See Ohio First

The Trail:

Church of the Master

Historic Marker by Cowan Hall

Otterbein Cemetery – Hanby graves

Otterbein Cemetery – Fouse graves

Otterbein University Towers Hall

Hanby House


From its founding, Westerville was a community with citizens of conscience who opposed the institution of slavery. Putting these convictions into action, they aided and abetted runaway slaves on their journey traveling on the Underground Railroad from forced servitude to freedom. The first settler in what later became the village of Westerville, Garret Sharp, and his six sons all hid runaways in their homes.   Maryland-born George Stoner came to the village in the 1850s and began to move fugitives via stagecoach from Columbus to the cellar of his inn on State Street. However, one family stands out in this dedicated company of abolitionists – the Hanbys. This trail is a memorial to their convictions and actions that promoted the cause of freedom from slavery.

Site #1 —–Church of the Master (former location of the Hanby House)
24 North Grove Street

What you’ll find:

Church of the Master

Stand facing this structure and imagine a simple frame house with a large barn in the back yard. That was the Hanby family house, which stood on this site in 1853. The church you see today was built in 1916 to house the United Brethren congregation that was organized in 1851 and had met in campus buildings prior to its construction. Beside this church is a former Carnegie Library which now serves as the university admissions office.  Imagine in its place a two-story brick house, which had been the home of Rev. Lewis Davis. The Hanby and Davis families worked together to feed the runaway slaves who came to this location, using as a signal velvet roses in a vase in the window of the parlor of the Hanby House to signify how many fugitives needed food.

Patriarch William Hanby was a conductor on the Underground Railroad who understood the plight of the fleeing slaves. At the age of sixteen, William was indentured to an abusive master and determined that redemption lay in flight from his home in Pennsylvania. Hanby recorded, “on the night of the 24th of March 1828, I bent my course towards the beautiful state of Ohio. No one can describe the anguish of my heart that night and for days afterward. I was leaving a poor and very dependent mother behind. I was very poorly clad and my spirits were crushed by the treatment I had received. Every moment I dreaded hearing the footsteps of my hated master in pursuit of me.”

William Hanby, a bishop in the United Brethren Church, was a founder and a trustee of Otterbein University. Proximity to the college led Bishop Hanby to move his family to Westerville in 1853.

Site #2 —-Benjamin Hanby Historical Marker (on the sidewalk to the north of Cowan Hall)
30 South Grove Street

What you’ll find:

Slide 6 Benjamin Hanby marker

Located on the campus of Otterbein University, this marker honors Benjamin Hanby, renowned songwriter and the beloved favorite son of the community and school. To the right of the marker is Cowan Hall, home to the Otterbein theater program, and host to music performances, guest lectures, and other special programs at the university.

In the fall of 1849, sixteen-year-old Benjamin Hanby enrolled at Otterbein University determined to study music even though the college did not have a formal music program. He brought his most prized possession with him – a mahogany flute. Ben had worked for years to earn the money to purchase the flute and played it whenever time allowed.

Ben worked and went to college for nine years to earn his degree, developing a passion for working with young people. Using poetry and music, he made learning enjoyable. Later when serving as a church pastor he taught young people to use music as part of worship. This led to outcries by some in his congregation who considered song and rhyme “the work of the devil.” Eventually, Ben Hanby was given the opportunity to become a full-time songwriter and head of the children’s department of George F. Root, a Chicago music publishing company.

Site #3—-Otterbein Cemetery –graves of Benjamin Hanby and his father Bishop William Hanby
175 South Knox Street

What you’ll find:

Slide 11 grave of Benjamin Hanby

As you enter the gates of Otterbein Cemetery at the end of Grove Street, you are facing an area of the cemetery known as the “Old Section.” Established in 1856, with the purchase of four acres, the grounds are the place of burial for many prominent members of the community and college. At the back of the cemetery straight ahead you will see a structure made of Bedford stone – a mausoleum which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1924 to house 290 crypts, the art deco structure has seven distinctive stained-glass windows and a Vermont marble interior. Among those buried in the cemetery are members of the Hanby family including Bishop William Hanby and Benjamin Hanby whose graves are at the top of a bluff which overlooks Alum Creek.

His life cut short by lung disease, Benjamin Hanby died in 1867 at the age of 33. In his lifetime, the talented songwriter was best known for his anti-slavery song “Darling Nelly Gray.”  However, this was just one among the approximately 80 songs he published, either as sheet music or in song books for the George Root Company of Chicago.  Popular during the Civil War were the ballads “Old Shady, or The Song of the Contraband” (another anti-slavery song) and “The Reveler’s Chorus” (a temperance song).  Today Ben is represented in the hymnals of many church denominations through his hymn “Who is He in Yonder Stall?”, which remains very popular in Great Britain.  However, most people know Ben as the composer of the Christmas song “Up on the Housetop.”  It was written in 1864 and published in 1866.  Since then it has been a favorite song of children worldwide.

Slide 13 Hanby family gravesites

Site #4—-Otterbein Cemetery – graves of Squire Fouse and his wife Sallie Fouse
175 South Knox Street
Hours – Sunday through Saturday, Dawn to Dusk

What you’ll find:

Otterbein Cemetery is the resting place of Civil War veterans, including men who served in the United States Colored Troops, whose graves are marked with iron flag holders.  Among those buried here is the very controversial William Hannibal Thomas, who grew up in Ohio as a free black, attended Otterbein very briefly, lost an arm fighting for the Union at the Battle of Fort Fishers, and wrote a disparaging book about his race which was widely condemned. Also resting here is William Milton who served in the 54th Massachusetts, the unit made famous by the movie “Glory.” Otterbein Cemetery is also the resting place of former slaves who moved north after the Civil War.

Squire Fouse spent the first twenty-seven years of his life in slavery. At fifteen, he was put on the auction block and sold for $2000. He ran away and almost froze to death before being captured. His freedom from slavery did not come until the end of the Civil War. Shortly thereafter, he and his wife Sally moved to Westerville and found lodging in a primitive log cabin which stands today on the grounds of McVay Elementary School. He found work on a farm and as a blacksmith. Later Fouse moved his family into the former home of the Hanby family. Both his wife and young daughter died leaving him to raise his three sons alone. Even though illiterate, the Fouses imbued their children with a love of learning. Upon Squire’s death in 1909, his funeral service was held in the Otterbein College Chapel and the headline in the local paper stated “Highly Respected Ex-slave is Dead.”

Site #5—-Otterbein University Towers Hall
1 South Grove Street

What you’ll find:

Otterbein College

Look up at the different spires on the roof of this Victorian Gothic building built in 1870. Westerville residents collected money to help build Towers Hall and prevent Otterbein from leaving the village. Generations of Otterbein graduates have attended class in this structure. In the early days of the school cattle roamed the grounds, students boarded in local homes, and most attended only for a semester. Today, the Otterbein Presidents Gallery is on the second floor, and class composites from the early 20th century line the second and third floor hallways.  One of the newer buildings on the campus is to the south –Roush Hall. Step inside and view the galleries which have changing displays of art, artifacts, or clothing from the collections of the university.  Visit the third floor to view pictorial panels that show the history of the university from its founding to the present day.

Otterbein University opened its doors in 1847 as a coeducational institution, one of the first in the country to admit women without restrictions and to have female faculty members. It was also open to students of all races.

William Henry Fouse moved into the Hanby House with his father Squire Fouse when he was three years old. Encouraged by his parents, William became the first black graduate of Westerville High School. Dedicated to acquiring more education, he spent seven years working odd jobs and attending classes at Otterbein.  He graduated in 1893, the first man of color to obtain a degree from that institution. William Fouse dedicated his life to educating others of his race in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, completing his career by serving as principal of Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky for 24 years.

Hanby House2Site #6—-Hanby House
160 West Main Street

Open May through September Saturdays and Sundays 1pm to 4pm

Seniors 60+——————$2.50
Children under five——–free
Children 5-17—————$1.00
AAA members————–$2.50

Ohio History Connection members are admitted free of charge
Private tours by appointment

Furnished in the style of the 1850s, the Hanby House is one of the few Underground Railroad stops in Central Ohio that are open to the public. Visitors can view a film about the Hanbys and their role in the Underground Railroad before touring the house with knowledgeable guides who describe life in the 1850s and share the story of the Hanby family’s dedication to the abolition of slavery.

In 1853, the Hanby family settled into life in Westerville in this home.  Bishop William Hanby opened a harness making business in a barn behind the home where he hid runaway slaves guarded by the family dog Towser.

The home was lost by Bishop Hanby due to financial reversals. It was moved to Home Street where it became home to other families including the Fouse family. In the 1930s, the house was in danger of being torn down when Dacia Custer Shoemaker, classmate of some of the Hanbys, purchased it and oversaw its move to this site by WPA labor.  A campaign was begun to repair and restore the home with William Henry Fouse working tirelessly to raise funds from school children in Kentucky and lobby Ohio legislators to save the home and preserve the legacy of the family. Today the home is owned by the Ohio History Connection and managed by the Westerville Historical Society.