Discover Over 200 Years of History in Oldham County, KY

“A Tour on the Underground Railroad along the Ohio River”

By Dr. Nancy Stearns Theiss, PhD

In 2018 Nancy Stearns Theiss, Executive Director of the Oldham County Historical Society, took a small group on a tour along the Ohio River to explore the sites and places that have been identified on the Underground Railroad.  From the tour, Nancy wrote this book that identifies museums, places and historic sites and homes that served as connections for freedom seekers that crossed the boundary from the slave side, south of the river to the free soil on the north side.

According to Theiss, by experiencing these places and settings, you gain an understanding of the actual dangers and obstacles that freedom seekers had to make, most of which were life threatening, to flee their enslavement.  As the threat of Civil War loomed, the Underground Railroad became a well- connected system where many became conductors to help their brothers and sisters cross that dangerous boundary.


The river symbolized a “beacon of hope” that inspired stories and narratives that serve as an inspiration for those who sacrificed their lives for the democracy we enjoy today.  One of the stories inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” that was based on real people and places in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio.


The book identifies special places along a 664 mile stretch of the Ohio River, where readers can follow and visit these places of the past.  There are details about the museums, historic houses, and specific sites that have been researched and verified as a part of the Underground Railroad.  The Oldham County History Center here in Oldham County where Theiss works, has 2 sites on the National Park Service National Underground Railroad Network.


The Oldham County History Center is a private non-profit educational organization that functions from private donations, grants, foundations and memberships.  Located at 106 North Second Ave, LaGrange Ky. 40031.  The center maintains 4 historic buildings, the Dahlgren Barn event center and a colonial garden.  Email us at: info@oldhamcountyhistoricalsociety.org for more information on membership, programs or if you would like to receive our email newsletters.  Nancy is also available for book signings and lectures.


The book is $23.99 with partial profits to benefit the Oldham County History Center. The book is also available for purchase through retail outlets and museums.

The Oldham County Historical Society

Photo of Nancy Stearns Theiss

Nancy Stearns Theiss, PhD
Executive Director, Oldham County Historical Society

Hours:   Wednesday – Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
106 N. Second Ave.
La Grange, KY 40031
Directions | Website | Email

The Oldham County Historical Society preserves, collects and conveys the history of Oldham County, Kentucky by telling the story of its people and the events that shaped its development, using the objects and artifacts that illustrate and symbolize that history.


We provide an environment in which the life of the past is experienced in the present. Through its exhibits, programs, events and activities, it will engage people in a dynamic process of thought, participation, and action. It will strive to affirm the importance of individual and collective community memory to develop a more enlightened society.

Oldham KY History Museum

The newly renovated history museum is NOW OPEN and better than we could have imagined! With interactive live exhibits featuring national and Kentucky historical favorites with Oldham KY roots.

Experience the following Oldham County history…

Photo of Henry Bibb, a historic figure in the story of the underground railroad

Experience the Underground Railroad exhibit featuring famous slave & first African-American Newspaper Editor, Henry Bibb.

Experience the D.W. Griffit Theatre and learn about DW Griffith – “Father of the Motion Picture”.

Pearl Harbor Exhibit

Experience the history and story of Pearl Harbor at the interactive Pearl Harbor exhibit.

Photo of Rob Morris

Rob Morris was the founder of the Order of the Eastern Star. Learn more about him & the Rob Morris Home.

Annie Fellows Johnston, author of "The Little Colonel"

Experience the Annie Fellows Johnston‘sThe Little Colonel,”exhibit – the book series that later made actress Shirley Temple famous!

Photo of a horseshoe tacked to a wall

Historical Hermitage Farm exhibit featuring Kentucky’s historic race horse industry from its infancy to modern day.

Kentucky State Reformatory

Kentucky State Reformatory unique exhibit designed by the inmates themselves showcasing the contributions of the reformatory to the community.

Oldham KY holds 2 of only 9 Underground Railroad Designations by the National Park Service Network to Freedom found in Kentucky.

A Brief History of Oldham County, KY

Statue of Colonel William OldhamOldham County was formed in 1823 from parts of Henry, Jefferson and Shelby Counties, earning its spot as the 74th Kentucky county. It was named for Colonel William Oldham (1753-1791), a distinguished Revolutionary War officer from Jefferson County. The county seat was first established along the Ohio River in Westport, which became a bustling river city in the early 1800s. As the town continued to grow, warehouses were built along the Ohio River to accommodate hemp, flour, tobacco and pork – items that were shipped to New Orleans.


Major William Berry Taylor (1765-1836) came to the area in December 1796 with his parents, and is credited with donating 50 acres for the establishment of La Grange and a county courthouse in 1827. The county seat was permanently moved to La Grange in 1838. The community felt this spot afforded a more centralized location to conduct county business than Westport. La Grange became an incorporated city in 1840.


The Louisville and Frankfort Railroad Company may have brought about the biggest change when it introduced rail lines in the area in the 1850s. This forced many new towns and communities to spring up. Eventually the railroad ceased operating as a form of public transportation, but Trains still rumble and draw thousands of tourists to historic Main Street in La Grange.