Milestone anniversary renews interest in Civil War

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 3, 2011

The 150th anniversary of the Civil War has renewed interest in famous educator and abolitionist, John Rankin.

He was one of Ohio’s first and most active conductors of the Underground Railroad. Prominent Civil War abolitionists, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry Ward Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe were influenced by his work.

When Harriet Beecher Stowe was asked who abolished slavery, she answered, “Reverend John Rankin and his sons.” He died March 18th, 1886 in the building that houses the museum, and several of his personal belongings are still in the room he occupied, including a rope bed, Bible, rocking chair, glasses, and photographs of Rev. Rankins with the Gray family.

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The Gray family, prominent in the Iron industry, occupied the house for almost 100 years. Rev. Rankin was the grandfather of Mrs. Gray.

The Gray’s daughter Emma, married attorney Earle Stewart and resided there until their deaths. Emma’s daughter, Ann, married M. B, Edmundson, and they reared their two children in the house until they sold the house in 1977. John Rankins home in Ripley, which overlooks the Ohio River, is also a museum.

Also of interest to the Civil War buffs is a book in the Museum that was transcribed and edited by Virginia Bryant, “Letters to Eliza.”

Eliza Smith lived in rural Southwest Ohio, and was 15 when the Civil War began, Eliza corresponded faithfully with her brother James and other soldiers fighting in different parts of the country.

She lived sixty years after the war ended, and kept all the letters she received. The letters found their way to Ironton in 1947 when Eliza’s daughter, Nora, and her husband, Rev. W.G. Ned. came to serve at Pine Street Methodist Church.

The last of the family died in 1960 and the letters were sold along with their furniture. In 2007, the letters were published in book form. The 150 letters describe the war in the words of soldiers who experienced it one day at a time.

This book, along with many others full of Lawrence County History, are available in the museum gift shop. Two recent additions “Follow the Furnaces”, By Robert Leith, and Medical Professionals,” by Virginia Bryant can also be purchased at the Museum.

Museum docents are looking forward to July 10, when the IIB yard tour will begin at the museum. We will have refreshments available, and hope participants take time to visit our displays and gift shop.

We are open Fri., Sat., and Sunday, 1-4 and always welcome volunteers.

Sue Jenkins is a docent at the Lawrence County Historical Museum