Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, the Z.D. Ramsdell House in Ceredo, Wayne County was built in the Greek Revival style from 1857 to 1858. The Ramsdell House was the first brick house built in the town of Ceredo, which was founded in 1857 by a group of New England abolitionists led by Massachusetts Congressman Eli Thayer. Thayer and his followers (Z.D. Ramsdell among them) sought to establish Ceredo as a means of demonstrating the superiority of a free economy over one founded on the institution of slavery. Because of their anti-slavery leanings the residents of Ceredo were heavily involved in the activities of the Underground Railroad and historians believe that a concealed basement in the Ramsdell House was at one time used as a hiding place for runaway slaves fleeing to Ohio. The Ramsdell House is now owned by the Town of Ceredo and operated as a museum from Tuesday to Thursday, 10 AM to 2 PM, and Saturdays from 10 AM to noon.
Backstory and Context
The founder of Ceredo, Eli Thayer, was one of the most prominent abolitionists in American politics in the nineteenth-century United States. He is particularly well-known for his involvement in the leadup to “Bleeding Kansas,” a violent precursor to the Civil War in which anti- and pro-slavery settlers in the Kansas Territory attempted to resolve the issue of whether their polity would enter the Union as a free or slave state by force. For his own part Thayer used his influence in Massachusetts to organize the Massachusetts Emigrant Aid Company in 1854, which sought to recruit anti-slavery settlers for migration to Kansas. Through this company, Thayer provided temporary hotel accommodations for anti-slavery settlers in Kansas and helped fund local industries and improvements in the anti-slavery towns they established. In founding the town of Ceredo in 1857, Thayer sought to replicate such towns closer to home in the state of Virginia. Finding land in eastern Virginia too expensive for his purposes, Thayer purchased land at the convergence of the Ohio River and Twelvepole Creek (a tributary of the Big Sandy River) in Wayne County.
One of Thayer’s most prominent supporters in this endeavor was Zopher D. Ramsdell, who constructed his brick house in the first year of the town’s existence atop what local residents believe to have been an Indian burial mound. Together, Thayer and Ramsdell hoped to demonstrate the superior profitability of laissez-faire capitalism over that of a slave economy by promoting manufacturing in the slave state of Virginia. To that end, Ramsdell established a shoe and boot factory in the town prior to the Civil War. After that conflict, Ramsdell continued to serve the local economy through a number of endeavors. Ramsdell served as West Virginia trustee on the board of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, as well as a member of the West Virginia State Senate and head of U.S. Post Office. Under these auspices, he worked strenuously to improve the free flow of people, goods, and ideas through Ceredo, Wayne County, West Virginia, and the nation until his death in 1886.
Perhaps most notably, however, Ramsdell was active before the Civil War in the operation of the Underground Railroad in the Wayne County area. Born in Maine and already a prominent abolitionist in Massachusetts at the time Thayer recruited him for the Ceredo project, it is perhaps not surprising that Ramsdell opened his home to those fleeing the institution of slavery. Wayne County is the westernmost county of what is now West Virginia and is located along the Ohio River and Big Sandy River, the two bodies of water forming the boundaries between what was then slave and free territory. This made that county, and the town of Ceredo on its western edge, an ideal stopping point for refugees from slavery as they made their way to Ohio. Historians believe that the Ramsdell House was the last station in that area of Virginia that runaway slaves stopped at prior to crossing over into free territory. Such individuals would have most likely traveled from Kentucky and points in Virginia to the east and south via the Big Sandy River before making their way up Twelvepole Creek to its confluence with the Ohio River. From there, it was a matter of crossing the Ohio River to freedom.
After Z.D. Ramsdell’s death in 1886, his house remained under the ownership of his heirs until 1977, after which it remained vacant until 1983 when the Town of Ceredo purchased it and nominated it for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. After falling into a state of disrepair over the course of the following decades, the town received grants from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History to renovate the Ramsdell House in 2017. It reopened to the public in 2019 and now operates as a museum and is home to the Ramsdell Ceredo Settlers Memorial in honor of those buried at the site. Today, the Ramsdell House stands as a testament to the unique place of Ceredo as an anti-slavery settlement in a slave state. It further testifies to the commitment of abolitionists to the end of slavery as an institution in the years immediately leading up to the Civil War.
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Ramsdell House Facebook Page
Ceredo Historical Society Museum
Ceredo Historical Society Museum