The Rankin House at 6152 Rankin Hill Rd. in Ripley was home to abolitionist and Presbyterian minister John Rankin, his wife Jean and their 13 children. It's estimated that over 2,000 slaves seeking freedom stayed with the Rankins, sometimes as many as 12 at a time. Though slavery was illegal in Ohio, slaves could still be apprehended due to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. In order to avoid danger, they had to find a way to leave the US.
Rev. John Rankin was born in Tennessee in 1793. After preaching for several years in Kentucky, Rankin and his wife moved their growing family across the river to Ripley in the free state of Ohio, and he began his 44-year ministry of Ripley's Presbyterian church. In 1825, he built this house on Liberty Hill overlooking the river.
With its proximity to the river and its owners’ fierce opposition to slavery, the Rankin home was a perfect choice to become a stopping point on the Underground Railroad. Most of the escaped slaves who traveled through Ripley stayed with the Rankin family, which was proud of never having lost a "passenger.”
The family’s work inspired others. Well-known abolitionist Wm. Lloyd Garrison called himself a Rankin disciple. Harriet Beecher Stowe heard Rankin's account of a slave who carried her child across the thawing ice of the Ohio River and was saved from the bounty hunters who chased her when the ice broke up. Stowe later included the story in her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Located on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River, the modest house, now a small museum, is one of the better known sites that were part of the local Underground Railroad efforts. Visitors can learn the story of Ohio's role in the abolitionist movement that set the stage for the end of slavery as well as the modern Civil Rights movement. The home contains much of the original woodwork and several personal Rankin items, including the family Bible.