text and photos by Ripley Heritage, Inc.
originally published on RipleyOhio.net
Underground Railroad sites are indicated as UGRR
A project of several years came to fruition in 1985 when Ripley’s historic district was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The 55-acre historic district is believed to be the largest in Ohio for a town of its size. The buildings in the historic district reflect the village’s history from its settlement in 1804 until the last major flood of 1937. Soon after the town was platted in 1812, the earliest brick row house was built around 1816 by Colonel James Poage, the founder of the town. Although not all three portions were built at once, they were probably built before Poage’s death in 1820. Colonel Poage, a surveyor in Virginia for 30 years and a veteran of the Revolutionary War, was a staunch Presbyterian who was taught to hate slavery.
Colonel Poage attracted other southern abolitionists to the settlement. They included Dr. Alexander Campbell, Ripley’s first physician and Ohio’s first abolitionist, and Rev. John Rankin, the fiery Presbyterian minister. Rankin’s notoriety as an abolitionist spread throughout the south where it was reported certain masters in Kentucky offered a reward for the assassination or abduction of either Campbell or Rankin.
The Ripley Historic District is both historically and architecturally significant because it is the best preserved example of an antebellum Ohio River town in the state of Ohio. Every major event that caused this town to grow and develop happened by the time of the Civil War, and every impact is related to the town’s location on the Ohio River.
Begin your walk/hike at the home of John P. Parker, a noted African-American entrepreneur, inventor and abolitionist. Born into slavery in Virginia in 1827, Parker purchased his freedom as a young man in Alabama. Parker later settled in Ripley, where he became a self-trained iron manufacturer, established the Phoenix Foundry and invented the Parker Portable Screw Press (for tobacco) and a soil pulverizer. Parker was one of the few African-Americans to obtain a US patent before 1900. During the antebellum years, Parker became an important, if unheralded, conductor on the Underground Railroad, risking his life to aid more than 900 fugitive slaves in their journey to freedom. Parker also recruited soldiers for the Twenty-Seventh United States Colored Troops during the Civil War.
Look up to the top of the hill behind Ripley and you will see a small red brick house that was the home of famed abolitionist Rev. John Rankin. As Parker rescued fleeing slaves from the shores of Kentucky and rowed them across the Ohio River, he sent them to the top of the hill to Rev. Rankin, who was able to feed, clothe and rest them before taking them on to the next stop along the UGRR route. Be sure to drive or hike to Rankin House to visit this National Historic Monument.
One of Ripley’s greatest Civil War heroes and Commander of a wooden gunboat, Rear Admiral Joseph Fyffe, built this wooden frame dwelling close to the water, a location he loved best. He married the daughter of General Granville Moody, also a famous veteran. It features beautiful Victorian furnishings. Its owners have named it “The Signal House” and operate a Bed and Breakfast Inn for visitors who, like Admiral Fyffe, love to sit and enjoy the river with its sweeping vistas.
Here’s a great example of a 1930s home built in the Arts and Crafts style.
This beautiful home was built in 1837 during the ownership of Carey Alexander Campbell, son of Senator Alexander Campbell. The valuation of the land was $225. When Carey Campbell began building the home, the land value jumped to $694, possibly because of his famous father, who was a man of importance. The home was originally classic Federal style without porches or gingerbread. The Victorian style porches and decorative trim were added around 1897. The current owners have restored the home to its earlier beauty, making it one of the Front Street showpieces.
The red brick row apartments were home of Rev. John Rankin before he moved to his home atop the hill overlooking Ripley. Be sure to read the plaque in front of the home, commemorating this site. Immediately to the side of this structure please note one of the many alleys that run from the rive up to the hills. These poorly lit corridors were most likely the pathways used by escaping slaves, rather than the wider and more developed streets.
Escaping slaves may have used this alley route in the 1800s on their way to Rev. Rankin, who would give them refuge.
This home honors another Underground Railroad hero, Thomas McCague. The marker reads, “This tablet marks the home of Thomas McCague, an ardent anti-slavery advocate. On one occasion, John Parker, as underground conductor, being pursued, brought a party of slaves to this house at break of day. McCague said, ‘It’s daylight, don’t stop.’ His wife, Aunt Kitty, said, ‘Daylight or no daylight, Parker, bring them in.’”
This is known as the Kirker House, located at 206 Front Street. Its marker reads, “In 1838 Mr. Thomas Kirker resided in this house, with whom General U. S. Grant boarded, while attending the Whitmore private school; his parents living in Georgetown.” That school later became Ripley College.
Known as “The Thomas Collins House,” this Federalist Style home is marked with a tablet that reads, “This tablet marks the home of Thomas Collins. Englishman, cabinet maker, chief conductor of the Underground Railroad. Its portals were always open, through this door stole refugees innumerable, the night was never too dark, nor the journey too long for its owner to issue forth leading the helpless across the hills to freedom.” The interior has been restored and furnished with Classical Period elegance.
Leave N. front Street when reaching Mulberry, and walk 1.5 blocks to the corner of Mulberry and Front on the left. The Baird homestead was occupied by three generations of Bairds from 1845 to 1973. This house was built in 1825. The ballroom section was added in the 1940s by the Bairds. An important feature of the house is the wrought iron lace porch and balcony, which was purchased from the Rankin Ironworks of CIncinnati and shipped by packet boat to Ripley. Second generation, Chambers Baird, Jr. was born in 1986. It was he who most contributed to the town of Ripley, as a prominent attorney, editor of the Ripley Bee, Mayor, Presbyterian, and Republican.
136 N. Front Street is the site of an important UGRR conductor whose log cabin no longer exists. His story may be read on the plaque that is near the sidewalk. The current home is Italianate, which was a popular Victorian era style The home was originally built at ground level in 1875 and, because of floods, was raised around 1915.
This Queen Anne style home was built in 1885. Is characterized by a steep roof, complicated asymmetrical shape, a one-story porch that extends across two sides of the house, wall surfaces with decorative shingles, ornamental spindles or brackets, and bay windows. It was the home of John E. Kirkpatrick and later John Robert Stivers, from an early Ripley banking family. The current owners have recently remodeled.
One of most magnificent homes on Ripley’s River Walk is the Campbell House. The plaque honoring Sen. Campbell reads, “Senator Alexander Campbell. Doctor, merchant and anti-slavery leader, a Virginian by birth, he moved to Ohio in 1803, freeing his slaves. US Senator from 1809 to 1813. At the burning of the Capitol by the British he rode out of Washington never to return.” The Greek Revival style dominated American architecture during the period around 1818 to 1860. With details reminiscent of the Greek Parthenon, stately, pillared Greek Revival homes reflect a passion for antiquity. They often feature symmetrical shape, heavy cornices, bold simple moldings, entry porch with columns and narrow windows around the front door.
These 1800s row houses are among the oldest in Ripley. It is believed they were once part of the commercial area of Ripley and were shop fronts.
This home is a good example of an 1800s Victorian style, “painted lady.”
Known as “The Bank Building,” this is the site of one of earliest banks in Ripley.
This monument features the founders and early heroes of Ripley.
For more information and activities in Ripley and surrounding areas, please visit RipleyOhio.net. Experience the welcoming hospitality of this unique riverside town, rich in history, with a friendly river town atmosphere. Ripley is part of the Ohio River Scenic Byway, and is included in Adventures Cycling Trails for its part in the Underground Railroad.