Our History

The Generations of the Kelton Family

The Kelton Stately Manor has been preserved with family artifacts from 1760- 1975. The collection includes letters, furniture, business records, paintings, furniture, china and textiles. Approximately eighty percent of the current furnishings are from the family. The collection is unusual as it highlights three generations of one family in a continuous record.  

Although the Kelton family is the only family that owned the house, one other family made 586 E. Town Street, their home. The Kelton’s held deep antislavery ideals. When Martha Hartway and her sister Pearl arrived at the Kelton house in 1864, Sophia and Fernando sheltered the fugitives . The girls had escaped slavery from a plantation in Powhaton County, Virginia and found shelter in the Kelton Home. Pearl soon left on her journey north to reach Canada but Martha stayed as she was ill. Martha was raised in the Kelton home. For more on Martha’s Stora, click here.

First Generation

The house at 586 E. Town Street stands on what was once land that belonged to the Nations of Hopewell, Myaamia (Miami), Shawandasse Tula (Shawnee), and Kaskaskia. Fernando Cortez Kelton bought the property from the United States government. In 1852 he built the home where he and his wife Sophia Stone Kelton lived and raised their children.  Fernando was in the mercantile business and was the first wholesaler in Columbus. Sophia, like many Victorian women, managed the household staff while perfecting her decorative arts skill of painting. Her granddaughter, Grace, reminisced that Sophia had a kiln in the carriage house to fire her painted dishes.

President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on April 14,1865. The Nation mourned his death for a period of three weeks with thirteen Memorial Services. Fernando’s friend and neighbor was in charge of the Columbus, Ohio Funeral on April 29, 1865. Fernando was named as a pallbearer for that solemn occasion.

The Lithograph, created by Middleton, Strobridge and Company, Cincinnati, marks the moment of the Lincoln funeral procession arriving at the Ohio State House.. The ribbon on the left is Fernando wore on his chest while the square on the bottom right was part of his armband.

2nd Generation

The second generation of Keltons to live in the house was Edwin, “Ned”, and Laura Brace Kelton. They moved into the 586 after the death of Sophia. C. 1990

The oval portrait of the Kelton girls hangs in the Kelton House. Clockwise:  Laura Brace 1878-1839, Grace Bird 1881-1975, Ella Watson 1877-1963, Louise Wilkerson 1880-1955, and Lucy Steadman 1884-1939.

3rd Generation

When Grace Kelton, the granddaughter of Fernando and Sophia, died on Christmas Day 1975, she entrusted the property to the Columbus Foundation with the stipulation that her family home be preserved and used for educational purposes. 


Grace and her family moved into the house upon the death of her grandmother Sophia in 1888. The 5 girls, Ella, Laura, Louise, Grace and Lucy were raised in the home 


Grace loved her garden and cutting flowers for the home. Her Aunt Isabelle Coit Kelton (Frank Kelton’s wife) owned the house and Grace paid her rent each month. Upon Belle’s death in 1956 at the age of 101, Grace purchased the home for $30,000  from Belle’s estate.

Kelton House facade in 1945
Front living room in 1945

1976 and Beyond

On July 4th 1976, the Junior League of Columbus (JLC) took on the task of renovating and restoring the house and garden to create a museum of 19th-century life. After 3 years of renovations, the JLC opened the doors to the Kelton House Museum in 1979. 

Today, under the care of the JLC, the Kelton House Museum & Garden is a community service program that offers house tours, special events and educational opportunities. An active volunteer program provides a training ground for individuals interested in historic preservation, the decorative arts, American History and museum management.