About ten years ago, I became fascinated with stories I had heard about the so-called “Underground Railroad” in northeastern Kentucky and southeastern Ohio, the region where I had come to live and work. Over several years, I developed a guide to what I have come to consider the most important sites in the area. Take this tour and I will guarantee you will be deeply moved by the experience as I was:
A SLAVE CABIN WHERE THE ESCAPE BEGAN
Your Personal Guide to the Underground Railroad in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia
Begin with the Ramsdell House in Ceredo, WV, 1108 B. Street (it contains a small museum, too).
Go to Burlington, Ohio (approximately 10 miles upriver from Ashland/10 miles downstream from Huntington) on Old 52. The old stone jail there will become an underground railroad museum.
OLD STONE JAIL
Continue to Ironton, Ohio about 15 miles downriver from Burlington. The John Campbell House, a large yellow painted brick house on 5th street and Lawrence in downtown Ironton, might be worth seeing. He was a noted abolitionist and a founder of Ironton.
Then on to Portsmouth, Ohio (about 30 miles downriver) on U.S. 52 to the downtown floodwall mural. The actual house featured there is located across from the floodwall picture. And, the Ohio Department of Transportation recently dedicated ten markers from the Ohio River in Portsmouth to Lake Erie. Each marker gives a brief history of the Underground Railroad and each community’s part in it. The Portsmouth Brewery, located at 224 2nd Street, and the Biggs House may have been a part of the Railroad in Portsmouth.
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
Then to the AA Highway in Kentucky and on to Maysville. Turn left at Maysville on Route 68 (a major trail on the Railroad going north) and go one mile to Old Washington on the left. See the Harriet Beecher Stowe Museum located in a house where she stayed for a time, the Marshall Key House, and enjoy this history-saturated little town.
Then north on 68 about two miles to downtown Maysville to the National Underground Railroad Museum on West 4th Street. Nora and George Marshall, a retired, delightful African-American couple, will show you around. Call ahead, if possible (606-564-3200). Pamphlets about slavery and abolition in and around the Maysville area can be had for $.25 each.
Then across the lovely old suspension bridge to Aberdeen, Ohio, and thence about 15 miles downriver to Ripley, an old and quaint river town, perhaps the most important stop on your tour. Eat lunch at a Main St. or a Front Street (on the Ohio River) restaurant. See John Parker’s house on the downriver end of N. Front Street. It also contains a small museum. (You may be able to see the Rankin House on top of the hill in the background.)
Drive back up to U.S. 52, go west through town until the road curves sharply to the left and take the fork on the right (there will be a sign) and drive up the steep road to the Rankin House on “Freedom Hill.” Notice the long series of steps out back which led many slaves on the road to freedom.
Leave Ripley and continue downriver on U.S. 52 (a beautiful drive) to downtown Cincinnati and on to The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, located between the two stadiums. Parking is beneath the Center/follow the signs. Parking costs $4. General admission is $12 ($10 seniors 60 and above), and $8 for children 6-12, and well worth it. The hours are 11 to 5, Tuesday through Saturday.
If you have plenty of time, you may want to go to the John Gee Black Historical Center in Gallipolis, a former church, located at the corner of Second Avenue and Pine Street. You’ll need to call ahead (740-446-6521).
You might also want to visit Salem, Ohio, a historic Quaker Community active in both the abolitionist and women’s suffrage movements. One hundred and three miles from Ashland, you begin by heading north on Route 93 from Ironton. A number of buildings in the community have been researched and documented as Underground Railroad sites. Salem has recently published a self-guided tour brochure of Underground Railroad sites in the town. After touring the sites, the public is invited to visit the Salem Historical Society Museum and Freedom Hall which has interpretive displays about Salem’s Underground Railroad history.
Also in Ohio, near Wheeling, WV is an Underground Railroad Museum located at 606 High Street, Flushing, OH. It offers tours by appointment only. (Call John Mattox 740-968-3517).
In all cases, take some extra money with you so that you will have the pleasure of contributing to the upkeep of these places. Most are privately operated and need our support.
Be sure to take your family. It will be a trip you will never forget.