Squeezed into a cistern twenty-five students look around in awe. This is actually where the escaped slaves slept, hidden from their pursers as they made their journey north. This small dark, damp room represents a giant step toward freedom.
A project of the Junior League of Columbus, the Kelton House Museum and Garden is the only documented stop on the Underground Railroad in the City of Columbus that is regularly open to the public. Over the past 25 years, the Kelton House has educated Columbus children and adults about local history through the eyes of the Kelton family, which occupied the home from 1852 until 1975. The Museum presents tours, lectures and workshops, and continues to be the cornerstone of the East Town Street Historic District.
For visiting students, the story is told through the eyes of Martha Hartway, who escaped slavery in Virginia and made her way to Columbus. She was found hiding in the shrubbery outside the Kelton family home by Sophia Kelton and taken in. Martha remained with the Kelton family for ten years until she married Thomas Lawrence, a free black carpenter. Martha and Thomas were married in the Kelton parlor. Their story provides the authentic touchstone that makes a visit to the Kelton House extraordinary.
Historical re-enactments, encampments and Victorian teas are other opportunities to explore the wonders of Kelton House. Docents, dressed in traditional Victorian garb, led visitors through the rooms which have been carefully restored to reflect their 1850-1900 appearance. The furnishings and decorations, many of which are from the collection of the Sophia and Fernando Cortez Kelton family allow guests, young and old, to experience life in the Victorian era.
In addition to providing a wonderful opportunity to learn about 19th century urban life and decorative arts in Columbus, the Kelton House served as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization. Through the efforts of the Junior League, the Columbus Near East Side Historical District was created. Friends of the Kelton House and Junior League Members worked to raise neighborhood awareness about historical preservation transforming the area into the vibrant community that can be found today.
The Kelton House Garden provides an opportunity for refection and solitude. Breathing in the floral fragrance, visitors can pause for moment and escape from the busy reality of the twenty first century to a milder gentler era. The garden often plays host to special events ranging from the annual Easter egg hunt to fairy tale weddings.
The Kelton House is located at:
586 E Town St, Columbus, OH 43215