Kelton House Museum and Garden

Downtown Columbus Museum

Kelton House Museum and Garden: Tour restored Victorian home that was once a stop along Underground Railroad

Tour Victorian-era home that was stop along Underground Railroad


On a frigid January afternoon, my daughter, Rosie, and I followed a costumed man through the Kelton House, a Victorian-era home and museum in downtown Columbus.

The historic home is open for docent-led tours on Sundays from 1-4 p.m. Our tour was the last of the day, as snow began to pile up outside, keeping other would-be tourists away.

  • Kelton House Museum and Garden
  • Tour Victorian-era home that was stop along Underground Railroad
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Mark Welch, a thin, gray-haired man in a long, black coat, led us through parlors filled with 19th-century furnishings and antiques that were once owned by the Kelton family. He showed us jewelry made from human hair and a bed where a member of the Kelton family had died. He also told us that some think the old house is haunted. He said that other docents have heard the voice of a little girl from behind a door. He then left us to explore the upstairs rooms on our own, as he swiftly departed down a spiral staircase.

Rosie and I followed Welch afterward and joked that he, too, was a ghost. Our exploration proved adventuresome and educational, as is the intent of the museum, which opened in 1976 and is operated by the Junior League of Columbus.

Built in 1852, the house was once home to Fernando Cortez Kelton and Sophia Langdon Stone Kelton. It stayed with the family for three generations until 1975 when the Kelton’s granddaughter, Grace, passed away.

Fernando was a prosperous wholesaler of dry goods and pharmaceuticals, but risked losing everything to help fugitive slaves as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. The Keltons took in a runaway named Martha Hartway, who remained with the family for a decade.

Our tour concluded with a visit to the Underground Railroad Learning Station, located on the lower level of the house, where visitors can see a replica of a secret hiding place that helped slaves attain freedom.

Fernando also was a pallbearer in Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession that went through Ohio and ended up in Illinois. Fernando’s son, Oscar, fought in the Civil War against slavery and died in battle.

On the second Sunday of each month, the museum presents “Trails of Hope,” re-enactments of Underground Railroad stories about fugitive slaves and their protectors.

The Kelton Museum and Garden, 586 E. Town St., is first an educational facility, but also a popular wedding destination with a beautiful Victorian garden. For more information, visit keltonhouse.com or call 614-464-2022.

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Wendy and Mike Pramik

Wendy and Mike Pramik are writers from Columbus, Ohio. Their favorite topic is travel, and they enjoy sharing stories about the many weekend adventures they take with their two children, Rosie and Max.