Freedom Hill

Atop Freedom Hill sits a small home with a big history.

The modest red brick house was built in 1825 and became one of the most active stops along the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves. After the dangerous crossing of the Ohio River, they lie in wait for the signal – a candle shining in the window.

Then came the strenuous ascent up the steep hillside. When feet finally hit the steps to the home, many collapsed in exhaustion and joy before rising one more time for the sprint to the door.

Abolitionist and Reverand John Rankin, his wife, and thirteen children never lost a “passenger” along their trek of the line. Over the years, the Underground Railroad’s dedicated “Rankin Conductors” cared for more than 2,000 “passengers” who secretly stayed at their house.

The novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe cites an incredible story of a lady pushing her child across the thin river ice. She was desperate to get to the Rankin’s little house on the big hill. Her treacherous journey met face-to-face with a slave hunter waiting for her on the Ohio side. But her determination so moved him that he let her pass.

Although Ohio was a free state, crossing the river didn’t make slaves suddenly free. 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.

The Rankin House has been restored to authentically reflect the time the family lived in it, helping to help folks find freedom. Yet, the original floorboards weren’t touched because they were in great shape. The tour is about 30 minutes, but the time spent on that historic hillside taking in the sprawling view or hiking down to the river is as long as you like.

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