigan (1).jpg

(Permission for use of this photograph of the sculpture is granted by sculptor Jane A. DeDecker, Loveland, Colorado.  The sculpture of Harriet Tubman was created in 1995 and is an Edition of 7 with one located near the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock Arkansas.)

 

Cass County in Southwest Michigan also offers many sites where the Underground Railroad was conducted by both free blacks and whites.  Slaves fleeing the South passed through Cass County, then on to Battle Creek and Detroit on their way to freedom in Canada.

So – what started as just wanting to see what statutes of African-Americans there were in the USA, I am excited to find I am near to a lot of history of the Underground Railroad.

Looks like I will be busy checking these sites out!  Can’t wait!

And, of course, I will be writing about these sites as I visit them.

From Corn Fields to Mint Farms

Growing up in Illinois I am used to seeing acres and acres of corn fields any time I drive though the countryside.   Although Iowa is the top corn-producing state in the country, Illinois is a close second.  Some of the top-producing counties are in Illinois.

Seventy-five percent of Illinois’ total land area is devoted to farmland and much of that is in corn.  That’s a lot of corn!

The corn grown in Illinois is not the corn you buy at the store and put on your plate with lots of butter and salt.  That is sweet corn bred for its sugar content which is what makes it so tasty!  One of my favorite sweet corns is called “peaches and cream.”  It is a hybrid and combines white and yellow kernels.  Oh!  What a treat it is!  I usually buy several dozen ears in the early summer and put in the freezer so we can enjoy it all year long.  Nothing is greater than sitting down at the dining room table in the middle of a snow storm with a plate of steaming hot peaches and cream corn waiting to be enjoyed.

sweet corn

The corn grown in Illinois is field corn that is bred for starch.  This corn is used in food products like cornmeal, corn chips and corn syrup.  It is also used in making ethanol and polymers.  However, primarily it is grown for animal feed.

How do you tell the difference?  Sweet corn is shorter, has larger tassels visible, and is often a lighter green.  Field corn is taller, has smaller visible tassels, and is darker green. Sweet corn is harvested in mid-summer while field corn is harvested in the fall after the plant starts to die and the corn kernels become very dry.

Corn is seen in the field that belonged to the Gibson family farm businesses which was auctioned off by a court appointed receiver in Morocco

I love taking road trips through the countryside in the fall to watch the farmers as they harvest the field corn.  Although my husband enjoys it also, all the dust that it produces is a little hard on his allergies.

corn harvest 2corn harvest 3corn harvest

Growing up watching the corn as it grows in the field from the small plants in the spring to the tall stalks in the fall and watching the harvest, I never thought much about it until I moved to Virginia.  I married a young man in the Marine Corps who was stationed at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia just outside Washington DC.  As we explored Virginia that summer I enjoyed the mountains and the many historical sites, but I began missing all those acres and acres of corn.  When fall came I think I was as much homesick for the corn harvest as I was for my family.  As we headed back to Illinois after my husband’s discharge from the Marine Corps, I could not wait to see the corn fields.  Living a few years later as a missionary in the Philippines I once again longed for my corn fields.  Somehow home is associated in my mind with corn fields.

Now I am moving to Michigan.  While Michigan also grows corn, the area where I am moving is noted for its mint farms.  Driving around the area I did see a few fields of corn but nothing of the acres and acres of corn here in Illinois.  St Johns, Michigan calls itself “Mint City” and Clinton County, where St Johns is located, ranks first in Michigan in regards to total mint production.  In August every year the city holds a Mint Festival celebrating its history in mint farming.

I did some checking to see exactly what Michigan agriculture has to offer.  I found Michigan is:

  • #1 producers of tart cherries in USA
  • 6th producer of dairy milk
  • #1 producer of potatoes for potato chips
  • supplies the eggs for all the McDonald’s east of the Mississippi River
  • sells over 2 million Christmas trees every year

(these facts are taken from:the “Pure Michigan website: https://www.michigan.org/article/trip-idea/michigan-agriculture-facts-might-not-have-known)

So – I’m taking a last trip through the countryside to see my corn fields.  I imagine next fall I’ll be asking my husband for us to take a road trip south to see the farmers harvesting the corn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going to Miss You Mighty Mississippi

Most of my life I have lived near the Mississippi River.  Living in southern Illinois near St. Louis, Missouri I crossed the river almost every day as I lived in Illinois but worked in Missouri. The arch dominates the view as you cross into downtown St. Louis.

Mississippi

Taking over two years to build (1963 to 1965) the Gateway Arch is the world’s tallest arch and the tallest stainless steel monument in the world (630-foot).

The arch was built to celebrate the westward expansion of the United States and has become a famous symbol of St. Louis.

As a young bride my husband and I often fished along its banks.  Sometimes we would fish at night and I would love seeing the riverboats with all its bright lights and imagine myself taking a cruise down the river on one of the steam boats.

 

 

Fishing was good then but I’m not sure I would want to eat any fish caught along the river near St. Louis now because of all the pollution.

When I moved to northern Illinois 24 years ago I began my commute crossing the river from Illinois to Iowa to go to work and also to go shopping or eat at the many wonderful restaurants on the Iowa side.

There are several bridges crossing the river between the two states but I one I love to see at night is the Centennial Bridge

mississippi 5

This bridge was the first tied arch bridge to cross the Mississippi River. This bridge is unusual because it has five spans rather than a single main span common among tied arch bridges. Reportedly these spans symbolize the five largest cities in the “Quad Cities” area.  Originally this was a toll bridge and as I crossed the bridge going to work in Iowa, I had to stop in the middle of the bridge where the toll booths were located.  A few years before I retired, the tolls were removed and today all that remains of the toll booths is the canopy that had been built over them.

Another interesting bridge is the Government Bridge.  This bridge, also known as the Arsenal Bridge includes a swing section to accommodate barge traffic navigating the locks at Lock and Dam No. 15.  The current bridge is the fourth in a succession at this location between Rock Island Illinois and Davenport Iowa.  The first bridge built at this site was the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi.

ri bridge

Because it is a swing bridge and is built very low close to the river itself, I was afraid to drive across it when we first moved to this area.  However, the closest way for me to get from work to home was to cross this bridge so in time I overcame my fear.

We will be leaving this area soon moving hundreds of miles from the river.  I am going to miss this mighty river.

  • The Mississippi River is 2,340 miles long.
  • From its source in northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River drops 1,475 feet.
  • The Mississippi River is home to 360 species of fish, 326 species of birds, 145 species of amphibians and 50 species of mammals.
  • The Mississippi River is the third largest watershed in the world.
  • It takes 90 days for a drop of water to travel the entire length of the Mississippi River.
  • At Lake Itasca, the river is between 20 and 30 feet wide, the narrowest stretch for its entire length.
  • The widest part of the Mississippi can be found at Lake Winnibigoshish near Bena, MN, where it is wider than 11 miles.
  • The Mississippi River lies in the following ten US states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Roll on ole man river!  I will miss you!