The Weekly Newspaper serving the citizens of Morenci, Mich., Fayette, Ohio, and surrounding areas.

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    FIRST SNOW—Heavy, wet flakes piled deep on tree branches—and windshields—as the area received its first significant snowfall of the season. “Usually it begins with a dusting or two,” said George Isobar, Morenci’s observer for the National Weather Service, “but this time it came with a vengeance.” By the end of the day Saturday, a little over four inches of snow was on the ground. Now comes the thaw with temperatures in the 40s and 50s for three days.
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    SKEWERS, gumdrops, and marshmallows are all that’s needed to create interesting shapes and designs for Layla McDowell Saturday at Stair District Library’s “Sculptamania!” Open House. The program featuring design games and materials is one part of a larger project funded by a $7,500 Curiosity Creates grant from Disney and the American Library Association. Additional photos are on page 7.
    Morenci marching band members took to the field Friday night dressed for Halloween during the Bulldog’s first playoff game. Morenci fans had a bit of a scare until the fourth quarter when the Bulldogs scored 30 points to leave Lenawee Christian School behind. Whiteford visits Morenci this Friday for the district championship game. From the left is Clayton Borton, Morgan Merillat and James O’Brien.
    DNA PUZZLE—Mitchell Storrs and Wyatt Mohr tackle a puzzle representing the structure of DNA. There’s only one correct way for all the pieces to fit. It’s one of the new materials that can be used in both biology and chemistry classes, said teacher Loretta Cox.
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    A TRAFFIC control worker stands in the middle of Morenci’s Main Street Tuesday morning, waiting for the next flow of vehicles to be let through from the west. The dusty gravel surface was sealed with a layer of tar, leaving only the application of paint for new striping. The project was completed in conjunction with county road commission work west of Morenci.
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    JUNIORS Jazmin Smith and Trevor Corkle struggle against a team from the sophomore class Friday during the annual tug of war at the Homecoming Games pep rally. Even the seniors struggled against the sophomores who won the competition. At the main course of the day, the Bulldog football team struggled against Whiteford in a homecoming loss.
    YOUNG soccer players surived a chilly morning Saturday in Morenci’s PTO league. From the left is Emma Cordts, Wayne Corser, Carter and Levi Seitz, Briella York and Drew Joughin. Two more weeks of soccer remain for this season.
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    BOWEN BAUMGARTNER of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge constructed by the Tecumseh Boy Scout troop Sunday at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The bridge was one of many challenges, displays and games set up for the annual Youth Jamboree by the Michigan DNR. Additional photos on are the back page of this week’s Observer.
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    One of four senior candidates will be crowned the fall homecoming queen during half-time of this week’s Morenci-Whiteford football game. In the back row (left to right) is exchange student Kinga Vidor (her escort will be Caylob Alcock), seniors Alli VanBrandt (escorted by Sam Cool), Larissa Elliott (escorted by Clayton Borton), Samantha Wright (escorted by JJ Elarton) and Justis McCowan (escorted by Austin Gilson), and exchange student Rebecca Rosenberger (escorted by Garrett Smith). Front row freshman court member Allie Kaiser (escorted by Anthony Thomas), sophomore Marlee Blaker (escorted by Nate Elarton) and junior Cheyenne Stone (escorted by Dominick Sell).
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    GETTING READY—Jerad Gleckler pounds nails to secure a string of holiday lights on the side of the Wakefield Park concession stand while other members of the Volunteer Club and others hold them in place. The volunteers showed up Sunday afternoon to string lights at the park. The decorating project will continue this Sunday. Denise Walsh is in charge of the effort this year.
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Tracking down the Underground Railroad 2011.03.30

Written by David Green.

under_RR.meeting_houseBy DAVID GREEN

Colleen Rufenacht likes to think of herself as an “accidental historian,” and that has more than one meaning in her life.

She never intended to spend countless hours tracking down the routes of the “underground railroad” through Williams County into Fulton County, and on into Hillsdale, Lenawee and beyond.

She’s become an accomplished amateur historian, but it was never something she planned to do.

But that’s where the other side of “accidental” comes into play. One discovery unexpectedly offers a clue to another, and that leads to something else and then more. With a curious mind, there’s no end to the search.

For Heath Patten, an art history lecturer at the University of Akron, it’s a similar situation. Patten is also a professional archeologist and he’s spent many hours tracking down old home sites in Williams County, his home area—sites that are little but flat ground now.

Patten and Rufenacht shared the microphone Saturday night at the West Franklin Church of Christ to present their findings about the Underground Railroad at a program titled “At Candlelight.” That, Rufenacht said, is when abolitionist newspapers of the 1850s often announced their meeting time.

“At Candlelight” was the first of several programs scheduled by Northwest Ohio history groups to commemorate the Civil War Sesquicentennial.

500 Years

Patten spoke first, describing the area as sacred ground, containing artifacts from three important components of history: Native Americans, the abolitionists and the Civil War.

under_RR.heath_patRemnants of Native American culture push habitation of the area back at least 5,000 years, Patten said. Pottery shards indicate a village site in what’s now the Parkersburg Wildlife Area.

There’s some evidence and many more stories about homes in the area that served as stops on the Underground Railroad, but Patten told his audience that runaway slaves were generally hidden along creeks and in swampy areas. Patten asked the crowd of 95 people to imagine what it would be like to spend night after night in strange territory along creek bottoms, wondering if every noise in the dark was the approach of a slave hunter.

The concept of slavery baffles Patten.

“One thing I can’t imagine, no matter how hard I try, is what it would be like to be a slave, to never know freedom,” he said.

It’s a concept that bothered many northerners of that era, too, and several were willing to ignore the Fugitive Slave Law that made it illegal to assist slaves. Violators faced large financial penalties and jail time, and in some cases, death.

“They were the men who were willing to risk it all to end this crime against humanity,” Patten said.

Those who dared to publicly declare themselves abolitionists in the 1850s had to prepare for the ramifications that followed because it was far from the popular belief of the day.

A map of Underground Railroad routes shows one main branch that led north along the Mississippi River before spreading northeast across Indiana and into Northwest Ohio. Stations on the route were generally spaced 20 to 30 miles apart.

By 1850, there were an estimated 3,000 people participating in the Underground Railroad. It’s believed that somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 slaves found their way to freedom.

Changing attitudes

“At Candlelight” began less than a mile away at the Society of Friends Meeting House, a Quaker church built in 1850. Quakers are often associated with the abolitionist movement, Patten said—and the Meeting House on Williams County Road 21N was no exception—but there were many Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists and others also involved. Free black men and Native Americans also played a role in the cross-cultural network.

The Underground Railroad wasn’t a set route through any particular area, Patten explained.

“It was very flexible,” he said. “It had to be.”

If trouble was seen in one area, run-aways could be directed over to another branch. Eventually, abolitionists filled a variety of posts in the area, from judges and justices of the peace to sheriffs and township clerks.

“Who is going to enforce the law?” Patten asked.

He could find no evidence anyone was ever prosecuted for breaking the Fugitive Slave Law in Williams County.

Patten closed his talk by urging the audience to think about everything lying under the ground in this area from the many generations who lived here in the past 5,000 years.

Endless search

Rufenacht told of her research on area abolitionists that’s taken her north into Hillsdale County and northeast into Lenawee County. Her great-great-grandmother lived in Lickley’s Corners northwest of Waldron, and her research into the Medina Union Seminary has led her into Lenawee.

under_RR.collen_rufJohn Manning Barrows and his wife, Catherine Payne Moore Barrows—both very active in the movement—founded the Medina Union Seminary on White Pine Highway at Lime Creek Road. Rufenacht wishes Patten would organize an archeological dig at that site where no trace now exists.

Tracking down the lives of the Barrows has led her to many other locations and to several new connections to the Underground Railroad.

Many times the paths are far from clear.

“A lot of Underground Railroad work is speculative until you find something in print,” Rufenacht said, “but we keep digging.”

She spoke Saturday about a trip to visit Mary Louise Foley who was once president of the NAACP branch in Ypsilanti, Mich. The visit resulted from another of Rufenacht’s accidental discoveries.

While perusing some Underground Railroad photographs for sale on eBay—they accompanied articles in the Detroit News—she saw a house that looked familiar. A great-uncle of hers once owned the old home, but Foley was in the photograph.

She bought that photograph and soon bought the others offered, too. One of them showed a woman in a house near Onsted and Rufenacht was off again, discovering new links in the wide web of railroad conductors and stationmasters.

“It never ends, does it?” Rufenacht said after her talk.

Mary Louise Foley offered Rufenacht an interesting perspective on history, from the Underground Railroad through the next century and a half.

“We are our ancestors’ dreams,” she told the accidental historian.

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