We have many reasons for this direction, but the primary one is our mission to tell the story of the Underground Railroad and its legacy in Cass County. Integrated Brownsville School is a living legacy of the UGRR, and we want to keep this precious building as built to tell the story.
We have many one-room schools in Cass County. Red Brick and Geneva Schools have been restored. They are sitting empty, not used for anything. Other schools are available for restoration. These schools could easily tell the story of early Michigan prairie education, but they need someone to step up and lead the effort. URSCC is not in the one-room school business, we are in the UGRR business.
We hope to complete repairs and open Brownsville to the public by mid year 2024. We plan to hang photos of Brownsville and other integrated schools of Cass County on the walls and display documents that tell the history of Brownsville School #1. We are beginning the process of making a documentary about the Underground Railroad and its legacy in Cass County. We plan to debut this film at Brownsville during UGRR Days, 2024.
We hope that you are not disappointed with this change of focus. You can walk into restored one-room schools all over Michigan, even in Cass County. But you cannot walk into an original c. 1840 school, integrated from the day it was opened until it closed in 1957. URSCC thinks Brownsville School #1 was the first and longest integrated public school in Michigan, and perhaps in the country. We choose to let Brownsville tell its story on its own.
This project will cost at least 150K, and we need your support. You can learn more about Brownsville School and donate at www.brownsvilleschool.org or www.urscc.org or send a check to URSCC, PO Box 124, Vandalia, MI 49095.
Cathy LaPointe, treasurer URSCC
Jennifer Ray, chair Friends of Brownsville School (FBS)
Friends of Brownsville School (FBS) has been formed to carry out this project, chaired by Jennifer Ray, retired Cass District Library Director. This group will guide the restoration of the school as a repository of photos and artifacts from all integrated, public, one-room schools in Cass County. Brownsville will also be a demonstration site for Michigan prairie education, inviting tours and education events. Brownsville School is a legacy of the Underground Railroad, operating primarily in Calvin, Penn and Porter Townships, from 1830s to 1850s. Over 1500 fugitive slaves, now called freedom seekers, were said to be helped on their journey to Canada. Many Free Black families arrived in the area in mid 1840s and early 1850s. The bought property, primarily in Calvin Township, and established thriving farms, becoming respected members of the community. Many descendants of these pioneer Black families still reside in the area. The 1850 census for Calvin Township shows both Black and white children going to school. The 1860 plat map of Calvin Township shows over a hundred Black owned properties, and fI’ve one-room schools, Brownsville School #1 is one of them. URSCC purchased Brownsville School and two acres of property it sits on in November, 2022 from the Richard and Dennis Wooden family, whose relatives went to the school. It was part of the Wooden family farm since 1960's, and required three years to clear title and zoning issues. URSCC has taken steps to save the structure during this interval, tarping the roof and shoring up the foundation.The extensive restoration will require funding from various sources. Friends of Brownsville School will take on this challenge, as well as historical research and collecting memorabilia from other integrated, public, one-room schools in Cass County. Jennifer Ray says "This humble schoolhouse has extraordinary stories to tell, valuable lessons to teach. FBS looks forward to assisting URSCC in raising Brownsville's voice. Come join us!" If you would like to support this project, or join Friends of Brownsville School, contact Jennifer or go to www.urscc.org
FBS Chair Jennifer Ray discussed FBS’ role in assisting URSCC realize its vision for restoring Brownsville and making it a repository for information on integrated, public, one-room schools in Cass County. Ray delineated areas of service FBS may use to aid URSCC: fundraising, building a strong membership base, developing a virtual presence, involving students and teachers, researching, and collecting. This work will be done through FBS Work Groups: Steering Committee, Fundraising/Membership, Web and Social Media/Public Relations, Historical Research/Collections.