SCHOOLCRAFT, Mich. (WOOD) — The historical society in Schoolcraft is asking for the community’s help to repair and preserve a nearly 200-year-old house that served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
In the 19th Century, Dr. Nathan Thomas had many hats: co-founder of the Michigan Republican Party, Kalamazoo County’s first physician and an integral part of the Underground Railroad. His home on E. Cass Street near 14th Street in Schoolcraft was a safe house for people escaping slavery.
“They used their home as a safe house for 20 years, helping escaping slaves on their way to Canada,” said Nancy Rafferty, president of the Schoolcraft Historical Society, which owns the property. “Mrs. Thomas wrote that they ‘would hide them under the eaves.'”
Historians estimate at least 1,000 people used the house as a checkpoint. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and now serves as the Schoolcraft Historical Society’s museum.
“As far as we know, we are the only home in which the escaping slaves would be hidden in the state of Michigan that is open to the public,” Rafferty said. “There are other sites, but the homes are not open.”
The building is in desperate need of repairs: It needs a new roof and fencing. Some of the windows are in rough shape:
“We think these (windows) are the original. Some of the panes are wavy glass still. You can see the wood is pretty well destroyed,” Schoolcraft Historical Society Vice President Barry Visel showed News 8.
Perhaps the biggest problem is the foundation. Standing in the basement, light is visible from outside.
Visel said the group needs $95,000 to cover repairs and fund cataloguing of the artifacts in the house. The historical society said it is actively searching and applying for state and federal grants to help offset the costs, but some require a match. So the society has created a GoFundMe account seeking to raise at least $25,000.
“Fundraising is always a problem. We have annual maintenance costs, utility costs and ongoing expenses. So we struggle to keep up with that,” Visel said. “Once the windows and the foundation and whatnot are fixed, we should see a reduction in our annual cost requirements, so we hope that’s a benefit going forward.”
If the society cannot come up with the money for repairs, it may consider selling the house.