Western West Virginia, known as Western Virginia during the days of the Civil War, is not known for its important Civil War battle sites.
There were a few skirmishes — Guyandotte, Barboursville, etc. — but none of them made much difference in the outcome of the war.
But Ceredo may have figured prominently yet silently in Civil War history. And one house built in Ceredo in 1857 may be filled with Underground Railroad history.
The Z.D. Ramsdell House at 1108 B St. has been preserved and reinvigorated recently. It was rededicated about a month ago by the town of Ceredo and Debbie and Kim Wolfe, who led the project that transformed the house into a museum.
Ceredo has a most interesting history. It was established before the Civil War by Eli Thayer and other abolitionists who wanted to create a town to fight slavery in Virginia, but as far away from Richmond, the Virginia capital, as possible.
The town was named after Ceres, the Roman goddess of grain, and the Northeasterners who settled there set about to protest, in their own way, the sin of slavery.
Across the river from Ceredo was a town founded by a group of freed slaves. They were freed by their master after his death. They left Virginia and crossed the Ohio River where they lived in freedom and apparently had all the papers necessary to prove their freedom.
Among the houses built in Ceredo was the Ramsdell House. It was built atop a mound claimed to be an Indian burial mound. It is a two-story, red brick-and-frame dwelling measuring 30 feet wide and 48 feet deep. It sits on a stone foundation and is in the Greek Revival style with a gable roof. Zophar D. Ramsdell came to Ceredo at the invitation of the town’s founder and fellow abolitionist Thayer.
Thayer built a shoe and boot factory, served as a captain and quartermaster for the Union during the Civil War, served as a postmaster after the war. He served as a legislative representative in the West Virginia state Senate during 1868 and 1869.
But what about the Ramsdell House? The home is believed to be one of the last stops on the Underground Railroad before escaped slaves crossed the Ohio River to freedom. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
The Underground Railroad was a secret organization. If the location of the houses that hid escaped slaves on their way north were found out, the house were burned and their owners often murdered.
There is very little written history of the Underground Railroad, but, everything points to the Ramsdell House being a stop on it. It has a rather large basement with a back door. In the pre-Civil War days, it was only a few steps from that door to the river and a swim to Ohio and freedom. The freed slaves on the Ohio sides obviously helped the slaves escape.
A few miles to the northeast, there is an Ohio town called Getaway. It is said that the town was named Getaway because once the former slaves got that far north of the river, they were almost certain to escape the Confederate patrollers. Their getaway was successful.
Ceredo and the Ramsdell House are good places to take school kids to teach them about slavery, those who opposed it and its end following the Civil War.
I’m sure Ceredo and Debbie Wolfe would assist teachers who would like to plan a field trip to the town and the house. And if that doesn’t happen, take your own kids to see this important historic spot.