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Homes tour impresses residents and visitors

For a few hours Randy Franz had to modify his theology as well as his dress. But the Kitts Hill man saw it as all for a good cause.

A licensed Baptist preacher, Franz was for the evening portraying one of the most well-known Presbyterian ministers in southern Ohio — the Rev. John Rankin.

Rankin was a leading abolitionist in the days before the Civil War, freeing many slaves through the network of safe houses along the Underground Railroad.

He is also known for a series of letters he wrote on the evils of slavery.

Wearing a combination of his own suit and a bow tie that belonged to his son’s Abraham Lincoln costume, Franz was part of the inaugural spring Historical Walk organized by the Lawrence County Historical Society.

The tour on Saturday evening took in 19 of Ironton’s most architecturally and historically acclaimed houses, each with its own contribution to the city’s history.

“I love history and I was very honored to be asked,” Franz said.

Joining him on the tour were Carol Kitts as Eliza Gray, Rankin’s granddaughter, and Debbie Rogers as Isabelle Humphrey, Rankin’s daughter.

About 20 people started out on the tour through the residential area near the museum on South Sixth Street.

Inside the museum, which was also the home of the Gray family, was Kay Rader, known throughout the county for her portrayal of ironmaster Nannie Kelley Wright. This time, however, Rader was portraying Emma Gray Stewart, Eliza’s daughter.

Greeting the visitors before they started the tour in the dining room of the Gray House, Rader stayed in character.

“I was only 6 when we moved here,” she said. “My dad was an ironmaster at Vesuvius. But our mother wanted us to come into town where there were better schools.”

Rader stayed at the house to greet the visitors after the tour with refreshments.

The tour was an experiment for the museum that organizes each year the Historical Walk at Woodland Cemetery and a candlelight tour of the downtown churches in December.

If the museum volunteers deem the Saturday event a success, they plan to expand on it next year.