The Huizenga Family Foundation in Niles, MI awarded URSCC $10,000 for Brownsville preservation work. This gift coupled with gifts from many individuals, has enabled URSCC to begin work on the foundation. Despite winter weather setting in, Gene Deubner and his Quality Masonry crew have installed frost fittings and set jack posts to secure the building until the next phase of foundation stabilization commences in the spring. When weather permits, Quality Masonry will shore up and dig out a corner of the building, pour a footing, lay eight inch block, and cover the block with thin stone to look original.
Preservation work will continue with the roof, windows, siding, and interior to follow as funding permits. Estimates for all phases of restoration total $150,000. To date generous donors, including the Huizenga Family Foundation, have contributed $33,700. Grant writing and fundraising efforts continue!
The mission of URSCC is to research and educate about the Underground Railroad and its legacy in Cass County, MI. Brownsville School is a legacy of the UGRR. It was integrated from the day it opened in c. 1840 until it closed in 1957. The 1860 plat map of Cass County shows over 100 properties owned by 35 Black families in Calvin Township. It also shows five public, one-room schoolhouses, including Brownsville. Many citations in the literature attest to these schools being integrated. Brownsville is certainly one of the earliest and longest integrated public schools in Michigan, and in the country.
Brownsville School, a Greek Revival frame structure, stands largely in its original state. URSCC will preserve Brownsville, repairing the foundation, windows, floors, and roof. Brownsville will open to the public in 2024. The school will feature photos of Brownsville and other early integrated public schools in Cass County. A documentary about the UGRR and its legacy in Cass County, including interviews with students that attended Brownsville and Cass County’s other integrated schools, will air there. Friends of Brownsville School, a Committee of URSCC, will assist with preservation goals. URSCC and FBS hope Brownsville School #1 becomes a living symbol of this community and its rich history.
See Press Release July 2023 below for more information about URSCC’s new direction for Brownsville.
July 30, 2023
Dear URSCC and FBS Members:
After much thought, we are changing our plans for Brownsville School #1. Rather than restore this school, we will preserve the c. 1840 original building. We will repair the foundation, roof, floor, windows, and anything else that needs repair while keeping the original structure as is as much as possible.
The Underground Railroad Society of Cass County (URSCC) has recently purchased Brownsville School #1, 20559 Osborn Street in Cassopolis , MI. Built in the early 1840s, Brownsville was integrated from the day it opened until it closed in 1957, making Brownsville #1 among the longest integrated public schools in Michigan, and perhaps the country.
Sunday, January 22, 2023–Fifteen people attended the inaugural meeting of the Friends of Brownsville School, a commitee of the Underground Railroad Society of Cass County. Mike Moroz, URSCC President and Buildings and Grounds Chair presented the history of URSCC’s involvement with Brownsville School and explained restoration contractor Peter Brubaker’s stabilization plans.