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Parker House hopeful for National Park recognition

The John P. Parker House and Historical site in Ripley is having a push by the historical society to get the house on the National Parks lists.

Recently, President of the John P. Parker Historical Society Carol Stivers met with both the Brown County Commissioners and the Ripley Village Council to garner support in moving forward on the site becoming part of the National Parks Service through the Department of the Interior.

Both the Brown County Commissioners and Ripley Village Council offered their support in moving the historical site to the National Parks Service. In 2002 the National Parks Service awarded a grant for the renovations of the interior of the site in the amount of $25,000. The Parker House is also a part of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom through the National Parks Service.

The Parker House Project started in the 1960s but gained support since 1996 when the group secured the Parker House. Stivers said moving forward with the push to be part of the National Park Service is a bit bittersweet, but better for the site.

“It is excited because we think it will grow and become more prominent,” Stivers said. “I am sure they would still be involved in some way.”

Stivers said the lack of interested among a younger generation to keep history alive is part of the reason for the push to move the Parker House to the National Parks Service. The other reason is funding. While Stivers said the Parker House is in good shape financially, it is better to have the backing of the US government to go along with it. Plus the lack of participation among younger people will make it harder in the future to find volunteers.

John P. Parker was a freed slave originally from Virginia who settled in Ripley where he become a leader in the abolitionist movement. Parker helped hundreds of slaves reach their way to freedom in the North while in Ripley. At age eight, Parker was sold to a doctor in Mobile, Ala. At age 14 he was sold to a widowed patient of the doctor and later purchased his freedom through a contract with Mrs. Ryder, the patient. Parker’s freedom cost him $1,800 and he had his debt repaid in 1845.

Parker later become an industrialist and business owner in Ripley. He owned and operated the largest foundry between Cincinnati and Portsmouth in 1865. Parker also was of a very few African Americans who had a patent in their name prior to 1900.

The John Parker Historical Society has put a lot of work into the property over the last 20 years to make it a usable site for visitations. When the property was purchased the building was in very poor condition.

“It was really in dilapidated condition,” Stivers said. “It was tumbling down. We worked hard. It was sort of a sad story about the way we thought we could get it inexpensively. It ended up being expensive and the three banks in Ripley equally loaned us the money to buy it. We then had a board member who each year gave us a sizable donation to help reduce that loan.”

Adding the Parker House to the National Parks Service would add prominence to Underground Railroad sites in Ripley. Notably the Rankin House, which was recently named the hidden gem of Ohio in USA Today. Both are part of the Underground Railroad experience.

“We had friends in the National Parks Service who we talked with and visited other sites,” Stivers said. “It is an Underground Railroad site and we thought it would be really good to have this notoriety and have them promote it as well. We felt being part of the Parks Service would be a really good thing.”

The site is scheduled for a reconnaissance study in March by the National Park Service. Stivers said it could be an extended period of time before a final decision is made by the NPS to determine if the Parker House would be added to the list. Stivers said being promoted by the NPS could add tourism visitors to Ripley who are seeking to learn about the Underground Railroad and Brown County’s connection in the movement for freedom.

The John P. Parker House in Ripley is set for a study by the National Parks Service to be evaluated for entry as one of the National Park sites. John P. Parker House in Ripley is set for a study by the National Parks Service to be evaluated for entry as one of the National Park sites. John P. Parker Historical Society, Inc.

By Brian Durham

Reach Brian Durham at 937-378-6161 or on Twitter @brianD1738.

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