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Mixing old & new: Schoolcraft students help digitally preserve town history

Eighth Grade students at Schoolcraft Middle School are preserving the history of their town, building a website to remember the past of the Underground Railway House. (WWMT/Jessica Wheeler)

SCHOOLCRAFT, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - A group of West Michigan students are taking on a huge task, to preserve the history of their own town.

Newschannel 3's Jessica Wheeler met with a group of eighth graders zeroing in on a home with an important past many do not known about.

The old, wooden, white house on Cass Street is known as the Underground Railway House, according to local historian Nancy Rafferty. She said from 1843 to 1863, it harbored between 1,000 and 1,500 slaves on their way to Canada. The slaves were kept in the eaves of the upstairs bedrooms.

The history of the home is fading as fast as the old artifacts and black and white photos lining the rooms inside.

To keep the stories alive, Rafferty and other historical society members put a call out to local students.

"We are not going to be here for a long time, and if we want to keep the work of what happened in this house alive, we have to generate the history of younger generations," said Rafferty.

The eighth grade class at Schoolcraft Middle School has accepted the challenge.

"I think it's just amazing to learn about how lots of slaves were in this house," said student Lacey Hadley.

During class, the students have ventured across the street to the former home of Dr. and Mrs. Nathan Thomas, to soak up everything they can from Rafferty.

They take pictures, videos and capture memories to pass along to future generations. They are building a website and QR codes to place around the historical site, so visitors can scan to learn more about the home's history.

"I've learned that our town is actually pretty special," said Skylar McCormick, a student at Schoolcraft Middle School.

Students told Newschannel 3 the project is giving them interest in their own past, and a passion for learning that their other schoolwork can't do.

"I think it's good that we learn about all this before anything happens because we don't want all the history going away," said Hadley.

The Schoolcraft Underground Railway House relies mostly on donations, so the students are helping out with a fundraiser.

The students are having a car wash Friday, May 25 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Hardings Parking lot on Grand Street.

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