Rumley, Ohio – A Ghost town of sorts

Most of the time I think that my younger sister and I couldn’t be any more different, but we have a few very strange things in common.  We both used to have recurring dreams that involved tornadoes.  Mine were nightmares.  Hers were more fun, obviously.  We used to kick each other under the table during meals without even realizing it until we’d get yelled at for it.  We both enjoy playing “The Cleaning Game”. I won’t go into the specific rules of that one.  Another thing we have in common is our love for abandoned houses and ghost towns.    When I told her the story of Rumley, Ohio and how I longed to return to Shelby County and learn more about it, she was delighted, and wanted to come along as well.

Rumley doesn’t exist anymore.  There is a New Rumley, Ohio.  This incorporated area is known for being the birthplace of George Custer.  But Rumley…nothing.

My father is John Brown.  His mother is Gene Munn.  Her mother is Eva Hill.  Her father was Adam Hill.  His mother was Edna Goings.  Her father was Joel Goings.  Joel Goings was a free black man who, along with his brother Wesley, started his own village: Rumley, Ohio.  A cemetery still stands in the area where Rumley once stood.  Well…it’s kind of a cemetery.

Collins Cemetery - in honor of the pioneers of Rumley, Ohio. This "cemetery" sits on a concrete slab in the middle of a farm's field along a barely traveled road.

Joel did something very shocking for the 1830s.  He married a white woman.  Not just a white woman, but an Irish white woman, so she was most likely REALLY white.

Joel and Elizabeth (Cole) Goings had 11 children together.  Many of those children were born in Rumley.  They attended school here.  For decades they got married and had their own children here.  Suddenly, in the late 1860s and early 1870s the marriage records of the family were diminishing in Shelby County because everyone had moved away.

According to the reading I have done, it seems that many of those that lived in the black and mixed communities of Shelby County and Northwest Ohio were eventually run out of their own towns.  Around Rumley signs were posted warning of physical harm if Black residents didn’t take up residency elsewhere.  In Rumley this began around the 1860s, which was obviously a stressful time in race relations, right smack dab in the middle of the Civil War.

What exists of the town today is unfortunate.

Old Church. One of the only remaining structures in what was the town.

Informational plaque in front of the old Baptist church in Rumley.

And that’s about it.  A church and a cemetery on a slab of concrete.

My goal is to find out what happened to Rumley.  Did something happened that set off the racial tensions that lead to the mass exodus from the town?  This is something I am very interested in researching.   Maybe my little sister will come with me on my next trip.

30 thoughts on “Rumley, Ohio – A Ghost town of sorts

  1. This is not too far from where I live maybe about 10 to 15 miles from here.. Thanks for the history lesson. I had no idea. Now I have to make my own visit and take some pics.

    Thanks for Sharing.

  2. What an interesting blog regarding Rumley in Shelby County. I recently learned of this village when I began a case study, working on my great grand-aunt’s husband’s family. His father was Henry Peters and their family resided in Rumley from, at least the early 1850’s. While the family continued to live in Shelby County, I don’t know if they moved from the family farm or not. I haven’t progressed that far in the research. I would love to hear more about your investigations as you progress.


  3. Ok as you may noticed (if my last name printed here) is Rumley. I had heard of New Rumley for years but never Rumley, Ohio. I never knew it existed. For most of my adult life I have wanted to go to New Rumley just to write a check or use a credit card or anything with my ID on it to see if anyone noticed. About 2 years ago we had the opportunity to travel to New Rumley. Imagine my surprise to find it a bedroom community with no shops of any kind to allow my fantasy to continue. So we took the time to visit the Monument to Custer there and to stop by the local Methodist Church where we happened upon the town historian. Weird, still no mention of RUMLEY, OHIO. But her and her husband were very warm and cordial and made us feel very welcome in this sleepy little town. They showed us many pictures and told us many stories of the town over the years. Stll never a mention of Rumley, Oh. They regailed us with stories of people and how with no industry there, most people wre moving away. Nothing to keep them there.

    So for myself, my wife and kids, we have seen this lovely little town and may someday take the time to go back. I would bet most everyone there are as nice as the folks who helped make our trip memorable. To the Methodist Church of New Rumley Ohio, thank you and God Bless. To everyone else, if you ever get the chance to visit there, take it. Stop and talk to someone there, anyone. I am certain you will find it an enjoyable trip.

  4. Hi,

    I’ve stumbled upon this, as I was myself interested in Rumley, Ohio, as it was mentioned in the Wikipedia article on John Randolf of Roanoke, as the place where his freed slaves (freed by his will) settled.

    I hope you discover more about the town’s fate.

  5. Hello
    I heard that at one time there was a Lewis Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church at Rumley. The pastor at Cyrene A.M.E. Church, Piqua, supplied the Lewis Chapel as pastor well. That was more than 35 years ago. Any one remember?

    Dwight E. Dillard

  6. I stumbled upon Rumley when I found an article in the Sidney Daily News about Alfred Artis killing his daughter Emma in the 1850s. I was so troubled by this story,I HAD to find out more. I havent read anything about the girls Mother or where she was at the time. I want to find the Grave and visit. Alfred was buried on his property but there is no info on where that was.Emma was buried in Rumley I beleive at this Cemetery in Rumley…Any one having any more info, Id like to know..I love HISTORY.

  7. We live literally right across from the Rumley Baptist church and have lived here for over 30 years, we heard that the blacks left because of the Great Depression, but were not sure. Thank you for the information

  8. Not sure how to subscribe to your blog, but I happened to stumble across it recently. I live about a mile from Rumley. I belong to an organization that had purchased the old schoolhouse in Rumley several years ago and renovated it to use for a meeting place for things like class reunions, picnics, etc. My family meets there every Easter and Thanksgiving. Anyway, my husband, Mark R. Buehler, likes going to public auctions and picking up interesting items. A couple of years ago, he ended up with an old record book from the church in Rumley, listing the trustees and deacons, etc. My mother and father are members of the Shelby County Genealogical Society, so Mark has passed the book on to Mom to try and record any information from the book for genealogical purposes. The auction the book was purchased at was the Ray and Doris Venerable sale. Feel free to contact me if you wish. Both Mark and I were astonished at the information you had on why the people had left Rumley. We had always heard they left for job reasons, mostly towards Lima, Ohio.

    • Hey there. If I learn more I will make sure to post it. I have been in a research slump lately with a new baby, but I am glad you found my page. I thought there was a subscribe button on my page. I’ll make sure it’s there, though.

      • I am a member of the Baptist church at Rumley . Please stop in and see our little historical church. Our Sunday school begins at 10:00 and church begins at 11:00. . You are always welcomed at the Rumley Baptist church. Hope to see you there and God bless

  9. I’m looking for more information on Rumley and the other 20-30 all-Black towns in Ohio. Let’s collaborate. Join my group on FaceBook “The Center of Pan-African Culture.”

  10. Fascinating little town with an amazing wealth of history! I’m trying to attribute a merchant token that is supposedly from a Rumley-born man named “George H. “. I’ve been told that he is listed in the 1920 census as being from Rumley…perhaps he ran a general store there or in a neighboring community?? Can anyone recall this person? Thanks, Jim

  11. I am currently writing my thesis about the disappearance of several communities of free blacks in southwestern Ohio, Rumley being one of them. Thus far I have identified six communities within 90 miles of one another that all disappeared. Rumley, Ohio is approximately in the middle. I’d be happy to pass on any information I come across, but I have my own suspicions/fears as to why these communities vanished. Anyone who has any information on this topic is definitely someone I would like to talk with.

  12. I have several scrapbooks full of Rumley history and pictures. Feel free to contact me. Many descendants headed towards Lima, Ohio to factory jobs according local history. I, personally know several families still around from that settlement.

    • Hello,
      Do you have any info. on a Rumley merchant named “George H. Neofes”? Trying to find out when he was in business, type of business, photo’s, etc.

  13. My great-great grandfather Jacob Graybill moved to Rumley from York County Pennsylvania in 1845. He was a carpenter during the summer, and, although he was almost totally self-taught, he became a schoolteacher. He eventually moved from Rumley in 1852.

    • Hello, Jacob Graybill was also my great-great grandfather. His Daugther Margaret Elizabeth married Thomas D Jones. They lived in Stark County. They had a son named Leroy Jones who married Florence Koehn. They had a daughter named Ruth Shirley, she is my mother. I have information stating that he actually taught Custer.

  14. I am a member of Cyrene AME church in Piqua , Ohio and as a child I remember our church going to Rumley in the summers for service and then we would have a picnic outside on the grass. It was something our church looked forward to. I remember how nice the people were and how much fun it was. They were called our sister church.

  15. Some of my own ancestors – the Vires family also lived in Rumley. My 5th great grandfather – William Vires has a headstone in the cemetery. He died in 1878.

    Most of the black settlements in Ohio did not disintegrate due to racial agitation or being run out of town. I have discovered through my research that the basis of them leaving the towns was primarily one of economics like most migrations of black Americans to this day. Many of the residents moved to more urbanized areas for better opportunities for work or education.

    William Vires’ daughter, my 4th great grandmother married and later moved to Gallia. Her daughter Hannah Rebecca moved to the Longtown Settlement of SW Ohio after her marriage. All of these towns were relatively close to each other. Longtown is one of the last (if not “the” last) remaining “colored settlements” still in existence today.

    William Vires’ father – Benjamin was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. They moved to Ohio from Virginia, like many free people of color to escape the threat of enslavement in southern states. Since Ohio and the Great Lakes region was known as the old Great Northwest, kind of like a wild west, there is evidence that shows that they felt they would be safer in Ohio.

    William Vires died in 1878 and it seems the family left Shelby County aftwards for various locations throughout Ohio and Michigan, but primarily industrial centers, after his death.

    There is a picture of Mary on my blog taken approximately 1905 when she was an elderly woman at

  16. Forgot to mention that many of these old black settlements were “stops” on the Underground Railroad in Ohio. Contrary to what many believe, free black people were highly involved in the operation of the Underground Railroad and it is now being revealed that they were the primary “administrators” of sorts in the UGGR, which is enlightening and interesting information.

    I discovered, once starting to seriously pursue genealogical research that all of my “free” lines (I have quite a few of them) all lived in communities known for UGGR activity. Also a large amount of whites in Ohio were sympathetic to the cause of abolition and also participated in the UGGR in these communities.

  17. A new book written by a descendant of Joel Weslyn Goings that details what is known about these settlements and the Goings clan is out. The title of the book is:
    Rowe J. E. (2017). Invisible in Plain Sight: Self-Determination Strategies of Free Blacks in the Old Northwest. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

    Abstract: This monograph focuses on the migration patterns of free blacks from Virginia to the Old Northwest. It provides documentation of the social lives, health seeking traditions, institutional building, and social histories of the four free black villages-Rumley, Wren, Carthagena, Middle Creek–they founded in Northwestern Ohio during the Western Expansion Movements beginning in 1820. The project analyzes the role of structural constraints in the form of legislative acts and public policies. It provides a people’s social history of free blacks and their relationships with indigenous people, whites, newly emancipated blacks, and runaway enslaved people in antebellum Virginia and Northwestern Ohio. Self-determination strategies are revealed from the institutions they founded, family connections, interactions with others in the surrounding black communities and health seeking traditions that bound these rural communities together. Throughout the process, migrating blacks were often faced with terroristic acts from local whites. Through the people’s narrative we get a firsthand perspective of their agency throughout the process.

    One of the key findings from this study was that these settlers and their villages were active participants in the Underground Railroad Movement. Local whites continually complained about their existence stating that they “sheltered runaway slaves” which violated the laws of the time.

  18. Thank you for your information about Rumley.I often wondered what happened to that place. I was just a child when our church would go there and I remember we took food and ate on the grass after church. We at ,CYRENE AME in Piqua, Ohio called them our sister church.

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