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Landing page A photos Underground Railroad
Town by the O-HI-O

Ohio's rich in history, but few places have as rich a history as Ripley. A major center of Underground Railroad activity in the years before the Civil War, Ripley celebrates its bicentennial Aug. 3-5, 2012 -- a perfect time to visit this picturesque and well-preserved Ohio River town.

At the Boundary Between Slavery and Freedom
Platted in 1812, Ripley sits squarely on the north bank of the Ohio River, at the boundary between slavery and freedom, and in the years before the Civil War, more than a few citizens were discreetly engaged in the risky business of aiding fugitives en route to freedom.

Before visiting, you can get a feel for what was going on in Ripley and the surrounding area at the time by reading two books.

Beyond the River: The Untold Story of the Heroes of the Underground Railroad, by Ann Hagedorn, offers a feel for the milieu of southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky before the Civil War and introduces Rev. John Rankin and other local figures who were active in the Underground Railroad as well as slave-catchers, Southern sympathizers and others who kept Ripley-area abolitionists on their toes.

His Promised Land: The Autobiography of John P. Parker, Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad is the remarkable story of John Parker, told in his own words. Born into slavery, Parker obtained his freedom as a young man and settled in Ripley, where he became an inventor, industrialist and a key local figure in the Underground Railroad.

Still Much As It Was Before the Civil War
Ripley had 1639 people in 1850 and has about 1750 today, so it's grown very little since Underground Railroad days. Sometimes slow growth can be a good thing -- in this case, it's preserved much of the antebellum feel of Ripley that might've been lost in a place where progress had gained a stronger foothold.

Though still a living community and not frozen in time, today much of Ripley is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. More than 200 buildings on Front, Second, Third, Fourth, Main, Market, Mulberry and Locust streets make up the 55-acre Ripley Historic District. From early homes and business blocks to landmarks like the 1867 First Presbyterian Church, much of what a visitor would have seen in the 1830s-1870s is still there to be seen today.

On a hill above town, overlooking the Ohio River, is the modest brick home of Rev. John Rankin, the Presbyterian clergyman who was one of Ripley's leading abolitionists. Rankin's position on slavery was no secret and the prominent site made his home highly visible from the river, where it could be plainly seen by those en route to freedom. Today the Rankin House, a National Historic Landmark, is open to the public as a state memorial managed for the Ohio Historical Society by Ripley Heritage, Inc.

Strategically located on Front St. facing the Ohio River is the two-story brick home of John P. Parker, also a National Historic Landmark open to the public. Credited with aiding more than 900 fugitives on their way to freedom, Parker bravely crossed the river by boat under cover of darkness to ferry fugitives from Kentucky to Ohio. In one now-famous episode described in His Promised Land, Parker slipped into the bedroom of a sleeping Kentucky slaveholder to rescue an enslaved couple's child, then brought father, mother and child across the river to Ohio, where all escaped to freedom.

North of Ripley is historic Red Oak Presbyterian Church, another landmark associated with the Underground Railroad.

More Things to See and Do
Through Aug. 9, while visiting the Parker House, you can also see the Ohio Historical Society traveling exhibit Ohio and the Civil War: 150 Years Later, hosted by the John P. Parker House Historical Society / Parker House Museum and Rankin House and sponsored by the Ohio Humanities Council and American Electric Power.

This Sunday, July 29, at 2 p.m. at Ripley Elementary School, 502 S. Second St., see the Ohio Village Muffins take on the Ripley All-Stars in a game of base ball (yes, two words) played by 1860s rules.

Click here to learn more about Ripley Bicentennial events Aug. 3-5, 2012.

The Ripley Museum at 219 N. Second St. features exhibits related to Ripley's history. Tobacco is important in local agricultural history and the Ohio Tobacco Museum is at 703 S. Second St. Both museums occupy mid-19th-century houses.

Though it post-dates Underground Railroad days, Ripley also has a gem of a public library. Completed in 1915, Union Township Public Library at 27 Main St. is the last Carnegie Library built in Ohio. One of just two in Ohio designed in the early 20th-century Prairie Style associated with Chicago and the Midwest, it features colorful tile made by Cincinnati's famed Rookwood Pottery.

Planning Your Visit
To learn more about visiting Ripley and Brown County, visit ripleyohio.net or browncountytourism.com. Learn more about visiting the Rankin House at ohiohistory.org or ripleyohio.net/htm/rankin.htm. Find out more about visiting the Parker House at johnparkerhouse.org or ripleyohio.net/htm/oldpages/parker.htm.

Photo of the Ohio River near Ripley, Ohio, as seen from the home of Rev. John Rankin. Home of Rev. John Rankin, atop a bluff overlooking the Ohio River in Ripley, Ohio. Home of Underground Railroad conductor John Parker, facing the Ohio River on Front St. in Ripley, Ohio. Photo of First Presbyterian Church in the Ripley Historic District in Ripley, Ohio. Photo of the Ripley Museum on Second St. in the Ripley Historic District.
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