Ohio and the Underground Rail Road

Ohio is well known for its Underground Railroad activity, many private and now-museum historic homes spread over the state were stops for escaped and freed slaves on their way to Canada. One particularly active stop was Hanby House, home of William Hanby and his family.

Hanby was an extremely active community member: Hanby served as the 15th minister of the United Brethren in Christ Church, he also edited The Religious Telescope, the church newspaper; he was co-founder of Otterbein University; Hanby worked with the early Temperance movement against alcohol; finally and most importantly to the historic site he was an abolitionist who opened his home to former slaves as part of the Underground Railroad. However history takes note of Hanby primarily has musician and composer.

During his tenure as a minister, Hanby composed the famous Christmas song “Up on the Housetop.” Chicago publisher George Frederick Root published “Up on the Housetop” and asked Hanby to work for his publishing company, Root & Cady, in Chicago, Illinois.

Benjamin Hanby composed over 80 songs in his lifetime. Among his most popular include “Up on the Housetop,” “Dear Nellie Gray,” and “Who is He in Yonder Stall.”

Built in 1846, the Hanby family occupied the home from 1853 to 1870. The home is part of the National Register of Historic Places as well as a designated United Methodist Heritage Landmark. In 2011, the National Park Service Network to Freedom recognized the home as a significant Underground Railroad site.

The home and tours are managed by the Westerville Historical Society under an agreement with the Ohio History Connection.

The home features many personal items having belonged to the Hanby family. Most notably the collection includes walnut desk crafted by Hanby as well as the original plates for the first edition of “Darling Nelly Gray”. The home also contains a large collection of sheet music and books.