Juneteenth festivities in Springfield grow; Gammon House ‘makes us very, very unique’

Food trucks, live music, family activities planned for Juneteenth/FatherFest Festival.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Springfield and the Gammon House have celebrated Juneteenth long before it was recognized as a federal holiday in 2021. In 2024, it continues to grow in the Springfield community, and hopes are for reaching beyond.

Event organizers are again celebrating in multiple ways this week. Friday will bring the third Together We Rise Prayer Breakfast at 9 a.m. at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 34 W. Pleasant St., followed by the Juneteenth/FatherFest Festival, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday on the grounds near the Gammon House, 620 Piqua Place.

Both events are free and open to the public. The annual George and Sarah Gammon 5K Run/Walk kicked off things at the Gammon House on June 8.

“We’re confident we have a really good program this year for the entire community,” said Dale Henry, president of the Gammon House, which is one of Ohio’s few remaining Underground Railroad historical sites. “This site is what makes us very, very unique.”

George and Sarah Gammon built the house in 1850, the same year Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, and provided shelter, food and clothing for slaves on their journey to freedom, Henry said. It is one of three safehouses still in Ohio that were owned by a family of color, he said.

Henry counts this being the 18th year of recognizing Juneteenth in one form or another here, with extra weight given its historic significance. Saturday’s activities will begin with the first step toward the proposed Gammon Green, the area across the street from the Gammon House.

A groundbreaking ceremony with city officials attending will launch a $290,000 project to improve the area from Center Street to Clark Street. Henry said the project will include new brick pavers and improve access for tour buses visiting the Gammon House.

“We’re really excited for this reinvestment and the good stewards helping with the entire project,” he said.

William Miller, co-chair of Juneteenth with Gail Grant, said there will be more offerings at this year’s celebration including 10-12 food trucks with a wider variety of offerings and five live musical acts, including for the first time a headliner, The Deron Bell Band. A new portable stage will be used.

Visitors will find a variety of merchandise vendors and information tables from community organizations. As it’s a family event, there will be free children’s entertainment, including the popular trackless train, bounce houses and a pirate ship.

FatherFest will present the annual Good Dad Award during the day.

Henry and Miller said with all the fun, they want to make sure people take in the significance of Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S., especially with a sthat was part of it.

The Gammon House will conduct tours throughout the day and a popular feature from a year ago will return – the discovery walk trail, charting the way the Underground Railroad worked in Ohio and all 15 sites. It takes up most of the house’s back lawn and was created by Grant.

Also new are two historical reenactors portraying figures of the time. John T. Hafford Sr. will play Arnold Gragston, who was instrumental in helping slaves’ escape routes on their Underground Railroad journey near Ripley. Samuel Brown will walk mingle with visitors in period attire playing his violin.

“It’s a great problem to have when we’re running out of space with so much going on,” Miller said.

The community breakfast on Friday has the theme “Lament and Jubilation” and will have a catered breakfast provided by Carmae Catering, music, prayers with local pastors and keynote speaker Pastor Dale DeGroat of Second Baptist Church.

The breakfast is free, but those interested should register ahead of time online at gammonhouseoh.org/events/.

Henry and Miller said more volunteer input and community individual and organizational interest has allowed for more opportunities, including a budget for advertising outside of Springfield, where many people have no idea of the Gammon House’s significance.

“It’s a secret outside of our community, so we’re excited to have so many new partners and numbers stepping up. We’ve been celebrating this for years and want others to have that opportunity,” Miller said.

They hope the volunteer interest goes beyond just this holiday as there is landscaping, upkeep and other things in hoping to develop into an even bigger area.

For more information on Juneteenth events or the Gammon House, go to gammonhouseoh.org/.

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