CEREDO - In 1849 in Madison, Virginia, a slaveholder freed 37 of his slaves in his will. Now free, the 37 were then faced with a daunting journey to a free state. They set their sights on Burlington, Ohio.
Before they could get to true freedom, they had to cross Virginia, eventually finding themselves across the river from Burlington in Ceredo, Virginia, at the home of the Ramsdells.
"This house sat as a beacon of hope," said Robert Young, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Burlington - the church those 37 now-free Americans built after reaching the other side of the river. "There needs to be more unity in this city and the cities across the United States, and this is a symbol of unity. I want us to understand that as this has been a beacon of hope, I pray that it continues to teach unity to all generations to come."
The Ramsdell House, located at 1108 B St., in Ceredo, was rededicated Sunday after renovation and preservation efforts. The town also unveiled a new memorial to the original members of the Ramsdell family who died in the home, though their final resting places are now lost.
Z.D. Ramsdell built his home in 1858, moving from New England to the Virginia town to be part of an abolitionist community. The community wanted to see a non-violent end to slavery, and thus Ceredo was founded as "the Nation's noble social experiment in the Old Dominion."
When the Civil War began, Ramsdell enlisted in the Union Army and served as a captain. While most of the founding members of town fled back to the safety of the northeast, Ramsdell and his wife, Armella, stayed.
There is no documentation to prove the Ramsdells used their home in the Underground Railroad, but with Burlington's black community just across the river and the home being right on the flood plain, local lore may be true.
The Ceredo community was out in force Sunday to celebrate the reopening of the house as a museum. The interior had fallen into some disrepair, but the city of Ceredo, led by new Ramsdell House director Deborah Wolfe and intern Cody Straley, worked to restore and preserve the house, even finding new artifacts in the walls and attic.
Descendants of Z.D. and Armella Ramsdell were in attendance for the dedication, helping unveil the new memorial.
"I can safely tell you Zophar Ramsdell would be proud today to see this gathering of people of all backgrounds, races and religions gathering on the streets of Ceredo to celebrate the freedoms that we have," said Ceredo Mayor Paul Billups. "He would be proud to know Ceredo has continued to thrive since his passing."
Medal of Honor recipient Hershel "Woody" Williams delivered the keynote address for the event, which was also highlighted by music from the C-K Alumni Band and the River Magic Chorus. Austin's Homemade Ice Cream supplied free ice cream for the reception.
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.