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Hanby House in Westerville

Benjamin Hanby & His House

The house was built in 1846 and occupied by the Hanbys from 1853 to 1870. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. The home contains furniture and personal items from the family. There is a walnut desk made by Hanby. The original plates for the first edition of Darling Nellie Gray and a large collection of sheet music and books are at the site.

Benjamin HanbyBenjamin Hanby was a music composer, most notably Darling Nellie Gray and Up On The Housetop. He was born in 1833 in Rushville, Ohio and was the son of a United Brethren minister. Hanby's father had strong abolitionist sympathies and their home in Rushville was a station on the Underground Railroad.

Hanby was deeply affected by the story of a fugitive slave who took refuge in the Hanby home in 1842 while escaping from Kentucky. Before his death from pneumonia, the slave told about his sweetheart "Nelly Gray," who had been sold into slavery in Georgia. This was the inspiration for the song Darling Nelly Gray, which Hanby composed in 1856. Weaving together the lamentations of a lover with the evils of slavery, it gained immediate popularity and became his best known song. Hanby had sent his composition to a music publishing house in Boston. When the melody swept the nation, he asked for royalties. The publisher reportedly wrote back to Hanby that he had the fame and they had the money and that balanced the account! He attended Otterbein College in Westerville where he worked for the college.

In 1865 Chicago publisher George Frederick Root published Benjamin Hanby's song Up on the Housetop and brought Hanby to Chicago to pursue other publishing ventures. However, Hanby died two years later at the age of 33 from tuberculosis while still in Chicago. Benjamin Russell Hanby is buried in Otterbein Cemetery in Westerville.

Hanby House
160 West Main Street
Westerville, OH 43081
(614) 891-6289

Darling Nellie Gray

by Benjamin Hanby

There's a low green valley
On the old Kentucky shore,
There I've whiled many happy hours away.
A sitting and a singing
By the little cottage door,
where lived my darling Nelly Gray.


Oh! My poor Nelly Gray,
They have taken you away,
And I'll never see my darling any more.
I'm a sitting by the river
And I'm weeping all the day,
For you've gone from the
Old Kentucky shore.

One night I went to see her
But "she's gone," the neighbors say,
The white man bound her with his chain,
They have taken her to Georgia
For to wear her life away,
As she toils in the cotton and the cane.