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History Lesson

Fall Festival to showcase history of Eleutherian College

Day of speakers, tours will
explore college’s significance

Fall Festival at Eleutherian College

• 10-4 Saturday, Sept. 15, at 6927 State Rd. 250 in Lancaster, Ind.
• Free program and tours during the event.
• Visit www.eleutherian-college.org or go to the Facebook page.

(September 2018) – Logan Kunselman has a unique internship this summer. He is working on the railroad. He has not traveled; he has not even left Madison, Ind. His job is to work on the Underground Railroad in Jefferson County, Ind., at the History Center on West First Street. He will be presenting an overview of his research and his work on a brochure about the Underground Railroad at Eleutherian College’s Fall Festival.
The annual Fall Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, both inside and outside the massive stone building at 6927 State Rd. 250 in Lancaster, Ind. Eleutherian College takes its name from eleutheria, an Ancient Greek term for liberty, since the college celebrates the freedom provided by the Underground Railroad that brought escaped slaves to Indiana, where they were able to receive an education. That celebration continues at the Fall Festival, which will also showcase tours of the current restoration work, demonstrations by craftsmen and other historical presentations.
The Underground Rail-road was really significant, but very little information is available. It was such a well-kept secret at the time, since there was real legal liability for personal involvement. Memoirs and documents were often written years later.
“It is amazing to find history in your hometown and realize that you never looked close enough to see it. There are so many amazing stories in Madison,” said Kunselman, 22, of Bedford, Ky. 

Photo by Sharyn Whitman

Logan Kunselman, a Hanover College student from Bedford, Ky., works on the project at the Jefferson County History Center in Madison.

The Hanover College senior has spent this summer combing through what he described as “tons of information” looking for interesting details about the Underground Railroad to include in a brochure. When the brochure is finished, the Historical Society will have an easy reading handout that explains the role of the Underground Railroad in Jefferson County and the people who made it possible.
One of those individuals was Delia Webster, a school teacher who bought a plantation in Trimble County, Ky., and helped ferry people across the Ohio River to Indiana. Often, abolitionists in the north helped fund plantation acquisitions in key locations to facilitate the movement of escaped slaves in their journey to freedom. Kunselman has narrowed his study to six people, including Webster.
One of the sections of the brochure will be dedicated to Eleutherian College, founded in 1848. It was the first college in Indiana to admit students, regardless of gender or race. The college, located only 10 miles north of the Ohio River, was a prized destination for slaves seeking educational opportunities in the north. Some slaves stayed at the college, while others continued traveling north. Some even sought the secure freedom offered as far away as the Canadian border.
While the Fall Festival is a more recent event, archives at the History Center in Madison provide glimpses of earlier events scheduled as “reunions.” Jan Vetrhus, president of the Board of Directors of Historic Eleutherian College, cited details of the rich history of the college, as documented over the years in newspaper articles that are archived at the History Center.
The following excerpts are illustrative: “The anti-slavery passions of the Neil’s Creek Abolitionist Baptist Church influenced Jefferson County Indiana before the Civil War and generated the support to build a college in Lancaster where students of any gender or race were welcome – the first such college in Indiana and the second college with that distinction in the United states. That college flourished until the Civil War when most of the student body enlisted in the Union Army. Fifteen of those students were killed in battle.”

File photo

Eleutherian College, founded in 1848, in Lancaster, Ind., was the first college in Indiana to admit students regardless of gender or race. Its history will be explored during programs at the festival.

“Four hundred participants attended a reunion in 1941, where the program included the magnificent performance of an African-American quartet from Indianapolis. Father Joseph Brown of St. Patrick’s Church at North Madison gave the keynote address recognizing the God-fearing pioneers who settled in the Lancaster area and produced the Eleutherian College. This place exemplifies brotherly love and neighborliness. The quartet closed the program with a moving rendition of “God Bless America,” leading the audience to join the singing. The Madison High School Band accompanied the singing. The band outdid itself in putting across this splendid patriotic anthem.”
“In 1946, the 10th reunion was celebrated with musical entertainment by an African-American quartet from Franklin, Ind. Only a brief program was planned since it was primarily as a community reunion and get-together.” Full copies of these articles are available in the Archives.
In addition to Kunselman’s presentation, Dr. Sean O’Neill, Assistant Professor of Classical Studies at Hanover College, will discuss archaeological exploration at Eleutherian College. His presentation draws from his research titled, ”Archaeology at Eleutherian College: Gazing at the 19th Century in Southeastern Indiana.” O’Neill explained, “Nineteenth century outhouses were the repository of a vast range of artifacts: glass, metal, even coins.”
Working with archaeology students, he has been able to demonstrate the techniques of digging shovel test pits and test trenches in an area southwest of the main Eleutherian College building. Hanover College students do not need to travel to distant ancient sites to be involved in an actual archaeological dig.
Dr. Mark A. Furnish will discuss his research on abolitionists that is documented in his dissertation titled, “A Rosetta stone on slavery’s doorstep: Eleutherian College and the lost antislavery history of Jefferson County, Indiana.” 
Furnish found that the “Lancaster abolitionists and their unique school represented the pinnacle of an antislavery impulse that had existed in the county since its founding in 1810.” The exte­nt of this contribution had been “lost to locals and historians alike for generations.”
He further noted that the “Ohio River played a complex duel role as a trade and communications artery that economically united both banks while also constituting a legal and cultural border between free and slave states.”
Each of the enlightening presentations will include time for discussion and questions from the audience.
Throughout the day, tours will be available to observe the restorations that have been completed inside the stone building. The goal is to create a multifunctional destination and facility for education, as well as a restored venue for weddings and conferences. 
Outdoor demonstrations will include a blacksmith demonstrating techniques of iron forging on an anvil and a spinner demonstrating the use of a spinning wheel to form yarn. Another highlight is the performance of the Vernon Greys, a Civil war re-enactment group. During the Civil War, Union soldiers camped on the college grounds as they prepared for battle. The Vernon Greys, coordinated by Terry Furgason from North Vernon, Ind., is committed to telling the stories of their ancestors and keeping history alive.
Box lunches will be available for purchase so visitors can comfortably spend the day at the Fall Festival.

There is no charge for admission, but donations to further the renovations and research about the college will be accepted. Eleutherian College is a National Historic Landmark and is on the U.S. National register of Historic Places.

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