A Beacon of Freedom on a Hill

John Rankin House in Ripley Ohio

The John Rankin House is a National Historic Landmark and famous station on the Underground Railroad.

The brick home was built in 1825 by Reverand John Rankin and sits high atop Freedom Hill overlooking the small river town of Ripley, Ohio. It features extraordinary tales of bravery and fantastic views of the Ohio River and its meandering bends between the Appalachian foothills of southern Ohio and northern Kentucky.

Rankin began his 44 year ministry of Ripley’s Presbyterian church in 1822. He and his wife and 13 children were ardent abolitionists. They dedicated their lives to helping their fellow human beings. Reverend John Rankin was one of the most active “conductors” on the Underground Railroad. His family never lost a “passenger” along their trek of the line. It is estimated that more than 2,000 “passengers” stayed at the Rankin House over the years. At times, up to a dozen runaway slaves lived in the humble brick home in addition to the 15 family members. It only took one encounter for slave owners and hunters to learn not to try and seize escaped slaves from the Rankin’s. Family members always stood armed and watchful.

The Harriet Beecher Stowe novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, cites a true story of a lady pushing her child across the thin ice on the Ohio River, desperate to cross to the Rankin House. When a slave hunter met her on the other side, he was so moved by watching her determination that he let her pass through to the home on the hill shining its candle in the window at night to guide her and so many other escaped slaves to potential freedom.

Merely crossing the Ohio River didn’t bring freedom even though Ohio was a free state. The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 meant runaway slaves could be apprehended in free states and returned to slavery. The Underground Railroad had to get its “passengers” into Canada. Making it to the Rankin House was a milestone to be sure but the final trek from southern Ohio to northern Ohio and ultimately out of the United States still had many obstacles to maneuver.

The modest home has received more than $1 million in renovations to return it to an authentic representation of how it was when the Rankin family lived there. It is quite a time capsule.

The floorboards are original and in great shape. Several original family items remain, too, such as the family’s Bible. Tours are given by well-informed guides. They learn important information to share but are encouraged to do some of their own research to come up with additional points of interest to further make the Rankin House story come alive for its visitors. A young tour guide named Niya found in her personal research that her fourth generation grandfather was at the Rankin’s house in the 1840s.

This little place in the middle of nowhere attracts many visitors and has a large parking lot. The tour takes about 30 minutes. Another 30 minutes can be spent taking in the incredible scenery of the forested hills and Ohio River stretching east and west as far as the eyes can see.

There is a nominal fee for the tour but it only costs about twelve bucks for a family of four. It is open May through October from Wednesday through Sunday. The John Rankin House is located at 6152 Rankin Hill Road in Ripley, Ohio. For additional information, call 1-800-752-2705 or click here.

The John Rankin House is one of those little stops you will be always remember.