Historical sign dedication held last weekend

TCR/SCOTT BESTUL Laura Deering pictured with the new sign commemorating Rushford’s role in the Underground Railroad. The sign is located across from the Rushford Depot Museum near the bike trail.
By : 
Scott Bestul
Tri-County Record

It was a ceremony that capped quite a journey for Rushford resident Laura Deering. On Sunday, Aug. 5, Deering and members of Emmanuel Episcopal Church and Rushford Area Historical Society gathered near the Rushford Depot Museum to dedicate a sign commemorating Rushford’s role in the Underground Railroad. 

Deering spent months researching the role of George and Harriet Stevens as city founders, church builders and participants in the Underground Railroad. The Stevens’ were also responsible for bringing Lewis Pinkney, a young stonemason who worked on several prominent Rushford buildings, to the city. The Stevens’ also started Deering’s painstaking research, which was highlighted in a six-part series of stories she wrote for the Tri-County Record this year.  

Following the publication of those stories, Deering raised funds to design and craft a sign that would forever shine a light on these remarkable people and the important role they played in the founding and history of Rushford. The sign is now prominently displayed along the Root River Bike Trail across from the Rushford Depot Museum.   

In her remarks, Deering lauded the Stevens’ as “remarkable individuals. It impressed me that they were not bystanders in righting the wrongs of society. They instead immersed themselves, with each individual approaching the issues of their time by pushing past boundaries and expectations. In this way Rushford and...Jacksonville, Fla., served as small-town incubators in mutual respect, sacrifice and compassion we can learn from today.

“While writing the series and double-checking my sources, I was struck that there were no direct quotes from any of them, save one from Harriet....[whose] friends and family were concerned about her health after two years as a Civil War nurse....After much pleading to quit nursing, she replied “How can I with all the suffering?

“So I think this may be the question for many of us, no matter the time frame or situation. Harriet spends her entire in life helping others, starting as a child accompanying her mother when visiting the sick. Supporting her first husband’s occupation as an owner of an Abolitionist newspaper. When widowed, she did not seek sympathy but volunteered to serve in the Civil War. After the war she married George....between the two of them they founded three Episcopal churches, including one for the Jacksonville black community. 

“While in their elder years, the Stevens’ continued to live a life of purpose, as it was discovered it was the Stevens’ who mentored Lewis W. Pinkney, a young black man from Jacksonville, in coming to Rushford. Here Lewis became a skilled mason and helped build Emmanuel Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Rectory, the [old] high school, and the Rushford Lutheran Church. Lewis, in addition to gaining a skill, also finds himself among family, as he lived with the Stevens’ while working in Rushford. 

“What can we learn from this trio? To me, they operated not under the society norms of their time, or the laws set by man, but in the timeless values rooted in the Christian faith. In closing...it seems Rosa Parks’ words sum it up best: ‘Memories of our lives, of our works, and our deeds will continue in others.’”

Deering thanked the many people and groups that donated funds for the sign including: Thrivent, AcenTek, the National Episcopal Church, Emmanuel’s sister church in Jacksonville, Fla. She also acknowledged the support of the Rushford Area Historical Society, Kayla Thompson, the Tri-County Record and the Rushford Lions Club.