Sunshine and ideal temperatures following a heat wave earlier in the week set the tone for a celebration and return to a pre-pandemic feel around Piqua Place in Springfield on Saturday.
With the Gammon House, one of the few Ohio Underground Railroad stops still in existence, as the focal point, local Juneteenth/FatherFest activities became just a little more special as this is the first year Juneteenth is being recognized as a federal holiday and the event returns to full strength following a scaled-back version in 2021 and cancelation in 2020.
People of all ages ate, took in live entertainment, browsed vendors, rode on a trackless train and children enjoyed bounce houses and rides, took pride in fatherhood and discovered local history.
Saturday was the grand finale to a week of activities leading up, including a 5K run/walk on June 11 and a prayer breakfast on Friday that drew more than 100 people. Seeing the green space area across the street filled with people and vendors had Gammon House president Dale Henry smiling.
“It’s an outstanding day. I’m so glad the weather cooperated,” he said. “We have an excellent mix of vendors, more than we’ve ever had before. We have more to celebrate and enjoy this year.”
One of Henry and the Gammon House board’s biggest challenges is making people aware of it. Even in Springfield, some residents haven’t been there.
Springfield’s Rebecca Shackelford isn’t one of those residents anymore. A few weeks ago, she and mom Mary Jane Shackelford made plans to visit during the celebration.
“I find it all fascinating that in Springfield, Ohio, we have this hidden treasure,” Rebecca Shackelford said, holding prints of the house she purchased. “It’s fascinating what people had to contend with.”
Mary Jane Shackelford lives in Lima and is eager to share the experience with a book club she’s in to potentially make a road trip back to visit the house.
“I’m just so impressed. They showed us how this went from a derelict house and how far it’s come and the whole idea of a festival round it encompasses it,” she said.
The women had previously found it hard to get a time to make a tour. Henry said another of the house’s challenges is finding enough volunteers to open for more tours, but with more sponsors and people interested, they hope to offer more opportunities.
Dorothy Booker lent history to the tour, dressed as abolitionist Harriet Tubman.
Sue Jones toured the house with granddaughter Cai, age 8, who read aloud descriptions of some of the house’s artifacts. Cai was to perform with a group as part of the event’s entertainment.
“It’s her history. She needs to know what’s going on,” said Sue Jones, who added it’s important Juneteenth was made a federal holiday.
Martha Jones of Springfield was also visiting the festival for the first time and was also glad for the national recognition.
“It’s wonderful since most people don’t know about it,” she said.
FatherFest and Juneteenth were separate events, but with the two coinciding so close, it was natural to combine. One of the highlights each year is the Good Dad Awards given to deserving fathers.
Eli Williams of Urban Light Ministries has coordinated the event for several years, emphasizing the crucial role dads play in children’s lives.
Henry said with the success of the 5K, prayer breakfast and federal recognition of Juneteenth, future such celebrations would continue in this vein.
For more information on the Gammon House, go to gammonhouseoh.org/.