Fascinated by the process of taking a building back in time and restoring it to its original appearance? We’re currently in the throes of doing just that at the 1829 home of Rev. John Rankin in Ripley, Ohio, and you’re invited to stop by this summer or fall and see the work in progress.
Home to History
Rankin was one of Ohio’s leading abolitionists in the years before the Civil War, and his home overlooking the Ohio River from a bluff high above the town of Ripley was visible for miles -- a beacon of hope to fugitives en route to freedom. Rankin, his family, and his neighbors in Ripley (an Ohio River town that, below its sleepy surface, was a not-very-secret hotbed of Underground Railroad activity) are credited with helping more than 2,000 fugitive slaves escape to freedom.
The modest one-and-a-half story brick Rankin House became a State Memorial in 1938. Today it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark, too.
Work Is Underway
This summer, work is underway that will restore the interior of the Rankin House to its appearance of the 1830s. Under the auspices of the Ohio History Connection, a team of historians, architects, archaeologists and others are “going to school” on the house and the surrounding property to learn everything they can about its probable appearance at the height of abolitionist activity in the area, and workers will be restoring the house based upon what researchers have learned about the Rankins and their home.
Ordinarily that might be bad news for visitors, but Ripley Heritage, Inc., which manages the John Rankin House Historic Site for the Ohio History Connection, have committed to keeping the Rankin House open and accessible to the extent practically possible while the work is underway. That means that through Oct. 31, 2013, when the Rankin House closes for the winter, you have a rare opportunity to visit and have a guided tour while the house is being restored.
What to Expect
What you’ll find depends on what stage the work happens to be in when you visit. Expect a construction site and work in progress -- furnishings have been removed to accommodate the work. Occasionally the house itself may be closed (if you’re especially concerned about this, call ahead to see where things are likely to stand at the time you plan to visit), though guides will still offer tours telling the Rankins’ story, highlighting the exterior of the house, and featuring work on the surrounding site, where archaeological research has uncovered previously unknown facts about the property.
Work being done to the house includes structural repairs, extensive plaster stabilization and repair, replication of missing original woodwork and doors and re-creation of the original paint colors and decorative wall treatments from the Rankins’ time. New window sash have been installed that duplicate the long-gone originals, down to the wavy antique glass. Remnants of the original iron window locks have been discovered; the locks are being re-created as a period-correct finishing touch.
Planning Your Visit
The John Rankin House Historic Site is at 6152 Rankin Road in Ripley, Ohio. Rankin Road runs northeast off of State Route 52 at the northwest edge of Ripley. Through Oct. 31, 2013, the Rankin House is open Wednesday through Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday Noon-5 p.m. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children. Due to the restoration, we advise wearing appropriate, close-toed shoes. For the most up-to-date information, please call 800.752.2705 or 937.392.1627 before visiting.
While in Ripley, also see the John Parker House, restored riverfront home of African American entrepreneur and Underground Railroad conductor John Parker, and the Ripley Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Learn more about Ripley in this story from the July 26, 2012, issue of Ohio Histore-news -- note that special events mentioned in the linked story occurred in 2012 and have already taken place.