Readers suggest many Lexington historic figures worthy of honoring

August 1, 2015
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Some readers suggested a monument to blacks who fought for the Union during the Civil War, many of whom were trained at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County.

 

Public art starts conversations, and the debate over two statues of local Confederate heroes has started some great discussions about other figures from Lexington’s history who are worthy of honor and remembrance.

I mentioned several in a column three weeks ago and I asked readers for more. I got many good suggestions, including Mary Todd Lincoln, artist Matthew Jouett and John Bradford, an early Lexington publisher, education advocate and civic leader.

I especially liked the suggestions I received for honoring notable black men and women from the past whose accomplishments against great odds have often been overlooked.

Yvonne Giles, an authority on local black history, liked my suggestion of Mary E. Britton (1855-1925), the city’s first black woman physician. Britton also was a journalist, teacher, social reformer and civil rights activist.

Julia Britton Hooks

Julia Britton Hooks

Giles noted that Britton’s sister, Julia Britton Hooks (1852-1942), was equally deserving. Like her sister a graduate of Berea College, she became Berea’s first black faculty member, teaching instrumental music. She later moved to Memphis, married Charles Hooks and opened a music school. Blues legend W.C. Handy was among her students. Selma Lewis wrote a 1986 biography of Hooks, The Angel of Beale Street.

In 1909, Hooks became a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — an organization led by her grandson, Benjamin Hooks, from 1977 to 1992.

Their brother, Tom Britton (1870-1901), was a successful jockey. Lexington has recently honored two great black jockeys, Isaac Murphy (1861-1896) with a park and Oliver Lewis (1856-1924) with a street.

Another great black jockey worthy of honor is Jimmy Winkfield (1882-1974), whose fascinating life story was chronicled in the 2006 book Black Maestro, by New York Times racing writer Joe Drape.

Giles suggested several accomplished black women from Lexington’s past, including E. Belle Jackson (1848-1942), who led creation of the Colored Orphan Industrial Home, now the Robert H. Williams Cultural Center on Georgetown Street.

Charlotte Dupuy (1787-after 1866) was a slave owned by Henry Clay. She sued him for her freedom in 1829, when they were living in Washington, D.C. and he was secretary of state. The gutsy Dupuy lost her legal case, but Clay eventually freed her.

Giles also suggested “Aunt Charlotte,” whose full name and years of life are unknown. She came to Lexington as a slave in the late 1700s and became free when her owners died. She sold baked goods at the public market. She is best known for buying the one-year vagrancy indenture of a white man, William “King” Solomon, in 1833 and setting him free. He was a drunk who soon became a local hero for burying victims of cholera epidemic.

Several black women educators are worthy of honor, Giles said. Among them: Elizabeth Cook Fouse (1875-1952), founder of the Phillis Wheatley YWCA in Lexington; and Fannie Hathaway White (1870-1958), a longtime teacher, principal and education advocate.

White was the sister of Isaac S. Hathaway (1872-1967) a sculptor who was the first black man to design a U.S. coin. He created images for the Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver half dollars.

Several readers suggested balancing Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s statue outside the old courthouse with a monument honoring black Union soldiers, who trained at Camp Nelson and fought in all combat branches during the Civil War.

Garrett Morgan

Garrett Morgan

Rab Hagin, a Lexington journalist, suggested several of those soldiers whose quotes would be appropriate for a monument, including this one from Sgt. Maj. Thomas Boswell of the 116th U.S. Colored Infantry: “We are Kentucky boys, and there is no regiment in the field that ever fought better.”

Several readers suggested Charles Young (1864-1922), who was born into slavery near Maysville, became the third black graduate of West Point and the first black Army colonel. He likely would have become a general were it not for racism among his fellow officers. A community center on East Third Street is named for him.

I have always thought Thomas Hunt Morgan, one of the most influential American scientists of the 20th century, was more worthy of a statue than his Confederate uncle. But there also is black man worth considering, whose father was one of the general’s slaves — and may also have been his son.

Garrett A. Morgan (1877-1963) was an inventor and entrepreneur who created and marketed a smoke-protection safety hood for firefighters that saved many lives and a chemical solution for straightening hair. He also designed an unsuccessful version of an early traffic signal.


Now that we’re talking about statues, who else should we honor?

July 14, 2015
Mayor Jim Gray has asked the city's Arts Review Board to study, take comments and make recommendations about this 1911 statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan and an 1887 statue of John C. Breckinridge outside the old Fayette County Courthouse. Photo by Tom Eblen

Mayor Jim Gray has asked the city’s Arts Review Board to study, take comments and make recommendations about this 1911 statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan and an 1887 statue of John C. Breckinridge outside the old Fayette County Courthouse. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

One consensus that seemed to emerge from last week’s public forum on local Confederate statues and symbols of slavery was that Lexington’s history should be presented in a more accurate and complete way.

Mayor Jim Gray opened the forum organized by the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning by announcing he had asked the city’s Arts Review Board to study, gather comments and make recommendations about the placement and presentation of two controversial statues and an historical marker about slavery outside the old Fayette County Courthouse.

The statues are of Confederate Gens. John Hunt Morgan and John C. Breckinridge, also a former U.S. vice president, who lived in Lexington. The statues were erected in 1911 and 1887, respectively, at the behest of Confederate memorial groups with considerable funding from taxpayers. The slavery marker was erected in 2003 and paid for by Kappa Alpha Psi, a black fraternity.

Several people spoke against the statues at the forum, saying they should be moved or removed. But I thought the wisest comments came from panelist Yvonne Giles, who knows more about and has done more to promote black history in Lexington than perhaps anyone.

“Rather than spending money moving statues, create new ones that tell the rest of the story,” Giles said. “African Americans were crucial to the development of Lexington.”

“We wouldn’t be talking about it if it weren’t for those monuments,” she added. “Public art creates conversations.”

Giles named a couple of black Lexingtonians worth memorializing, and I can think of several more. I also can think of several great women from Lexington history — and white men who did not fight for the Confederacy.

What other people from Lexington’s history do you think are worth honoring and remembering? Comment on this column online, or send me an email.

For the sake of this exercise, let’s keep the nominations to people who are no longer living. In fact, I like the state Historic Properties Advisory Commission’s rule that people honored with monuments should have been dead for at least 40 years so their place in history can be more accurately assessed.

Here are some names I would suggest:

William Wells Brown (1814-1884) the first black American to publish a novel, a travelogue, a song book and a play. He also wrote three volumes of black history, including the first about black military service in the Civil War. He then became a physician, and he did all of this after escaping slavery. Brown said he was born in Lexington, but new research shows he probably came from Montgomery County.

Lewis Hayden (1811-1889) was born into slavery in Lexington, escaped and settled in Boston, where he became a famous activist against slavery. After the Civil War, he also worked for black education and women’s suffrage. Like Brown, his dramatic life story would make a great movie.

Mary E. Britton (1855-1925) was Lexington’s first and, for many years, only licensed black female doctor. Educated at Berea College, she also was a journalist and influential civil rights and women’s rights activist.

Madeline McDowell Breckinridge (1872-1920) was a social reformer from Lexington whose many causes included women’s suffrage, juvenile justice reform, tuberculosis treatment, job training, parks and recreation.

Laura Clay (1849-1941) of Lexington was another nationally known advocate for women’s suffrage and equal rights. At the 1920 Democratic National Convention, she became the first women nominated for president by a major political party.

Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866-1945) was the first Kentuckian to win a Nobel Prize, in 1933 for medicine. More than that, he was one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century because of his research into genetics and embryology and his approach to scientific experimentation. And, by the way, he was the Confederate general’s nephew.

I can think of several others, but that’s a good start. Send me your ideas. If I get enough good ones, I’ll write about them.

Statues of bronze and stone are not the only ways to memorialize notable people with public art. One of my favorite additions to the downtown skyline is Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra’s colorful 2013 mural of Abraham Lincoln on the back wall of the Kentucky Theatre.

Kentuckians of all genders and races have made important contributions, not only to this city and state but to civilization. It is important to remember them not just because of what they did, but for the examples they provide for what is possible.


History shouldn’t be erased, but made more accurate and complete

July 4, 2015
The statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan outside the old Fayette County Courthouse was erected in 1911 as part of a well-organized Confederate memorial movement. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The statue of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan was erected in front of the old Fayette County Courthouse in 1911 at the behest of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Taxpayers paid $7,500 of the $15,000 cost after private fundraising efforts fell short. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

I went to see Gone With The Wind last week at the Kentucky Theatre, the same place where I saw it the first time almost five decades ago.

The 1939 movie is a classic, and quite entertaining. As a credible account of history, though, it is laughable. Given modern views about racial equality, parts of it are downright offensive.

What I knew this time, but not the first, was that Gone With The Wind was the ultimate expression of how the Civil War’s losers fought long and hard to win the battle for collective memory.

By spinning history and erecting hundreds of monuments across the South, Confederate veterans, their descendants and sympathizers sought to sanitize, romanticize and mythologize the rebel legacy. It became a noble “lost cause” of gallant cavaliers, Southern belles, moonlight and magnolias.

Most Confederate soldiers did not own slaves but fought out of loyalty to their state. But the ugly fact is that the Confederacy’s main goals were to preserve an economy based on slavery and a society grounded in white supremacy.

As Robert Penn Warren, the grandson of a Confederate veteran, wrote in his great 1961 essay, The Legacy of the Civil War, “When one is happy in forgetfulness, facts get forgotten.”

As desegregation and civil rights began roiling America in the 1940s, many Southern whites embraced Confederate symbolism again, with a nasty twist. They added the battle flag on their state flags, flew it from public buildings and waved it in defiance.

Over the next half-century, discrimination was outlawed and racism became less socially acceptable. Confederate symbolism became more benign — at least to white people. Many now see the rebel flag as a symbol of “heritage not hate” and of regional pride and identity.

Besides, since so many outsiders look down on Southerners, we like being rebels, with or without a cause.

But the racist massacre at a Charleston, S.C., church has forced us to confront the fact that the Confederate flag has been tainted by racism as surely as the ancient swastika was by Nazism.

We also are re-evaluating the propriety of state-sanctioned monuments to the Confederacy. Should they stay, or should they go? It’s a complicated question.

A CNN/ORC poll surveyed 1,017 Americans last week and found that 57 percent see the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride, 33 percent see it as a symbol of racism and 5 percent see it as both. But there was a stark racial divide: while 66 percent of whites think it symbolizes pride, only 17 percent of blacks see it that way.

Interestingly, though, a majority of both blacks and whites said they were against renaming streets and highways that honor Confederate leaders.

That finding is pertinent to Kentucky, a divided slave state that remained in the union but embraced Confederate identity after the war, amid decades of racist violence.

What should be done with the Jefferson Davis statue in the state Capitol rotunda? Move it to a museum.

The physical heart of state government should be a place to honor Kentuckians of the past whose lives and ideals set examples for the future. There are many more worthy of that honor than the Confederate president.

What about the statues beside the old Fayette County courthouse of Gen. John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate raider, and John C. Breckinridge, a former U.S. vice president who became a Confederate general and secretary of war?

The Davis statue, placed in the Capitol in 1936, and Morgan statue, placed on what was then the courthouse lawn in 1911, have similar histories: they were erected at the behest of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Breckinridge’s statue went up in 1887. State taxpayers subsidized the cost of all three statues.

The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning will host a free public forum at 6 p.m. Tuesday to discuss these issues. Mayor Jim Gray is to be among the speakers.

To me, these two monuments present a more complicated situation than the Davis statue. The old courthouse is no longer a seat of government, but a space used to commemorate Lexington’s history. For better or worse, those men, their statues and the forces that put them there are significant parts of that history.

This is what I would do: leave Morgan where he is, but rewrite the historical marker to say that some thought he was a hero while others considered him a terrorist. And explain that this statue played a big role in the influential Confederate memorial movement.

As for Breckinridge, I would move him to the back of the old courthouse lawn. That is where, in 2003, a long-overdue historical marker was placed to explain that one-fourth of Lexington’s residents were held in bondage by 1860, and this was the spot where slaves were publicly whipped.

At the Main Street entrance to Cheapside park, where Breckinridge now stands, I would erect a significant memorial to those slaves and the abolitionists who fought for their freedom. It also should explain that Cheapside was once one of the South’s leading slave markets.

History should not be erased or forgotten, because it holds important lessons for the present and future. But we owe it to ourselves to make the retelling of that history accurate and complete.

  • If you go
  • What: Forum on race, Lexington’s history with slavery and Confederate statuary and symbolsWhen: 6-8 p.m. July 7
  • Where: Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, 251 W. Second St.
  •  More information: Carnegiecenterlex.org or (859) 254-4175

Here’s the local hero a forward-looking Lexington should celebrate

October 18, 2014

What holds Lexington back? Well, for one thing, we celebrate the wrong member of the Hunt-Morgan family.

That may sound trivial, but it’s not.

In my work, I talk with some of Lexington’s most innovative people. They are behind many of the exciting things now happening in this city. Privately, though, many say they feel as if they are swimming against the tide. Lexington resists change, is too comfortable with the status quo.

Lexington loves to celebrate its history, and rightfully so. But the value of studying history is not to dwell on the past; it is to better understand the present and find inspiration for the future.

As a boy growing up here in the 1960s, I considered Gen. John Hunt Morgan a local hero. The Confederate cavalry raider was the star of the Hunt-Morgan House museum, his mother’s home on Gratz Park. His statue was on the courthouse lawn.

But the more I learn about Morgan, the less I respect him. He stole horses and burned towns, all to further a cause that wanted to break up the nation and keep black people in slavery. To my adult mind, that’s not hero material.

Morgan was a colorful, controversial character, and if Civil War buffs want to celebrate him, that’s fine. I would never want to see his statue removed from what is now the old courthouse lawn, because he is a significant figure in our history.

THMBut it is a shame he is more famous and celebrated here than his nephew, Thomas Hunt Morgan, a pioneering scientist and the first Kentuckian to win a Nobel Prize.

Thomas Hunt Morgan came along two years after his uncle’s death in a Civil War ambush. He was born in the Hunt-Morgan House on Sept. 25, 1866 and grew up behind it, in another family home facing Broadway.

That house was in the news last week. The Woman’s Club of Central Kentucky has deeded it to the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation, which plans to restore it for programming and events.

I was vaguely aware of Morgan’s accomplishments, but I didn’t fully understand his significance until I read an essay Tom Kimmerer, a Lexington forest scientist, wrote recently for the website Planetexperts.com.

“Thomas Hunt Morgan was to become the most important biologist of his time, and laid the foundations for all of modern biology,” he wrote.

After a childhood of collecting birds’ eggs and fossils, Morgan earned degrees from the University of Kentucky and Johns Hopkins University. He spent 24 years doing pioneering embryology research at Bryn Mawr College. He joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1904 and the California Institute of Technology in 1928.

Morgan exhibited the best traits of scientific skepticism. He didn’t just theorize, he experimented. His work challenged, and eventually affirmed, two major concepts of biological science: Darwin’s theory of natural selection and Mendel’s ideas about genetics.

At Columbia, Morgan used fruit flies in sophisticated experiments to explain how genetics and evolution work. He showed that chromosomes carry genes and are the mechanical basis of heredity.

“He did not believe any biological theory unless he could test it,” Kimmerer wrote. “Almost every biological scientist working today is the beneficiary of Thomas Hunt Morgan’s approach to research.”

Morgan won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933 and wrote seven books, all now classics of science. He died in 1945.

Kimmerer and I were talking recently about how Morgan may be one of the most accomplished Kentuckians in history. UK’s biological sciences building is named for him, and there is a state historical marker outside his boyhood home.

But I’ll bet if you asked most people in Lexington who Thomas Hunt Morgan was, they wouldn’t know.

Kimmerer has a great idea: Lexington should start planning now to celebrate 2016 as the year of Thomas Hunt Morgan, because it will be the 150th anniversary of his birth. This celebration could showcase Lexington as a city of modern scientific education, research and commercialization.

There could be Thomas Hunt Morgan banners on Main Street, exhibits and school science fairs. There could be a lecture series about his work, as well as the scientific research now being done in Lexington or by Kentuckians elsewhere.

Perhaps the Kentucky Theatre could show The Fly Room, a new scientifically accurate movie set in Morgan’s Columbia University lab, and invite filmmaker Alexis Gambis to come and speak. The film’s set, a recreation of that lab, was on display in New York this summer. Could it be brought here?

Could this attention help the Blue Grass Trust raise money to restore Morgan’s house? Could the Fayette County Public Schools’ STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Mathematics) Academy be named for him?

A statue of Thomas Hunt Morgan on the new Courthouse Plaza would certainly be appropriate. He should be a local hero, an example to future generations that a kid born in Lexington can grow up to change the world.


Ashland marks 150th anniversary of Lexington’s odd Civil War battle

September 25, 2012

 

Lexington played a central role in the lives of leaders on both sides of the Civil War. Union and Confederate troops each occupied the city. Yet, there was only one significant military engagement in Fayette County, and some aspects of it were almost comical.

Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate will mark the 150th anniversary of that battle with four events during the next month.

The first is a Civil War “living history” day Saturday at the 17-acre estate, where most of the fighting occurred. A dozen re-enactors will drill, fire cannons and play period music, cook and quilt.  There will be special tours of the mansion and performances by actors portraying statesman Henry Clay, slave Lotty Dupuy and Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan.

Violinist Itzhak Perlman will perform in concert with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra on Sunday. The Henry Clay Memorial Foundation will award Perlman the Henry Clay Medallion.

The other events are a Civil War Ball on Oct. 13 at Christ Church Cathedral, where Clay worshiped, and a speakers panel Oct. 21 with historians James Klotter, Lindsey Apple, Kent Masterson Brown and UK textile professor Kim Spillman, who will talk about reenactors and their costumes.

Ashland isn’t trying to compete with larger Civil War re-enactments at Perryville and Richmond, the sites of more significant battles, said curator Eric Brooks.

“Our goal is to provide something that will help people understand what was going on in this community,” he said. “That was living life under occupation, living life in which you and your siblings might be on opposite sides.”

Before his death in 1852, Clay spent much of his career in Congress forging compromises over slavery to try to prevent the Civil War. But war came anyway, and it literally reached his family’s doorstep at dawn Oct. 18, 1862.

After the battle of Perryville, on Oct. 8, most Confederate forces began withdrawing to Tennessee. Morgan, a cavalry leader from Lexington, sought to protect their retreat by attacking Union troops camped behind Ashland.

Morgan had three units of troops as he crossed from Madison County into Fayette. They separated at Clay’s Ferry, with the two largest units and two pieces of artillery heading to Lexington via Richmond Road. Morgan and a smaller group went along the Kentucky River to Tates Creek Road.

Not sure of the way into town, Morgan and his brother-in-law Basil Duke knocked on a farmer’s door. Duke later wrote that, knowing many people along the river were union sympathizers, he introduced Morgan to the farmer as Frank Wolford, a well-known Union officer. It was cold and dark, and Morgan and many of his men probably were wearing blue overcoats taken from captured Union troops, said Brown, the historian.

“All the way to Lexington, this man is bad-mouthing Morgan — he ought to be shot, he’s nothing but a horse thief, on and on,” Brown said. As they get to about where Chevy Chase is now, Morgan realizes he is near Ashland and orders his men to prepare to attack.

“This guy suddenly realizes this is not a Union outfit,” Brown said. “The fellow asks, ‘Who are you?’ and Morgan says, ‘I’m John Hunt Morgan.’ The guy falls out of his saddle and starts pleading on his knees for Morgan not to kill him. The whole command breaks into laughter.”

Morgan freed the farmer, who rode home as fast as he could. The three Confederate units — about 1,800 men — surrounded and attacked the camp of 300 mostly sleeping Union soldiers behind Ashland near the corner of what is now Fincastle and Woodspoint roads. “The battle’s over in five minutes,” Brown said.

The Union soldiers were taken prisoner, as were more downtown at the Phoenix Hotel. A third group of Union troops barricaded themselves in the Fayette County Courthouse. When the Confederates brought in their artillery, “the mayor comes running, pleading with them not to blow up his courthouse,” Brown said. “He helped plead with the Union cavalry to surrender.”

Four Union solders were killed and about 20 wounded that day. The extent of Confederate casualties is unknown, with one prominent exception: Maj. George Washington Morgan, a second cousin to John Hunt Morgan, was severely wounded. Susan Clay, Henry Clay’s daughter-in-law, offered her wagon to take him to his family’s home, the Hunt Morgan House on Mill Street.

After lingering several days, Morgan asked to be propped up in a chair and given a glass of bourbon and a cigar, Brooks said, “and he would then show them how a Morgan man dies, which he did.”

If you go

Civil War Living History: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 29, Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, 120 Sycamore Rd. $10 adults, $5 ages 17 and younger.

Itzhak Perlman: In concert with University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, 7 p.m. Sept. 30, Singletary Center, 405 Rose St. $65-$85. (859) 257-4929 or Singletarycenter.com

Civil War Ball: 7-10 p.m. Oct. 13, Christ Church Cathedral, 166 Market St. $20. Formal or period attire. Reservations required: (859) 266-8581, Ext. 204, or spoole@henryclay.org

Civil War Speakers Panel: 7-9 p.m. Oct. 21, Transylvania University Haggin Auditorium. Free. Henryclay.org

Click on each thumbnail to see larger photo and read caption:

 


A short walk shows Lexington’s Civil War divisions

May 29, 2012

 

I first became fascinated with Civil War history as a boy in the 1960s, soon after the centennial celebration.

Many of the books I found in the Lexington Public Library — then located in the Carnegie building in Gratz Park — made that history seem remote. They told of epic battles in Virginia, Tennessee, Maryland and Pennsylvania. They showed pictures of Atlanta, Charleston and Richmond — the one in Virginia, not the one down the road.

I had no idea then how much Civil War history lay just beyond those library walls.

America is now in the midst of a more nuanced commemoration of the Civil War’s sesquicentennial. There is less focus on gallant cavaliers and more reflection on the causes and legacies of that terrible, transformative war.

That makes this the perfect time to take a short history walk through downtown Lexington. There are no forts or battlefields to see. But it would be hard to find another few blocks of American soil so intimately associated with the Civil War’s key political figures, central issue and deep divisions.

Begin your walk in Gratz Park at the James Lane Allen fountain. This is where Transylvania’s main building stood in the 1820s when Jefferson Davis was a student. After a couple of years, Davis transferred to West Point. He later became a U.S. senator from Mississippi and the only president of the Confederate States of America.

Transylvania’s main building burned in 1829. Years later, former student Cassius M. Clay revealed that the mysterious fire was started by his slave, who fell asleep with a candle burning while polishing his master’s shoes. Clay, the son of one of Kentucky’s largest slaveholders, became one of slavery’s most outspoken critics. In the 1840s, he published an abolitionist newspaper, The True American, from an office on Mill Street near the corner of Main.

Walk through Gratz Park to the corner of Market and Second streets. There is the Bodley-Bullock House, an 1814 mansion that served alternately as Union and Confederate headquarters when each army occupied Lexington during the Civil War.

Walk across the park to another 1814 mansion, at the corner of Second and Mill streets. It was the home of Gen. John Hunt Morgan, a cavalry raider known as the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy.” It is now a museum owned the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation. (Hours and information: BluegrassTrust.org.)

Before proceeding on Second Street, look down Mill Street toward First Presbyterian Church. It surrounds a small brick building that was the law office of Henry Clay, America’s most influential politician of the early 19th century.

Clay negotiated political compromises over the expansion of slavery that delayed the Civil War for nearly four decades. (Learn more about Clay at his Ashland estate: HenryClay.org.)

At the corner of Second and Broadway, you will see a parking lot that was the site of Transylvania University’s renowned medical school, which closed in 1857. The building burned in 1863 while being used as a Union Army hospital.

Look down Second Street and you will see a marker outside the last home of John C. Breckinridge, whose career illustrates how the Civil War divided the city and the nation. This Lexingtonian was the 14th vice president of the United States, then a presidential candidate in 1860. When war came, Breckinridge sided with the South, becoming a Confederate general and secretary of war.

Walk down Broadway toward Short Street. You will see the Opera House, built in 1886. Before the Civil War, this was the site of a business operated by W.A. Pullum, one of the city’s many “negro dealers.” Lexington was one of the South’s biggest slave-trading centers.

Take a right on Short Street, past Saints Peter & Paul School and St. Paul’s Catholic Church, and you will see a marker noting the birthplace of Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of President Abraham Lincoln. Her grandmother, Eliza Parker, lived next door. Neither house remains.

Lincoln visited his wife’s family in the fall of 1847. The man who would later abolish slavery was then a freshman congressman from Illinois, just beginning to grapple with the issue. That visit to Lexington might have given Lincoln his most close-up look at the South’s “peculiar institution.”

From the Parker house, historian William Townsend wrote, Lincoln easily could have looked past the spiked fence into Pullum’s compound, which had rows of eight-foot-square slave “pens” and a whipping post.

Follow Short Street to Jefferson Street, turn left and cross Main. The Mary Todd Lincoln House museum in a restored home where the future first lady lived from 1832, when she was 13 years old, until she moved to Illinois in 1839. (Hours and information: MTLHouse.org.)

That’s a lot of Civil War history in less than a mile.

The Fountain of Youth, a gift to the city from the estate of the writer James Lane Allen, is on the north end of Gratz Park on the site of the original building of Transylvania University.  Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, studied in that building in the 1820s before transferring to West Point.  Photos by Tom Eblen

A groundskeeper last week prepared for Transylvania University’s graduation. In the foreground is Gratz Park, the former site of Transylvania’s main building, where Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, studied in the 1820s.

 

 

The Bodley-Bullock House, built in 1814, served as headquarters for both Union and Confederate armies when control of Lexington changed hands during the Civil War. The house is across Gratz Park from Hopemont, home of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan.

Hopemont, built in 1814, was the home of Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan, a notorious cavalry raider.

Hopemont was saved from demolition by the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation in 1855 and is now a museum.

Transylvania University’s Medical Hall stood where this parking lot is now at the corner of Broadway and Second streets. The building was being used as a Union Army hospital during the Civil War when it burned in 1863.

The Lexington Opera House, built in 1886, on Broadway just north of Short Street, stands on the site that in the 1840s was Pullum’s slave jail. Abraham Lincoln’s closest personal exposure to slavery may have been seeing Pullums while visiting his wife’s grandmother, who lived on Short Street adjacent to the jail.

A plaque noting Mary Todd Lincoln’s birthplace stands outside her former home on Short Street. The house in the background replaced an earlier one that was home to her grandmother, Eliza Parker.

The Mary Todd Lincoln House is where Abraham Lincoln’s wife lived from 1832, when she was 13, until 1839, when she moved to Illinois, where she met Lincoln. The house, originally built in 1806 as an inn, is now a museum.