Iberia native opens abolition museum
By Sarah Einselen
Artifacts, maps and photographs that once filled Wayne Rinehart’s bedroom have found a new home in a one-room former doctor’s office and shoemaker’s shed in Iberia. The small building adjacent to B&K’s grocery is slowly being transformed, by Rinehart’s hand, into a museum commemorating the town’s part in the Underground Railroad.
“I think he’s doing an awesome job fixing it up,” said B&K owner Mary Fraley, who also owns the small building and supplies its electricity. She’s also glad someone is taking the initiative to help people understand Iberia’s history, she said.
The name of the “Museum of Marion and Morrow County Abolitionists” reflects the locale’s shift when Morrow County was formed in 1848 from parts of surrounding counties. Iberians of that era “were well organized and they had a plan,” Rinehart said. According to historical sources he cited, almost every house there was a stop on the Underground Railroad, including several that are still standing today.
One of those houses—in fact one of the most active—was the house where Rinehart grew up. Allen McNeal owned the farm that Rinehart’s parents later bought, at the corner of Washington Township, named for the Scotch-Irish settlement’s former home in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Hundreds of fugitive slaves came through McNeal’s home.
As a boy, Rinehart was surrounded with the history of the abolition movement and was encouraged to research it by his mother, a member of both the historical and genealogical societies in Marion County. “It’s been the love of my life,” the 74-year-old said. His ancestors and distant relatives pop up in the history of the movement, especially in the Marion-Morrow county area but also back in Pennsylvania and on westward.
“The abolitionists were of the same spiritual mentality as the people who wrote the Declaration of Independence,” Rinehart said. “These were the sons of serfs who escaped slavery in Europe.” The reason they joined the abolition movement, he said, “wasn’t that they were passionate for the underprivileged or the plight of the black man, but because their daddies told them that if the serfs didn’t do what the lords told them, they burned their houses down in the middle of winter.”
Among a variety of old shoemaking tools, Rinehart put several historical maps on display and refers to each one while telling the tangled story of the growth of the abolition movement in Iberia, then called Clyde Settlement. Since the area was originally part of Marion county, he quotes that county’s history as he develops the story, as well as the county histories from states farther west, where Iberia abolitionists moved after the Civil War. Other source materials, from family photo albums to history books, stand on shelves near the back of the hut, with more documents in cubbyholes behind the front door and under a map table.
The number of artifacts is comparatively sparse. “You’ve got to get the documentation before you get the artifacts,” Rinehart said, so he’s focused on tracing maps, genealogies and other official records in his research.
One document he has been unable to find is a book that contained a list of names, probably of fugitive slaves, found in Iberia abolitionist and Ohio Central College founder George Gordon’s house when it was cleaned in the 1950s. The book was given to Doyle Rusk and upon his death may have made its way to Dr. Bernard Mansfield at the Galion Historical Society.
Small educational sessions are in the works, but won’t be held until Rinehart gets a reliable wood stove installed in the small building. Until then, people may visit the museum by appointment by calling Rinehart at (419) 845‑3936. E-mail him at email@example.com for more information.