The 186-year old B&B is made up of two buildings built by John T. Wilson himself. There is a two-story brick building where guests can stay and eat and a log cabin that was built in 1832 where guests can relax by the fireplace.
In 2006, owner Ralph Alexander purchased both houses and the 42 acres of land they rest on. Nobody had occupied the residence since 1966.
“When we came here, you couldn’t even see it because of the vines and trees,” Alexander says. “It took probably two weeks just to get everything cleaned off around the building to see what we had to work with.”
The property used to be the center of a small community known as Tranquility that formed in the mid-1800s. John T. Wilson ran his business from the log cabin and used his home and land to organize a volunteer infantry for the Union army during the Civil War.
“He was considered a hero at the Civil War in the battle of Shiloh,” Alexander says. He has collected memorabilia from Wilson’s legacy, one that he feels is undervalued.
Wilson’s home was also a stopping point for runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad, one of the main attractions that draw guests to stay at the bed-and-breakfast.
A secret door in the dining room leads to a stairway going up to the attic. Here, runaway slaves used to huddle near the fireplace for warmth on cold nights.
Guests have the opportunity to walk up the stairway to the attic and stand in the same place that provided shelter for runaway slaves.
Other evidence of Underground Railroad activity includes:
- A divot on the first step of the stairway to the attic (Alexander believes it’s from slaves stepping and turning into the attic)
- A hollow bamboo stick believed to be used as a snorkel.
“If you look you can see the teeth marks where somebody had been biting on it. For slaves, the only way they kept from the dogs smelling them out is they’d lay under the water,” Alexander says.
Wilson kept his activities working on the Underground Railroad a secret, but today these little bits of history give guests at the Wilson Homestead a connection to history.
The Friends of Freedom Society, a statewide organization that researches the Underground Railroad in Ohio, recognized John Wilson’s home as a historical landmark. The organization’s founder, Cathy Nelson, was there to help dedicate the historical landmark sign.
“When I drive up the rise to that house, there’s something very spiritual, something very special about that site,” Nelson says.
It is impossible to know how many slaves Wilson sheltered on their route to freedom, but Nelson still praises Wilson for the sacrifice he made.
“He risked his life and property to do that and that’s what’s important,” Nelson says. “Even if he only helped one slave, that was one slave that got closer to freedom.”
Guests at the Wilson Homestead can physically feel it’s history in its purest form, walking on floors and touching walls that provided refuge and warmth for people on their way to freedom.
All the work that went into the Wilson home was done to preserve a piece of history almost forgotten, but Alexander feels an obligation to keeping Wilson’s legacy alive, a “labor of love,” as he puts it.
“This is not a money-making project for us. We’re doing this more for the history aspect of it,” Alexander says.