A Visit to the Lawrence County, Ohio Museum & Historical Society

“The Lawrence County Museum has certification by the Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums. It is operated by the Lawrence County Historical Society, a corporation since 1925. The Historical Society has IRS non-profit status. The building in which the Museum is housed is in the Registry of Historic Homes of the Rankin District, listed as the Colonel George N Gray House.”

“According to tax records, Elizabeth Ferguson purchased these two and one-half lots in 1870, and that same year the main structure was built and valued at $2200. The records further show that the property was transferred on July 5, 1878, to Elizabeth Gray, wife of Colonel Georgey N Gray, an ironmaster. An addition, valued at $2100, was added to the back of the residence in December 1878. The tower was part of the 1878 addition. In March 1882, an attic fire damaged ceilings and roof in the amount of $1000. Repairs were made and the front bay window was added. In November 1891, another addition was made and consisted of the back corner room (which at present houses the Iron Furnace Exhibit) and the room directly above it. In January 1892, the veranda on the East side of the house was enclosed and converted to a conservatory for plants.”

“The style of the house is Italian Villa. The original windows are set in plain stone lintels and are double-hung, two over two lights. The main entrance is a double-leafed paneled door, with semi-circular lights. The cornice line under the roof is boxed, with a decorative frieze and brackets. Outside walls are of solid brick, three deep. Inside walls are of brick, two deep, and are plastered over. A tower with portholes is the most prominent feature of the house. The roof is truncated hip-style with wrought iron cresting.”

“Colonel Gray came to Ohio as a young boy and developed an interest in the iron furnaces. He returned to his native Pennsylvania to complete his education and returned to this county to teach school. Gray answered the call of his country in 1861, joining the 53rd Regular Ohio Volunteers to fight at Shiloh and many other battles of the Civil War. When his enlistment was up, he joined the Navy and participated in several naval battles before the war ended.”

“The 1880 Census lists residents of the house as George and Eliza Ann Gray, John, 12, Charles, 11, George, 7, and Emma, 5, John Wilson and Isabella Rankin Humphreys (Mrs. Gray’s parents), and Ricka Long (servant born in Germany).”

“Mrs. Gray’s grandfather was the Reverend John Rankin, noted abolitionist of Ripley, Ohio, who visited often with the Gray family. After the death of his wife at their home in Kansas, Reverend Rankin came to live with the Grays. He died in this house on March 18, 1886, and his body lay in state in the front bay-windowed room. One of the upstairs rooms contains Reverend Rankin’s furniture and other artifacts.”

“Colonel Gray’s three sons served in the Spanish-American War. Charles died while serving in that war, and it was his family’s belief that adequate medical facilities could have prevented his death. To relieve such suffering of others and in memory of their son, the Grays bought the former home of WD Kelly1 and donated the property for use as a community hospital. The Charles S Gray Deaconess Hospital was formally opened on April 5, 1900. A memorial marker to their son’s memory now rests in the herb garden beside the Museum.”

“The house remained in the Gray family for almost 100 years. In the early 1900s, electric fixtures replaced the gas lights. A first-floor bathroom was added. Emma Gray and her husband Earl Stewart resided in the house until their deaths. Their daughter Ann, and her husband MB Edmundson2 reared their two children here- selling the house in 1977.”

“In 1988, Lawrence County citizens and businesses aided the Lawrence County Historical Society in acquiring the property for the purpose of establishing a Museum. The Society has carefully restored both the interior and exterior completing the work in 2000.”

“The Lawrence County Museum is staffed by volunteers. All persons interested in preserving local history are encouraged to become members of the Society. Those members able to donate time will find many areas in which they may become active.”

“Docents are trained volunteers who donate at least three hours a month to greet and guide Museum visitors. Other volunteers assist with newsletter mailings, assembling exhibits, caring for repairs or maintenance, sorting and storing artifacts, etc. The Ironton Garden Club cares for the gardens and landscaping.”

“The Reverend John Rankin, the famous Presbyterian clergyman of the anti-slavery period, was born near Dandridge, Jefferson County, Tennessee, February 5, 1793, and died in Ironton, Ohio, March 18, 1886.”

“His great-grandfather, John Rankin, emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1727. His grandfather, Thomas, served in the Revolutionary War, then settled in Tennessee. He was joined by his son, Richard, the father of Reverend John Rankin. Young Rankin was educated at Washington College, theology, and licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Abington, Virginia.’

“While pastor of Cane Ridge and Concord churches, in Nicholas and Bourbon counties, Kentucky, in 1817, he first began to preach about slavery. Moving to Ripley, Ohio, in 1822, he was pastor of the First and Second Presbyterian churches of that city for forty-four years. From 1818 until the outbreak of the Civil War, he was the victim of constant oppression, persecution, and was mobbed for his views more than twenty times. But the brave man never wearied in the good cause, never doubted nor faltered, and lived to witness and enjoy its complete triumph.”

“About 1824, he wrote letters to his brother in Middlebrook, Virginia, urging him to discontinue slaveholding. These letters were published in Ripley in the Liberator (1832) and afterward in book form in Boston. He founded the American Reform Tract and Book Society of Cincinnati and was the author of several books, including Covenant of Grace in 1869. Reverend Andrew Ritchie has published the story of his life in a volume entitled The Soldier, the Battle and the Victory (1876).”

“Writing of the Rankin homestead in Ripley, Henry Howe, in his Collections, says: ‘That house, in full sight from the Kentucky shore, was in that day as a beacon of liberty to the fugitives from slavery. It was the residence of Reverend John Rankin and the first station on the underground railroad to Canada; thousands of poor fugitives found rest there, not one of whom was ever recaptured. Among these were Eliza and George Harris, and other characters of Uncle Tom’s cabin. While Mr. Rankin claimed to feed the hungry and clothe the naked he never gave aid and comfort to those who enticed slaves to run away.'”

“Mr. Howe also states, ‘He was great educator, president of the Ripley College, so-called, and his house was always filled with students in various branches, including theology. In 1836 he was for a time employed by the American Antislavery Society to travel and lecture and was often mobbed. ‘The aspect of a fierce mob,’ he once wrote, ‘is terrible.’ He was also the founder of the Free Presbyterian Church of Synod of the United States, which excluded slaveholders from membership.”

“The following is a quote from Reverend John Rankin’s son, Captain Richard C Rankin, included in an Ironton Register article. Seven of Rankin’s nine sons, including Robert, fought in the Civil War:”

Three of Reverend John Rankin’s sons: Thomas Lovejoy Rankin, John Thompson Rankin, and Arthur Tappan Rankin. Circa 1909.

“After that, my father did in the aid of fugitives was to furnish food and shelter. His sons, of whom there were nine, did the conveying away. Some attempts were made to search our house. In March 1840 (five) men…with two bulldogs, were met on the porch by mother. The spokesman said, ‘Madam, to be plain with you…we have traced a thief to this house.’ Mother replied: ‘We neither harbor thieves nor conceal stolen property, and you are welcome to look through the house.’ On starting for the door my brother, Reverend SGW Rankin3, now of Glastenbury, Connecticut, took down the rifle from over the door, cocked it, and called out, ‘Halt! If you come one step farther I’ll kill you.’ And they halted.”

The Rankin Family

“In their later years, Reverend Rankin and wife Jean moved to Peru, Illinois, where their son Thomas and family lived. He pastored a church at Grenville, Illinois. The two Rankin families then moved to Kansas, where Reverend Rankin organized a Presbyterian church at Lyndon and pastored a church at Quenemo. In 1873 the Rankins visited children in Ohio, including the Grays, at whose home he wrote his autobiography. That was before the Grays moved to this house. The Rankins returned to Kansas, and Mrs. Rankin died there in 1878. In 1881, Reverend Rankin came to live with the Grays, Rankin’s daughter and husband, Isabelle and Wilson Humphreys, were living in this house also.”

“Reverend John Rankin died in this house in 1886 and his body lay in state in the front bay window. Irontonians of all races and religions walked past the window to pay their respects. Rankin is buried at Ripley, Ohio. In 1977, a plaque honoring Reverend John Rankin was placed on the front lawn by Robert Staley-Mays, owner of the property at that time.”

A photograph of John Rankin’s grave memorial displayed at the Lawrence County Museum & Historical Society in Ironton, Ohio.

“The Rankin home overlooking Ripley on the Ohio River, is now Rankin House State Memorial and is open to the public from Memorial Day through Labor Day each year.”

“Reverend Rankin’s rope bed, rocking chair, and desk are displayed here at the Lawrence County Museum.”

Information for this pamphlet is from:
Life of Reverend John Rankin written by himself in his 80th year.
Autobiography of Adam Lowry Rankin
Ironton Register, June 26, 1890
Ironton Register, November 3, 1881
US Census records
Ironton City directories
Data furnished by Rankin descendants: Mrs and Mrs. Howard Parker and Mrs. Ross R Gray.

Business Card for the Lawrence County Museum

Slide to reveal the other side of the card.

What’s New at the Museum and Upcoming Events


  1. William Dollarhide Kelly
  2. Marrion B Edmundson
  3. Samuel Gardner Wilson Rankin
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