Oakland County schools will have a new tool to help teach the history of the Civil War: a map of Oakland County and its significance to the Underground Railroad and other Civil War-era stories and events.
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson presented the map in a program at the Governor Moses Wisner House in Pontiac on Thursday. The atmosphere was enhanced by re-enactment Union soldiers and the 5th Michigan Regiment Band in full Union regalia.
"It's a good educational tool," Patterson said. "Kids now in our schools in Oakland County are going to learn a little different view of what their great-great-great-grandparents were doing 150 years ago."
Patterson called it an educational tool that "documents our past."
"We can look back on it for years to come," he said.
Patterson's goal is to get the 4-foot-by-4-foot map into every Oakland County classroom. A curriculum is being developed around the map by Carol Bacak-Egbo, a member of the Oakland County Historical Commission and an employee of Waterford Schools.
"This map is a treasure trove of stories and facts for Oakland County students," Patterson said.
In addition to the Underground Railroad sites, the map includes stories of a woman disguised as a man working as a Union spy, a Rochester soldier spared from a Confederate hanging and a Lake Orion teacher who became a commander of Michigan's 102nd Colored Regiment.
The Rochester soldier, Samuel Harris, was responsible for the fountain by the Rochester Police Department; his tale is told in this Rochester Patch story.
The project came to life about one year ago and was put in the hands of Melissa Luginski from the Oakland County Historical Commission.
"The historical commission met with the Oakland County Economic Planning and Development Department to talk about potentially doing a map project and they were open to it," she explained. "We went to all the historical societies and museums and gathered their information in the summer and early fall. We found a lot more than we thought we'd find."
Though the map benefits Oakland County, the work was done by volunteers.
"We did this, other than with some of my staff, mostly with volunteers who came in and did the research," Patterson said. "This map will be converted into an electronic version that can be sent anywhere upon request."
One member of the crowd Thursday was quite interested in the event: 25-year-old Ryan Johnson of Rochester, a fifth-generation descendant of Gov. Wisner.
"This event is important to me because it's part of my family, part of my family history and it's an honor," Johnson said. "This map will open kids' minds to what the Civil War was about — something they can grab on to and understand."
Copies of the map can be purchased for $20 by contacting the One Stop Shop in the Oakland County Executive Office, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road, Waterford.