Juneteenth/FatherFest in Springfield celebrates groundbreaking day

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

A groundbreaking day may not sound like something associated with an event in its 18th year. For Springfield’s Juneteenth/FatherFest Festival it was highly appropriate.

Saturday’s event centered around the Gammon House, Springfield’s historic location on the Underground Railroad in the 19th Century, began with an actual groundbreaking ceremony for a $290,000 project with the city of Springfield going from Center Street to Clark Street.

The work, which will begin at the end of June or early July, will include new brick pavers, improve the sidewalks and gutters and allow access for tour buses visiting the Gammon House. It’s the first phase of what Gammon House officials hope will result in an interpretive center known as Gammon Green.

The dedication was just the beginning of the day, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. It included tours of the Gammon House, interactive historical features, vendors, information booths, kids’ games and rides, food, live entertainment and the annual FatherFest recognition of dads with various activities, speakers and the annual Good Dad Awards.

Juneteenth activities actually began with a run/walk event on June 8 and the third Together We Rise Prayer Breakfast on Friday.

The festival has grown thanks to more volunteers and sponsors than ever. Having a respite from the humid and hot weather was another welcome addition.

“Isn’t this a beautiful day,” asked Dale Henry, Gammon House president, in his opening remarks. “We’ve been working hard to make this an event the community can be a part of and be proud of. We’re just excited about the potential of the future.”

Springfield Mayor Rob Rue said the groundbreaking was a monumental day in the history of Springfield and recalled his first visit to the Gammon House and what it meant.

“It’s a symbol of our past we cannot ignore, a place of dedication and reflection,” he said.

Henry and Rue were joined by Gammon House board members and others for the groundbreaking.

Saturday also saw the dedication of a new bench in the Gammon House’s back yard honoring Dr. Henry Jud, who wanted to help start an endowment fund with the Springfield Foundation for the future interpretive center prior to his passing in April 2023.

Several of Jud’s family members made good on his wish and attended with granddaughter Jasmine Sampson giving the dedication, talking about how they would travel here for Juneteenth annually and was honored the new bench faces a positivity bench on the property.

William Miller, Juneteenth/FatherFest Festival co-chair, said plans for the interpretive center are long-term and hopes the endowment continues to build.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

Besides the fun and food, the emphasis is on keeping the meaning of Juneteenth and the Gammons’ story in mind. The house was busy with visitors, returning and first-timers.

Lisa Hamilton and Jody Calhoun were vendors who had never visited before but were impressed, calling it empowering and inspiring.

“The more people know, the more that can appreciate the history,” said Hamilton.

Adrian Spiller grew up in Springfield but never visited the Gammon House or knew of its history. She moved to Michigan and traveled back here with husband Keith and daughter Kiana, who are related to Miller.

The Spillers especially enjoyed the discovery walk trail, set up in the length of the house’s back yard to show how the Underground Railroad worked in Ohio and its 15 sights. It was created by festival co-chair Gail Grant.

“We’ve enjoyed every little inch of this. You always find something you didn’t know,” said Adrian Spiller.

Also getting into the spirit was the Springfield Museum of Art, who tied in their current exhibition “Tigris,” about book banning and dismantlement of knowledge. Museum educator Amy Korpieski and volunteers encouraged visitors to draw or write about a book that set them free, tying into the theme of being set free and gaining education that was denied to slaves.

Historical reenactors also mingled with guests and educated on who they were portraying.

From the weather to the groundbreaking to the attendance, Henry was satisfied in multiple ways.

“We’re really excited for all the support we’ve gotten and hope we can keep growing and bringing more people here to learn about our history,” he said.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Dale Henry was incorrectly identified in an earlier version of this story.)

What to know

For more about the Gammon House, go to gammonhouseoh.org/.

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