‘Ramptown’ Was Michigan’s Haven for Underground Railroad Escapees
Old timers know about Ramptown. It wasn't a town, village, city, hamlet, township, postal station, borough, whistle stop, burg, or an unincorporated community. Even though people lived there, it never showed up on any maps or atlases.
I guess you could say it was a railroad depot, but not in the sense you would think; it was a gathering of makeshift homes raised by escapees on the Underground Railroad.
The URSCC says the area that was dubbed 'Ramptown' encompassed land owned by James E. Bonine, west of Vandalia in Cass County. James and his wife Sarah were proclaimed abolitionists and used their house - which they built in 1844 - as a refuge for escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad. The area was a Quaker community and others used their homes for refuge as well. The escapees were welcome to clear the land, build homes, grow their own food, attend church, earn a living, and send their children to school. In other words, here they could have a normal life, free from slavery.
So where exactly on Bonine's farmland did all these little cabins stand? The memories of long-gone escapees and their children differ. One says it was west of the Bonine house, others say behind the house, and even more say it was south. I tend to believe there were cabins spread out in all these areas, and it is estimated there were around thirty dwellings spread out on the Bonine farmland. Students from Western Michigan University prospected the land in 2002 and excavated household remnants and parts of old cabins, which had all been torn down sometime around the 1950s.
Why was it called 'Ramptown'? One site I found said it was probably named after wild leeks that grew in the area. I think they were referring to a seldom-mentioned plant called rampion, which was a North African bellflower used in salads. That's what I'm guessing it could be.
The cabins, gardens, and shade trees are all gone, now all plowed farmland. The people who built, lived, and were born in Ramptown have passed. However, the Bonine home still stands, majestically in the countryside and is currently owned by Cass County's Underground Railroad Society (URSCC)...and tours are available.
There is more to learn about this area's involvement in the Underground Railroad and the Kentucky Raid of 1847. You can read about that HERE.
Michigan's Smallest County: Cass
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