Bourbon tour town’s founders escaped years of Indian captivity

September 30, 2014

140922RuddlesMills0064Philip and Michele Foley on the porch of their house in Ruddles Mill, which was built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It will be open for tours Sunday. Photos by Tom Eblen 

 

RUDDLES MILL — Since Philip and Michele Foley moved here 35 years ago from Cynthiana, they have worked to restore not one but two houses built in the 1790s.

Few people would be that tenacious — or, as the Foleys say, that foolish. But tenaciousness comes naturally to this town. Its founders returned here after surviving a bloody attack and years of captivity in Shawnee villages near Detroit.

Both the elegant home where the Foleys live and a rough, stone house the town’s founder built for his son will be on tour 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday during Historic Paris-Bourbon County’s annual Fall Open House.

The tour also includes nearby Moore’s Chapel, the 1850s Greek Revival sanctuary of Ruddles Mill United Methodist Church. Tickets are $15, $10 for HPBC members. More information: hopewellmuseum.org.

Even today, few people agree on how to spell this unincorporated community of about 75 households at the confluence of Hinkston and Stoner creeks in northern Bourbon County. It goes by various singular, plural and possessive forms of Ruddle, Ruddel, Ruddell and Mill.

But there is no uncertainty about the town’s founder and namesake. Capt. Isaac Ruddell, a pioneer and Revolutionary War officer, is buried here, too, at Mouth of Stoner Presbyterian Cemetery.

140922RuddlesMills0021In 1779, Ruddell enlarged and fortified pioneer cabins built a few years earlier in a nearby area of what is now Harrison County. But the next summer, a thousand Shawnee warriors and Canadian soldiers under the command of British Capt. Henry Bird attacked Ruddell’s Station and other nearby settlements.

More than 20 settlers were killed, and dozens more men, women and children were taken prisoner, marched to Detroit and held captive for years. After their release, Ruddell and most of his family returned to Kentucky and built a mill here in 1788.

But two of Ruddell’s sons, Stephen and Abraham, had been adopted by the Shawnee and stayed with the tribe for 15 years. Stephen, who married a Shawnee woman and was a chief, rejoined white civilization and became a Baptist preacher and missionary among the Shawnee, Delaware and Wyandot tribes in Ohio and Indiana.

Abraham returned to Kentucky in 1795, and his father built him the stone house the Foleys are gradually restoring near the creek banks. Abraham Ruddell operated a saw and grist mill there for several years before moving to Arkansas and fighting in the War of 1812.

The Foleys have removed wooden additions to the house, rebuilt the chimneys and put a steel frame in the basement to keep the cellar from collapsing. “All I can say is it’s not going to fall down,” she said. “We hope to do more one of these days.”

Things are much nicer up the hill, at the Federal-style house where the Foley’s have lived since 1979. They think the main rooms, each built as a separate unit with thick brick walls, were constructed in the 1790s and early 1800s.

Making the place habitable and comfortable was a long process for them and their two daughters, who are now grown and living near Nashville and Cincinnati.

The biggest chores — aside from electricity and plumbing and restoring the original woodwork — were undoing previous owners’ “improvements”. The Foleys found the house’s original wooden mantles in a barn, but one was badly warped from years of storage. A neighbor built a wood frame to gradually bend it back into shape so it could be returned to the house.

“Every morning we would water it down and tighten the clamps until it got straight,” she said. “At one point, all of the oil paint and buttermilk paint just started popping off.”

The Foleys are retired from state government jobs. They have planted their big yard with more than 20 varieties of magnolia trees, gardens and beds for their business, Ruddles Mills Perennials and Native Plants.

It is one of the few businesses left in Ruddles Mill, which once had several mills and distilleries. The town has many early 19th century structures, most of which are still in use after multiple renovations. People here don’t give up easily.

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Uniquely Kentucky: Closing essay from Friday’s special section

September 30, 2014

abeEduardo Kobra’s mural of Abraham Lincoln in downtown Lexington, with the moon over his shoulder. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Kentucky has always been at a crossroads. Buffalo came looking for food and water. Native Americans came looking for buffalo. Pioneers and settlers came looking for land and opportunity.

Originally the Western frontier, Kentucky has been more or less at the center of the country geographically since the 1830s. Culturally, though, it remains a place unto itself. Many places, actually.

Early settlers came to the Bluegrass for fertile land and pure water to produce hemp, tobacco, strong-boned horses and good whiskey. Eastern Kentucky developed a rich, complex Appalachian culture as newer immigrants joined Anglo-Saxon settlers when railroads opened the mountains for timber and coal harvesting.

Communities along the Ohio River, long nourished by commerce, have created personalities all their own, as have those amid the farms of Southern Kentucky. Western Kentucky rolls out like a rumpled green carpet to the Jackson Purchase, encompassing many unique local cultures.

Ask someone in China what they know about Kentucky and they are likely to reply, “Kentucky Fried Chicken.” I went to church once with friends in a small Australian town and was introduced to the minister afterward. He immediately said, “Ah, the Kentucky Derby!”

The recent popularity of bourbon has given Kentucky another international claim to fame. Jimmy Russell, the master distiller at Wild Turkey, told me that when he travels to Asia, Europe and Australia he is treated like a rock star. As he should be.

Kentuckians know how to eat well. Nothing is better than Western Kentucky barbecue in the summer or spicy burgoo in the winter. Any morning that begins with country ham and biscuits is a good morning.

Louisville has the calorie-packed Hot Brown sandwich, otherwise known as “heart attack on a plate.” Want something lighter? Try benedictine, a cucumber spread long popular with Louisville ladies who lunch.

Immigration continues to enrich Kentucky’s culture and palate: Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and African. The newest menu item at the 134-year-old Fancy Farm Picnic in Graves County is barbecue nachos.

Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, as was his Confederate counterpart, Jefferson Davis. America’s greatest sports car, the Corvette, is made in Bowling Green. The stoplight was invented Garrett Morris, a black man from Paris.

Country music owes much of its sound to old-time Kentucky fiddlers and the hard-charging mandolin of Kentuckian Bill Monroe. And don’t forget Loretta Lynn, Jean Ritchie, Ricky Skaggs and Sam Bush.

Lexington’s Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning has started calling Kentucky the “literary capital of mid-America.”  Sure, it’s a big boast. But consider the evidence: Robert Penn Warren, James Still, Wendell Berry, Harriette Arnow, Bobbie Ann Mason, Barbara Kingsolver, Sue Grafton, Jesse Stuart, Silas House, William Wells Brown, Hunter S. Thompson, C.E. Morgan and too many more to mention. Outsiders may still joke that Kentuckians don’t wear shoes, but we sure can write.

That’s the good news. Now for some bad news: Kentucky lags most other states in many measures of health, education, social welfare and economic innovation.

Kentuckians tend to cling to what worked in the past rather than leveraging their unique assets, heritage, culture, location and know-how for a brighter future. We carelessly spoil beautiful landscape with strip mines and strip malls. We focus on fears instead of possibilities.

Remember what I said about Kentucky being at a crossroads?  It has never been more true than today.


New book chronicles colorful history of Kentucky’s oldest church

August 5, 2014

140730Anders-TE0022Mickey Anders, the recently retired pastor of South Elkhorn Christian Church, in the 1870 old sanctuary. He recently wrote a book about the church’s history. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Church histories are usually of little interest outside the flock. But when I heard about a new book telling the story of South Elkhorn Christian Church, I thought it would be worth a look.

The church has been located on the banks of South Elkhorn Creek — now 4343 Harrodsburg Road — since 1784. But the congregation was formed in Virginia in 1767, making it arguably the oldest in Kentucky.

“This church has an incredible story that needed to be told,” said Mickey Anders, who recently retired as pastor and is the author of An Ever Flowing Stream ($18, Amazon.com). “I felt like this could be my legacy gift to the church.”

Earlier books, in 1933 and 1983, had told some of the history. But Anders thought he could do a better job with the wealth of information now available on the Internet. It helped that he had access to almost all of the church governing board’s minutes going back to 1817.

Lewis Craig started Upper Spotsylvania Baptist Church near Fredericksburg, Va., in 1767. But he and other Baptist preachers soon angered officials of the Anglican Church, the government-sanctioned religion of colonial Virginia.

Craig was jailed for his preaching, and Patrick Henry is said to have interceded to free him. Craig soon led his congregation over the Appalachian Mountains to Kentucky in what became known as “The Traveling Church.”

Colonial Virginia’s persecution of Craig and other Baptists was a big reason framers of the U.S. Constitution in 1787 included the First Amendment, which guarantees the freedoms of speech, religion and the press.

Craig’s brother, Elijah, was also a Baptist minister who came to Kentucky. But he is more famous as an early distiller of bourbon whiskey. “We’re probably the only church with whiskey on display in our history cabinet,” Anders said, pointing to a couple of bottles of Elijah Craig bourbon amid other artifacts.

The church’s attitudes toward some social behavior have changed over time, Anders said.

South Elkhorn paid its second pastor on one occasion with 36 gallons of whiskey, and he was expected to keep an ample supply on hand for guests. A few decades later, the church dismissed members for excessive drinking. Now, Anders said, alcohol is usually “not an issue.”

Two South Elkhorn members were reprimanded for betting on horse races in 1895. A year ago, Anders preached the funeral of church member Robert Moore, a Thoroughbred trainer who broke four Kentucky Derby winners.

Lewis Craig and other early members owned slaves, who attended church with their masters. The 1819 minutes included this entry: “Lucy (Capt. Berry’s woman) charged with fornication and murdering her own infant. The church took up the matter and excluded her for the same.” Anders wonders: Was it her master’s baby?

South Elkhorn reached peak membership in 1801 during the so-called Second Great Awakening. The most famous of those revivals was at Cane Ridge in Bourbon County, but on the same day, 10,000 people gathered at South Elkhorn.

Anders was especially fascinated by 19th century theological disputes, which now seem esoteric but then caused bitter divisions in congregations and even families. They led to a split in South Elkhorn’s congregation in 1822.

“Reading the minutes, it was difficult to tell what the fight was about,” Anders said. “It took me months to piece together that it was really over Calvinism and Arminianism,” two views of Christian theology.

The Elkhorn Baptist Association expelled its mother church over theological differences in 1831. South Elkhorn became an independent Church of Christ and later affiliated with the Disciples of Christ denomination. Over the next century, congregational disputes would involve everything from instrumental music to evolution.

After the 1830s, the area’s religious center of gravity moved to a growing Lexington. South Elkhorn spent the next 150 years as a “sleepy little country church,” Anders said. It didn’t even have complete indoor plumbing until 1961, when the men’s outhouse mysteriously burned down one Sunday morning.

South Elkhorn began growing again in the 1980s, when it was surrounded by Palomar, Firebrook and other new subdivisions. In 1985, a larger worship center was built beside the historic 1870 sanctuary.

“I think it’s a story worth telling,” Anders said. “It connects with so much of Lexington’s history, with the nation’s history, with the history of religion in the area.”

 


Expert to speak March 19 about iconic Kentucky long rifles

March 11, 2014

140307KyRifles0002Two of the finely crafted Kentucky long rifles and a powder horn that were part of the Kentucky Treasures exhibit last weekend at the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation’s Antiques & Garden Show. Below, Mel Hankla.  Photos by Tom Eblen

 

The Kentucky long rifle has been an icon for two centuries, thanks in part to the myth and folklore that grew up around the taming of America’s early Western frontier.

But recently, the best surviving examples of these weapons have been attracting attention for another reason: They are impressive works of art and craftsmanship.

“For art collectors, this represents a new frontier,” said Mel Hankla of Grayson, who has been researching Kentucky rifles for more than three decades.

He will give a lecture about them at noon on March 19 at the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort. Admission is $25, or $20 for Kentucky Historical Society members. Reservations must be made by March 14; call (502) 564-1792, ext. 4414.

140307KyRifles0001Most of the long-barreled flintlocks that pioneers and settlers brought into Kentucky during the last half of the 18th century were made in southeastern Pennsylvania, where German gunsmiths pioneered the technology. They were called “Kentucky rifles” because that was where they were used.

But Hankla’s research has focused the fact that some of finest of these rifles were actually made in Kentucky, between about 1790 and 1840.

Hankla, 56, is a broker in early Americana and an actor who portrays pioneers George Rogers Clark and Simon Kenton in the Kentucky Humanities Council’s Chautauqua series. He also starred in Michael Breeding’s film, Cassius Marcellus Clay: An Audacious American, on Kentucky Educational Television last year.

Hankla has always been fascinated by firearms and Kentucky’s pioneer era. As a graduate student, he learned how to make black-powder guns. Since then, he has investigated the handful of gunsmiths who made long rifles, tracing their development and movement into Kentucky from Virginia and North Carolina.

“It is an art form that is unknown even to most experienced collectors,” said Bob Noe, a major collector of early Kentucky furniture whose pieces are now at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville. “Mel has pioneered this work.”

“These are decorative arts,” said Mack Cox, another major collector of early Kentucky furniture and paintings who owns several rifles. “This artistic tradition is important to Kentucky culture, and more Kentuckians should know about it.”

Cox said Kentucky rifles are especially impressive as art objects because gunsmiths had to master many different skills, from steel-making to wood-carving to brass, gold and silver inlay work.

Kentucky rifles were essential tools of survival for frontiersmen. They also became status symbols; a man’s most valued possession.

There were families of Kentucky gunsmiths: Rudolph Mauck and his sons, Henry Peter Mauck and Daniel Mock; Conrad Humble and his brother, Michael, who made Daniel Boone’s rifle; William Young and his son, Jacob; and William Bryan, a founder of Bryan’s Station, and his son, Daniel, who owned Waveland.

Only two guns signed by Daniel Bryan, who was Boone’s nephew, are known to exist, Hankla said. Other Bryan-style guns are unsigned because the family had a large shop with as many as 25 gunsmiths, each making a different part of rifles, much like a modern assembly line.

Hankla has studied geography, genealogy and similarities in rifle design to figure out how gunsmiths were related and who may have apprenticed with whom.

As with the gunsmiths, families sometimes fabricated the elaborate scrimshawed cattle horns that were used to store gunpowder. The most famous family of powder-horn makers was the Tansels of Scott County.

At the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation’s Antiques & Garden Show last weekend, Hankla showed perhaps the largest display of fine Kentucky rifles ever assembled: 18 guns and 12 powder horns borrowed from eight collections.

Hankla said there are probably fewer than 50 surviving examples of early, fancy Kentucky-made rifles. At least two of those in his display last weekend had histories as impressive as their craftsmanship.

One was the state-owned rifle that Jacob Young made about 1800 for pioneer leader William Whitley. An eyewitness says Whitley used it to kill the Indian chief Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames during the War of 1812. Whitley also died in that battle. His horse, rifle and carved powder horn were returned to his widow, Esther, who was said to have been as good a shot as he was.

Thomas Simpson, who likely was Jacob Young’s teacher, made a rifle for Col. Gasper Mansker in 1791 that may have been the result of a boast Simpson made in the Kentucky Gazette the year before. He wrote the newspaper that he could make a rifle as fine as any man in the United States. Hankla now owns it.

The Chickasaw chief Piomingo was so impressed with Mansker’s rifle that he wrote Gen. James Robertson, the Indian agent and founder of Nashville, asking if the U.S. government would have Simpson make him one in return for his peace efforts. When Piomingo died in 1799, that rifle was buried with him.


Like much of local black history, 1920s blues song a surprise

February 23, 2014

February is Black History Month, and this is the third year I have written one column a week during the month about Kentucky black history.

I’ve always found history interesting, but working on these pieces has been a special treat, because much of this information is new to both me and most Herald-Leader readers.

While I do some of the research myself, I get a lot of help from professional and amateur historians, both black and white. Like me, they have become fascinated with this rich vein of history that until recent years was rarely explored or publicized.

Special thanks this year to these sources for research, ideas and other information:

  • Yvonne Giles, an amateur historian who has become an authority on Lexington black history. Her extensive research on the Lexington Colored Fair was invaluable.
  • Maureen Peters, a Lexington architect, who pointed me to outstanding research that she and her friend, the architectural historian Rebecca McCarley, had done on brick mason and entrepreneur Henry Tandy and his son, architect Vertner Woodson Tandy.
  • Thomas Tolliver, a former Herald-Leader reporter who lives in the East End and is passionate about preserving its history.
  • Former State Sen. Georgia Powers of Louisville, who generously shared her own story and information about how the 1964 March on Frankfort was organized.
  • Former State Sen. Joe Graves of Lexington, another March on Frankfort organizer, who candidly discussed how the civil rights movement influenced his life and the white community.
  • The Kentucky Historical Society.

As a postscript, Kakie Urch, an assistant professor in the University of Kentucky’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications and a radio host on WRFL, sent me a 1920s blues song I had never heard of before: The Lexington Kentucky Blues, by Papa Charlie Jackson.

Click on the video below to hear Jackson singing about coming to Lexington to play at the Colored Fair, seeing the great racehorse Man O’ War, going to the races, spending time on Limestone Street and meeting J. Rice Porter, the Colored Fair’s president from 1926-28. It sounds as if he had a great time.

Like much of local black history before I started this project, the Lexington Kentucky Blues was new to me.

 

 


Lexington Colored Fair was once a top national event

February 23, 2014

A photo of the 1920 Colored Fair was found by Lonnie Winn of Lexington among family items. File Photo. Below, program from the 1882 fair. Courtesy Kentucky Historical Society.

 

Three and a half years after Kentucky abolished slavery, a group of black Lexington men led by Henry King decided they wanted to showcase the progress their race was making with freedom.

They called a mass meeting for Aug. 11, 1869, and organized the Agricultural and Mechanical Association of Colored People. Selling 50 shares of stock for $10 each, they raised enough money to organize the first Lexington Colored Fair.

Fairs and expositions were popular events after the Civil War, providing entertainment, sport, socializing and a showcase for people’s agricultural, mechanical and artistic accomplishments. But in the South, blacks were often excluded.

“So they decided to have their own fair,” said Yvonne Giles, an authority on Lexington black history who runs the Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum at the Robert H. Williams Cultural Center, 644 Georgetown Street.

Because the Lexington Colored Fair ended during World War II, many people have forgotten about it. But Giles’ research has discovered that it was one of the nation’s largest and most successful black fairs, attracting as many as 40,000 people each year.

140219ColoredFair1The first fair was held Oct. 6-9, 1869, in “Mrs. Graves’ Woods” — 25 acres of rented farmland between Newtown and Georgetown roads. The association’s charter specified that no drinking or gambling was allowed at the fair.

Fair organizers tried to lease the Kentucky Association racetrack for the same price as the annual white fair paid, but the track’s board refused. Lexington’s white newspapers were initially dismissive of the fair, opining that blacks had little time or money for such frivolity.

“We hope for the sake of all concerned that sobriety and good order will prevail,” the Lexington Observer & Reporter wrote. But when the fair ended, the newspaper reluctantly acknowledged its success: “Everything went on peaceably and pleasantly.”

The first fair made a profit of $1,368 — big money in that era — and each year’s event got bigger and better. By 1872, the fair had expanded from four to five days and added horse racing.

The association took a 15-year lease on a larger parcel on Georgetown Road, now a commercial neighborhood near Oakwood subdivision. A state historical marker commemorates the spot.

The association built an exhibit hall, a 2,500-seat amphitheater, stables and a half-mile racetrack. But the fair quickly outgrew that site, too, as railroads offered special fares to Lexington for fairgoers throughout Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana.

The association negotiated a lease with Lexington’s white fairgrounds, now the site of The Red Mile trotting track and Floral Hall. These fairgrounds had an 8,000-seat grandstand and were served by streetcar lines. Beginning in 1887, this would be the Lexington Colored Fair’s permanent home.

The fair flourished in part because it paid generous prizes for exhibit entries, and big purses for Thoroughbred and trotting races, Giles said.

By the early 1900s, the big race was the mile and one-sixteenth Colored Fair Derby, which attracted top trainers and jockeys. The winner received $400 and a silver trophy. The association became the first black organization admitted to membership in the National Trotting Association, that sport’s governing body.

Good prizes attracted top competitors, and the Colored Fair didn’t discriminate.

“Often the exhibits of the best white people compete for the prizes,” W.D. Johnson wrote in his 1897 book, Biographical Sketches of Prominent Negro Men and Women of Kentucky.

When its charter expired in 1896, the association reorganized to allow the original stockholders or their widows to cash out shares at more than 10 times their purchase price. The reorganization also attracted a new generation of black men and women to invest their money and energies in the fair.

“The display booths, livestock shows, prizes and sporting events served to demonstrate black achievement, thereby enhancing racial pride,” Marion Lucas wrote in his 1992 book, A History of Blacks in Kentucky.

Adults competed for prizes in livestock, fruits, vegetables, wines, honeys, hams, workmanship and manufacturing skills. For women, there were contests for sewing, baking, canning, floral displays and needlework. There were three educational categories for children: essays, penmanship and painting.

Over the years, the fair offered airplane rides, balloon ascensions, military bands, beauty contests, bicycle races, trained dog acts and daredevil shows, such as one in 1907 called the Double Death Gap Flumes and Loop.

In 1910, the black historian and activist W.E.B. DuBois wrote that the Lexington event was “one of the most successful colored fairs in the United States.”

The fair attracted black celebrities, including heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson and Oscar DePriest of Chicago, the only black member of Congress when he attended in 1929.

The biggest star of all was educator Booker T. Washington, who attracted a record crowd and front-page coverage in the white-owned Lexington Leader when he spoke at the fair in 1908.

The fair was called off as World War I was ending in 1918, because soldiers were being housed in Floral Hall. It reopened the next year, adding a sixth day of events.

With the onset of the Great Depression in 1930, the fair suffered financial losses and was called off from 1931-1934. The fair reopened in 1935, but closed for good after 1942. World War II was absorbing the nation’s resources and attention, and it would begin the slow process of racial integration.

140218ColoredFair0004A

A state historical marker along Georgetown Road recalls the second location of the Lexington Colored Fair. Photo by Tom Eblen


New film marks centennial of Kentucky Governor’s Mansion

January 11, 2014

140105GovsMansion0081

Gov. Steve Beshear and his wife, Jane, are shown on a video monitor in circa 1914 formal attire Jan. 5 during filming of a re-creation of the gala ball that opened the then-new Governor’s Mansion 100 years ago this month.  Members of Lexington Vintage Dance performed ballroom dances from the period. Photo by Tom Eblen 

 

FRANKFORT — The Governor’s Mansion turns a century old this month, and preservationists have organized a bipartisan celebration to raise money to help keep “the people’s house” in good shape for another hundred years or more.

Events begin this week with the premiere of a film about the mansion’s role as both a temporary home for governors and a venue for public hospitality and economic development. The film is narrated by ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, a Kentucky native.

A symposium about the mansion is planned Jan. 22. There will be a reception March 5 after festivities marking the 50th anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1964 march on Frankfort. And a Centennial Gala ball is planned June 7. For details and event tickets, go to: Governorsmansion.ky.gov.

The documentary, Kentucky Governor’s Mansion: A Century of Reflection, was produced by Lexington filmmaker Michael Breeding and paid for by Marion Forcht of Corbin and the Forcht Group. It premieres Jan. 15 at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort and Jan. 16 at the Kentucky Theatre in Lexington.

140105GovsMansion0022“I wanted the film to tell the inside story of what has gone on in that mansion over the years,” Breeding said. “There’s a lot of history and stories, and part of it is a restoration story.”

The film opens with a re-enactment of the ball Gov. James McCreary gave Jan. 20, 1914 to open the mansion. That scene was filmed last Sunday evening with a cast of amateur actors in period attire. They included Gov. Steve Beshear, his wife, Jane, and members of Lexington Vintage Dance.

The Beshears seemed to have as much fun as everyone else, dressing up in vintage clothing to “party” in front of cameras. “I guess it’s OK to be seen having makeup put on now that I don’t have to run for re-election,” the second-term governor joked.

The film includes interviews with the Beshears and 30 other former governors, their family members and mansion staff. The full interviews will be preserved at the Kentucky History Center.

I sat in on part of the interview with Steve Collins and Marla Collins Webb, children of Martha Layne Collins, Kentucky’s first and only female governor, 1983-87.

“We all worked together as a family,” Steve Collins said, noting that his father, dentist Bill Collins, handled his duties as Kentucky’s “first man” with good humor and hosted “varmint” dinners for outdoorsmen. “They even roasted a raccoon one time,” Collins recalled.

One memorable event was a lavish but secretive dinner Gov. Collins gave in 1986 for Toyota executives when she was trying to get the assembly plant for Georgetown. The secret got out to everyone in Frankfort when the event concluded with a fireworks show.

140112GovMansion-Stock0022McCreary, for whom McCreary County is named, was the first of 24 governors who have lived in the mansion. He also was the last to use a horse and buggy. The film recalls that his successor, Augustus O. Stanley, preferred a newfangled automobile. But the mansion’s location on a steep bluff east of the Capitol proved problematic.

One Sunday morning as the Stanleys were getting ready for church, a staff member brought the sedan to the mansion’s back door and left it running unattended. Within minutes, the car rolled backward over the cliff.

Stanley is said to have walked out, looked down at what was left of his car and stoically said, “There’s another $1,500 gone to hell.”

Mansion construction began in 1912 after the General Assembly appropriated $75,000 to replace the previous governor’s home, built in downtown Frankfort in 1798. Five years ago, the old mansion got a $1.5 million, privately financed renovation and is now used as a state guest house.

Architect brothers C.C. and E.A. Weber of Fort Thomas designed the new mansion in the Beaux-Arts style, mimicking the Petit Trianon villa at Versailles (France, not Kentucky). Clad in Bowling Green limestone, the 18,428-square-foot mansion came in $20,000 over budget, so landscaping was postponed for years to save money.

The mansion, decorated with a rotating collection of borrowed fine art, is one of only a few state governors’ homes regularly open for public tours. Because more than 12,000 people visit each year, the mansion gets a lot of wear and tear.

The first major renovation began in 1982 during Gov. John Y. Brown Jr.’s administration after a fire marshal declared the place unsafe. Phyllis George Brown raised private money for much of the work and elegant furnishings, as Glenna Fletcher did 25 years later when the mansion needed another updating.

Jane Beshear and David Buchta, state curator of historic properties, thought the centennial was a good opportunity to both celebrate the mansion and raise money for an endowment to help with upkeep. Their goal is to raise $1 million for the non-profit Kentucky Executive Mansions Foundation before the Beshears move out.

Mike Duncan and Terry McBrayer, Kentuckians who have held top jobs in the national Republican and Democratic parties, co-chair the Mansion Centennial Celebration Committee.

Among its fundraising efforts is the “county seats” project. Each county is being asked to give at least $1,000 toward 120 new ballroom dining chairs that are being made by student artisans at Berea College. So far, Buchta said, nearly half the state’s counties have agreed to contribute.

“This is so much more than the governor’s house,” said Ann Evans, the mansion’s executive director. “It has become an important tool for economic development, tourism and just making people feel welcome in Kentucky.”

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New book showcases Kentucky’s antebellum decorative arts

September 15, 2013

Gigi Lacer

SIMPSONVILLE — When journalists Genevieve Lacer and Libby Howard began collecting Kentucky antiques more than a decade ago, they were surprised by how little information was readily available.

A few monographs had been written and some museum catalogs published. The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C., had collected some scholarship. The Magazine Antiques had featured Kentucky pieces in special issues in 1947 and 1974.

But there were no comprehensive books about Kentucky-made furniture, silver and textiles, even though they were some of the finest produced anywhere in antebellum America.

130806CollectingKy-TE0001

Libby Turner Howard, left, and Genevieve Baird Lacer. Photo by Tom Eblen. Photos from their book by Bill Roughen.

What the friends soon discovered was that considerable scholarship had been done on early Kentucky decorative arts, but most of that knowledge resided in the heads and notebooks of a few dozen passionate collectors.

That prompted Lacer and Howard to write and publish Collecting Kentucky 1790-1860. The 360-page book is detailed and exacting, yet readable and beautifully designed, with 600 illustrations by Lexington photographer Bill Roughen. State historian James Klotter wrote the forward.

“The book gives you a visual entryway into things you’ll never see, because they’re in private homes,” Lacer said, and only a few pieces from historic house museums are included “because we literally ran out of room.”

The book’s 270 “subscribers,” who paid $275 early in the process to get leather-bound special editions, receive their books Sunday at a private reception. A $75 “collector’s” edition goes on sale Monday at bookstores and antique shops around the state (for more information, go to Collectingkentucky.com).

Lacer, who lives in Shelby County, wrote an award-winning 2006 biography of Swiss artist Edward Troye, who painted America’s greatest racehorses in the mid-1800s. Howard, who lives in Henry County, is a former editor of Kentucky Homes and Gardens magazine.

In approaching their book project, Lacer and Howard wanted to document Kentucky antiques and explore their histories, relationships and craftsmen. They also wanted to explain the goals and objectives of serious collectors they knew about, all of whom live in Kentucky.

“These are people who have spent 30, 40, 50 years refining a viewpoint about their collections,” Howard said. “They all have a focus. We became fascinated with how, visually, they are telling the story of antebellum Kentucky as they understand it.”

Book Jacket w-flaps_cmyk.inddTen major collections are profiled in separate chapters. Objects from 40 more private collections are gathered by object type in an 83-page “archive” at the back. Between each chapter is a small essay that tells an interesting story about an object, its maker or the time and place in which this work was created.

Only one collection is identified with its owners’ names, because it is the only major collection now in the public domain. Over three decades, Garrard County natives Bob and Norma Noe assembled one of the most impressive collections of early Kentucky antiques. They recently donated it to the Speed Art Museum in Louisville.

The Speed is now closed for a major renovation and expansion. But when it reopens in 2016, the Noe Collection will be the foundation of a new Center for Kentucky Art, the first permanent museum space devoted to Kentucky works.

Bob Noe encouraged Lacer and Howard to write Collecting Kentucky as both a primer and a reference book, and he said in an interview that he is pleased with the result.

“I think the book will do wonders to add context in an area too often neglected,” Noe said. “Kentuckians need to know more about our early culture.”

The six decades covered in this book were exciting times in Kentucky. After statehood in 1792, Kentucky transitioned from America’s frontier to being a prosperous and influential region of agriculture and trade.

Prosperity created demand for decorative art and utilitarian items that were both beautiful and functional. Because Kentucky had little colonial tradition, early decorative arts often featured motifs of patriotism, and native flora and fauna.

Craftsmen in all parts of Kentucky produced remarkable work. Some, such as silversmith Asa Blanchard and cabinetmaker Porter Clay (brother of Henry), created pieces as fine as anything then being made on the East Coast.

The book features many outstanding examples of chests, cupboards, desks, case clocks, tables and chairs made of native cherry and walnut with poplar inlay, as well as imported mahogany. The authors tried to pull together available research on the craftsmen who made these items, linking pieces to regional styles.

Early Kentucky silver, often made from melted coins, has long been prized. Lacer said one of the most fun experiences in compiling the book was when several collectors brought more than $1 million worth of silver to her home to be photographed. Roughen was able to create images comparing large groups of work that had never been brought together before.

The book includes a section about one of Kentucky’s most famous products of the era: the long rifle. Kentucky rifles were not only accurate and dependable weapons; they often were highly decorated works of art.

Lacer and Howard said they hope their book will spark more public interest and scholarship in early Kentucky decorative arts.

“We just scratched the surface,” Lacer said. “We left out big collections we know about, and I can only imagine the ones we don’t know about. This is a lot bigger idea in our state than I ever dreamt.”

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What’s happening at Speed Art Museum during 3-year shutdown?

August 10, 2013

Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Pieces of art, including early Kentucky furniture at right, has been stored in several galleries during the Speed Art Museum’s three-year renovation and expansion.  Photos by Tom Eblen  

 

LOUISVILLE — People gasped when Kentucky’s largest art museum announced in late 2011 that it was closing for more than three years for an extensive renovation.

Would the Speed Art Museum lose momentum during such a long shutdown? Or would the break allow it to shift into high gear? After a tour of the work-in-progress, I’m betting on the latter.

The Speed has raised more than $50 million, including $18 million from Louisville’s Brown family, to renovate its 1927 main building, demolish a 1972 addition and expand all over its 5-acre campus beside the University of Louisville.

When it reopens in early 2016, the museum will have 79,600 square feet of renovated space, 75,000 square feet of new space and 135,000 square feet of new outdoor facilities, including an art garden and piazza. Two new wings will add galleries, an education center, a 150-seat film theater and a café.

Like most museums, the Speed wants to attract a larger, younger and more diverse audience by offering relevant art experiences. Those efforts are already underway in a small, temporary space the Speed has rented in downtown Louisville, at 822 East Market Street.

But the Speed also is making a big commitment to Kentucky’s past: a large gallery showcasing the state’s rich decorative arts tradition.

Scott Erbes, director of collections and exhibitions at the Speed Art Museum, will curate the new museum's new Center for Kentucky Art. He holds a piece of painted pottery by Fayette Barnum (1870-1960), a Louisville artist and influential art teacher.

Scott Erbes, director of collections and exhibitions at the Speed Art Museum, will curate the new museum’s new Center for Kentucky Art. He holds a piece of painted pottery by Fayette Barnum (1870-1960), a Louisville artist and influential art teacher.

When the Speed’s director of collections, Scott Erbes, offered to give me a private tour of the shuttered museum, I couldn’t resist.

Our first stop was the famous English Room, where elaborate oak paneling carved in the early 1600s for a manor house in Devon has been stripped from the walls. Each piece has been numbered and shelved so it can be reassembled in a different room.

Some galleries were empty and in various stages of renovation. Others resembled high-class attics, packed with the museum’s 14,000 pieces of art. Paintings hung on sliding panels of steel mesh. Furniture and sculpture lined shelves. The arms of marble statues were covered with bubble wrap.

The Speed has loaned some pieces to other museums. Choice European paintings are part of an exhibit at The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky in Lexington through Sept. 22. Some Kentucky paintings are at the Hopewell Museum in Paris through Sept. 2.

I was most interested in plans for a new Center for Kentucky Art, a 5,600-square-foot gallery that will house paintings, sculpture, furniture, silver, pottery and textiles made or used in the state between the late 1700s and the mid-1900s.

“With the exception of paintings, Kentucky art had never been a major focus” of the museum, Erbes said. But that changed after he met Bob and Norma Noe of Wilmore.

The Noes are Garrard County natives whose ancestors came to Kentucky more than two centuries ago. The Noes lived for 25 years in the Washington, D.C., area, where he worked as a cost analyst for the Air Force. In their free time, they visited museums all along the East Coast.

“Many of them had sections devoted to their home state,” Bob Noe, 84, recalled. “It was very noticeable to me that there was no such thing in Kentucky, even though I knew many high-quality things were made here.”

The Noes began collecting early Kentucky pieces, and their hobby became a passion after they retired and returned to the state in 1979. The Noes went to local auctions and noticed that the best Kentucky pieces were being bought by out-of-state collectors. So they started buying.

130730SpeedMuseum0044“It was quite cheap then, because there weren’t many Kentucky collectors,” Noe said. “Now it is very, very expensive.”

The Noes wanted Kentuckians to have more appreciation for their arts heritage, so they began looking for an institution to donate their collection to. They considered the University of Kentucky, “but they had no place to put it,” he said.

They began talking with the Speed and were impressed that several board members and the staff shared their passion. In 2011, the Noes donated 119 pieces to the Speed, more than doubling its Kentucky holdings. The Noe collection is the foundation of the new center, which Erbes hopes to expand through other acquisitions and loans.

The new center will show the quality and variety of early Kentucky art. It will explain how styles developed as artists, craftsmen and their customers moved around the state. And it will link history to the arts, showing, for example, how the arts were used to promote and memorialize famous Kentuckians such as Daniel Boone, Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln.

“Rightly or wrongly, I have felt that Kentuckians have not had enough pride in their early beginnings,” Noe said, adding that he hopes the Center for Kentucky Art will help change that.

When the Speed displayed pieces from his collection at special exhibits in 2000 and 2002, Noe said, he enjoyed watching visitors’ reactions.

“I saw young people turn to their parents after leaving,” he said, “and say they didn’t know Kentuckians had made such beautiful things.”

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Exhibit honors pioneer publisher, entreprenuer John Bradford

June 11, 2013

Many people go through school hating history. All of those dates to remember! Besides, people from the past are usually portrayed as one-dimensional heroes or villains, their claims to fame reduced to a sound bite.

A good example is John Bradford, who published the state’s first newspaper, the Kentucky Gazette. That’s all I remember about him from Kentucky History class.

Then my daughter, Mollie, and I wrote a chapter for the book Bluegrass Renaissance: The History and Culture of Central Kentucky, 1792-1852. We told the story of Transylvania University’s dramatic rise and fall in the 1820s under President Horace Holley. In our research, we discovered that the man behind the scenes of that “rise” was Bradford, the longtime chairman of Transy’s Board of Trustees.

John Bradford portrait in the collection of the Bodley-Bullock House, Lexington Junior League. Image courtesy of University of Kentucky Special Collections.

John Bradford portrait in the collection of the Bodley-Bullock House, Lexington Junior League. Image courtesy of University of Kentucky Special Collections.

I learned much more when the Cardome Center in Georgetown asked me to research and write an essay about Bradford for a symposium last month. The symposium, which featured a dozen prominent Kentucky journalists, was about the history and future of the news media.

The city of Georgetown owns Cardome, a former Catholic girls’ school. A non-profit association has a long-term lease and ambitious plans to create the Center for the Written Word, a writers’ retreat and museum.

The symposium, Words in a Changing World: From Bradford to Bloggers, opened the museum’s first exhibit, a display of original and facsimile copies of the Kentucky Gazette, which Bradford published off and on from 1787 until his death in 1830. The free exhibit runs through July 5.

The old Gazette copies make for some interesting reading. But they reveal little about their publisher, who was a Renaissance man of the Kentucky frontier. Bradford’s legacy continues to shape Lexington in ways that might surprise you.

Bradford was born in 1749 near Warrenton, Va. A surveyor like his father, he came to Kentucky to seek his fortune. In the 1780s he and his brother, Fielding, laid claim to 6,000 acres, mostly along Cane Run Creek between Lexington and Georgetown.

Kentucky leaders who wanted to break away from Virginia and form a new state decided they needed a newspaper to publicize their cause, but they were unable to attract a printer from back East. So, on the promise of future state printing work, Bradford and his brother bought a press in Pennsylvania and brought it down the Ohio River on a flatboat and overland from Maysville on pack horses.

During its early years, the Gazette was the only newspaper within 500 miles of Lexington. It published weeks-old reports of national and international news and a smattering of local happenings. There was special emphasis on reports of Indian attacks on settlers. Bradford himself participated in attacks on Native American settlements in what is now Ohio.

Like most small-town publishers, Bradford became involved in many aspects of civic and business life. He chaired the town trustees for many years and was a legislator and sheriff. But he was more businessman than politician.

In addition to running newspapers in Lexington and Frankfort, Bradford was the state’s first book publisher and owner of an early bookstore. In 1796, he was a founder of the Lexington Public Library. He started the first mail service between Central Kentucky towns as part of newspaper delivery.

Bradford promoted emigration to Kentucky and helped start the Kentucky Vineyard Society to try to develop a local wine industry. He owned a tavern, a warehouse and a steam-powered flour mill and cotton factory on Vine Street. A mechanic and mathematician, he designed much of the machinery.

Bradford lived at the corner of Second and Mill streets in a house he bought from Henry Clay’s father-in-law, Thomas Hart. The house was torn down in 1955, 125 years after Bradford’s death, to create a parking lot. Public outrage over the demolition led to creation of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation.

To read the full essay on Bradford, click here.

If you go

John Bradford’s Kentucky Gazette

Where: Cardome Center, 800 Cincinnati Rd., Georgetown

When: 9 a.m. — 5 p.m., Tues.— Sat. through July 5.

Admission: Free

More information: (502) 863-1575, Cardomecenter.com.


Essay: John Bradford, Kentucky’s pioneer journalist

June 11, 2013

This essay was originally written for the May 22 symposium, Words in a Changing World: from Bradford to Bloggers, at the Center for the Written Word at Cardome Center in Georgetown.

 

On August 11, 1787, the first newspaper to be published west of Pittsburgh hit the streets of Lexington, Kentucky.  It was a modest thing, printed on a four-page fold about the size of letter sheets. The Kentucke Gazette carried a few news items from elsewhere, an advertisement and an apology from its publisher. The 38-year-old publisher had little or no training as a printer, reporter, writer or editor. But he did understand deadlines.  “My customers will excuse my first publication,” he wrote, “as I am much hurried to get an impression by the time appointed.”  The rookie journalist then offered excuses.  Most of his type had been jumbled on its way to Lexington, he wrote.  His brother had purchased the type and a printing press in Pennsylvania and accompanied it down the Ohio River on a flatboat. The equipment made the final leg of its journey to Lexington over a rough road from what is now Maysville. If jumbled type were not bad enough, the publisher complained that his “only assistant” —his brother — had been sick for 10 days and was of no help whatsoever.

The Kentucke Gazette may have had an rough start 225 years ago, but it began a long and illustrious newspaper tradition in Kentucky. The Gazette’s publisher was Kentucky’s first journalist — and so much more.  John Bradford was a Renaissance man of the early Western frontier: a land surveyor, Indian fighter, politician, moral philosopher,  tavern owner, sheriff, civic host, community booster, postal service entrepreneur, real estate speculator, subdivision developer, mechanic and mathematician. And all of that was in addition to his primary work, which made seminal contributions to development of the written word in Kentucky.  In addition to writing and publishing the state’s first newspaper, Bradford produced Kentucky’s first books, was an organizer of the first public library and operated one of the first bookstores. He also was one of the first historians of Kentucky’s pioneer era and the chief advocate for, and longtime chairman of, Kentucky’s first institution of higher learning, Transylvania University.

So, it seems fitting that as we gather at Cardome today to reflect on the past, present and future of journalism and the written word in Kentucky, we begin by remembering John Bradford. For 45 of this state’s most formative years, he was in the middle of everything.

John Bradford was born in June 1749 near Warrenton in Northern Virginia, the second child and eldest son of Daniel Bradford and Alice Morgan. At the age of 21, he married Eliza James, the daughter of a respected Virginia planter. They had five sons and four daughters. Like his father, Bradford became a land surveyor. He practiced his trade in Virginia for eight years, except for possible brief service in the Revolutionary War in 1776. Like many Virginians, he was hungry for land and he had heard about the bounty that lay across the Appalachian mountains. So, in the fall of 1779, Bradford left his family and went to the western reaches of Virginia — then called Kentucke with an “e” at the end — where he worked as a surveyor. During this time, he also became an Indian fighter, taking part in the campaign against the Native American towns of Chillicothe and Piqua in what is now Ohio.

While in Kentucky, Bradford and his younger brother, Fielding, made claims on 6,000 acres of rich Bluegrass land along Cane Run and North Elkhorn creeks in what is now Fayette and Scott counties. That land is said to have included what is now the campus of Cardome. Bradford then returned home, and, in the spring of 1785, moved his family west. They lived in a cabin, and later a handsome brick home, near the corner of what is now Russell Cave Road and Ironworks Pike north of Lexington. But John Bradford wasn’t cut out to be a farmer. He soon sought out a new business opportunity — something he would do frequently for the rest of his life.

John Bradford portrait in the collection of the Bodley-Bullock House, Lexington Junior League. Image courtesy of University of Kentucky Special Collections.

John Bradford portrait in the collection of the Bodley-Bullock House, Lexington Junior League. Image courtesy of University of Kentucky Special Collections.

Kentuckians have always loved to complain about the government. Many prominent pioneers of the 1780s thought that Virginia’s government was ignoring their needs, especially when it came to security from Indian attacks. Meeting in convention at Danville on December 30, 1784, these settlers decided it would be in their best interests to begin the process of separating from Virginia and forming their own state.  They also decided that, to be successful, they needed public opinion in Kentucky on their side. They needed information. They needed publicity. They needed a newspaper.

A year later, the convention appointed Gen. James Wilkinson, future governor Christopher Greenup and John Cobern to form a committee to find a printer from the East willing to move to Kentucky.  The committee tried to recruit printers John Dunlap in Philadelphia and Miles Hunter in Richmond, Va., but both declined. It was at this point that John Bradford stepped forward and offered to do the job if the convention could promise him public printing work. With this assurance, the Bradford brothers went to Philadelphia to buy a printing press. On their way home, they stopped in Pittsburgh and bought some type from John Scull, who had recently established the Pittsburgh Gazette, the first newspaper west of the Allegheny Mountains. John Bradford then headed home, leaving his brother in Pittsburgh for three months to learn the basics of printing. (It may not surprise you to learn that, after a couple of years, Fielding Bradford decided he no longer wanted to work for big brother and left the business.)

Some statehood convention delegates assumed that Bradford would set up his printing shop in Danville, where they met each year. But in what we now would call an economic-development incentive, the trustees of Lexington promised to give Bradford the use of a prime piece of downtown real estate for as long as he operated his press and newspaper in their town. Bradford accepted the offer, and, as there was no building on the promised property, also accepted the town’s offer to set up his print shop in the back room of the log courthouse at the corner of Main Street and Broadway, where Victorian Square now stands.

The Kentucke Gazette began publication in August 1787 with 180 subscribers. Bradford charged 18 shilling per year for a subscription and three shillings for an advertisement of moderate length. Because hard cash was scarce on the Kentucky frontier, Bradford wrote that he also would take the following goods as payment: “corn, wheat, country-made linen, linsey, sugar, whiskey, ash flooring and cured bacon.”  The Kentucke Gazette patterned itself after the Pittsburgh newspaper, with three columns of type on its small page.  The newspaper changed the spelling of Kentucky on its masthead — ending it with a “y” instead than an “e” — in 1789 after the Virginia General Assembly officially did so.

Early on, the Gazette was the only newspaper within 500 miles of Lexington, which made it a must-read, at least for those who could read. A year before the government provided postal service in Kentucky, Bradford employed a small network of “post riders” to deliver the Gazette to Limestone (now Maysville), Harrodsburg, Danville and other Central Kentucky towns. The post riders also carried letters and small packages as their saddle bags allowed. Bradford kept a letter box at his Lexington office where correspondence carried by the post riders could be picked up by the intended recipients.

The Gazette was first published weekly, then twice and later three times a week. Paper was scarce, since it had to be imported from the East during the newspaper’s early years. But by 1793, the Gazette’s paper was made in Georgetown by another early Kentucky entrepreneur, Elijah Craig, whose other claims to fame were as a Baptist minister — and as an early distiller of bourbon whiskey.

Historians who have studied the surviving issues of Bradford’s Gazette have often remarked on the lack of what we would now call local news. There was little in the way of information about everyday life and happenings in Lexington and around the Bluegrass frontier. Perhaps, some historians have speculated, that was because the place was so small and sparsely populated at the time that everybody already knew the local news by the time the paper came out.  The Gazette’s pages were filled instead with weeks-old, and sometimes months-old, accounts of national and international happenings, as well as with stenographic accounts of local and state government activities.  Unfortunately, Bradford’s coverage of Kentucky’s quest for statehood mostly consisted of publishing the official resolutions of the separation conventions. While the Gazette’s pages occasionally included philosophic discussions about Kentucky’s political needs, historians have noted that Bradford provided little journalistic detail or insight into the process of seeking statehood or personalities who were involved in the movement.

Bradford was a Democrat in the mold of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, and the Gazette reflected his political views. An Episcopalian, he also was a man of liberal religious views. He refused to allow the Gazette to be drawn into the sectarian theological disputes that raged among Protestant Christian denominations in early Kentucky. Bradford, whose nickname in later years was “Old Wisdom”, would occasionally offer bits of moral philosophy in print, a la Benjamin Franklin. Here is one example: “Narrow minds are like crooked bottles; the less they have in them, the more noise they make in pouring it out.”

Bradford had his pet issues, as every editor does, and they were given considerable coverage: He was very interested in horses. He hated the federal government’s excise tax on whiskey. He was outraged by John Jay’s proposed treaty that would have given Spain navigational control of the Mississippi River. And, most of all, he was obsessed with Indians and the threat they posed to settlement of Kentucky. This was the era of Manifest Destiny, and nobody embraced that philosophy more than John Bradford.

The Gazette also served as a valuable forum for public notices, some of which could be quite humorous, such as the one from Jan. 29, 1791, in which a Charles Bland wrote that he would not pay a note given to William Turner for three second-rate cows until Turner returned a rifle, blanket and tomahawk he had borrowed. My favorite public notice is this one from April 6, 1793: “Taken up by the subscriber, on Clear Creek Fayette County, a dunn mare two years old last spring; her mane and tail black with a black list along her back, a natural trotter, 13 hands 1 inch high, apprised at £3.10. Hawkins Kearby.”  Unlike the other notice, this one is not humorous, or of any importance except to the owner of the lost horse. But it is my favorite because Hawkins Kearby was my great-, great-, great-, great-, great-grandfather and this Kentucke Gazette notice is the only written record I have of him.

After a couple of moves, the Gazette’s offices came in July 1795 to spacious quarters in a two-story brick building on Main Street that had been Kentucky’s first statehouse. At this location, where it would remain for 40 years, Bradford published Kentucky’s first books. After a compilation of state laws, he produced many other books, including an annual Kentucky Almanac and the work of Kentucky’s first poet, Thomas Johnson. Bradford’s offices also included a bookstore, which became a popular gathering place for white men to discuss news, politics and public affairs.

The Gazette’s first newspaper competitor appeared in 1795, when Bradford’s former employee, Thomas H. Stewart, started the Kentucky Herald. (And in the first example of monopoly newspaper consolidation in Kentucky, Bradford bought out Stewart in 1802 and shut down the Herald.) As Kentucky grew in the late 1700s, four more newspapers opened in Frankfort and the town of Washington, near Maysville. By the end of 1811, some 30 newspapers had been established in Kentucky. In addition to Lexington, Frankfort and Washington, their locations included Bardstown, Shelbyville, Danville, Russellville, Louisville, Paris, Lancaster, Stanford, Richmond and Georgetown.

Bradford trained several of his five sons as printers and journalists, and the family holdings expanded. Son Daniel took over the Gazette from April 1802 until it was operated by others between late 1809 and 1814. Bradford’s eldest son, Benjamin, bought the Kentucky Journal in Frankfort in 1795. Bradford and son James operated the Guardian of Freedom in Frankfort from 1798 until 1806. Both of those Frankfort newspapers essentially republished the Gazette’s content, but may have given the Bradford family a measure of influence in the state capital.

After several changes in management and ownership at the Kentucky Gazette, Bradford returned as editor and publisher late in his life, from April 1825 until June 1827. Perhaps that was because he had one last job to do.  Between August 1826 and January 1829, Bradford published 66 essays in the Gazette that he simply called “Notes on Kentucky.”  These articles were Bradford’s journalistic memoirs, his chronicle of a pioneer era that was slipping away from Kentucky’s collective memory as others of his generation died off.

The historical value of Bradford’s “Notes” was realized immediately. George Washington Stipp got to know Bradford while living in Lexington as a medical student at Transylvania University. Stipp was so impressed with Bradford’s essays that, after returning home to Xenia, Ohio, in 1827, he published the first 23 of them in a small book he called: The Western Miscellany, or, AccouGazettents Historical, Biographical, and Amusing. The full “Notes” were edited by historian Thomas D. Clark and published in 1993 by the University Press of Kentucky in a book titled: The Voice of the Frontier: John Bradford’s Notes on Kentucky.

Bradford’s “Notes” still make interesting reading, especially his tales of early exploration and the settlers’ battles with Indians. As I mentioned, Bradford had always been obsessed with the threat Native Americans posed to the settlers who came in and took their land. In his book, Clark takes a shot at Bradford’s journalistic objectivity on this subject, noting that Indian atrocities against settlers were always portrayed as heinous, criminal acts. But when it came to the atrocities settlers committed against the Indians — of which there were many — the same value judgments never applied. “One can only speculate,” Clark wrote, “on what a literate ‘Indian Bradford’ might have written had he published a series of notes on settler-Indian relations in the last quarter of the 18th century. In reality, they had more to fear from the ‘Long Knives’ than the ‘Long Knives had to fear from the ‘Braves.’”

John Bradford packed a lot more than journalism into his long career. He spent many years as the equivalent of Lexington’s mayor. As the longtime chairman of the town trustees, Bradford was the official host to visiting dignitaries, such as in 1792, when Isaac Shelby was sworn in as Kentucky’s first governor, and in 1825, when President James Monroe and the Marquis de Lafayette, the French hero of the American Revolution, visited Lexington.  Bradford also served as a state legislator from Lexington and as the High Sheriff of Fayette County.

Bradford had many business interests beyond publishing. He was an active land speculator — and, like many early Kentucky land speculators, was often involved in lawsuits over claims and titles. He also was an entrepreneur with broad interests. In 1801, he purchased a tavern in Frankfort that he owned for several years. He developed a subdivision off North Limestone Street in 1812. The next year, he built a steam-operated flour mill and cotton factory on Vine Street in Lexington, just west of Broadway.  One account says that Bradford, a talented mechanic and mathematician, designed and built the machinery himself.  In 1816, Bradford partnered with Robert Wickliffe to build a large public warehouse on Broadway, between Vine and Main streets, leasing the land from the town trustees.

Throughout his career, Bradford was a tireless booster of Lexington. In 1796, he was one of the founders of the Lexington Public Library. The next year, he called a meeting to organize the Lexington Society for the Promotion of Emigration. Bradford enticed John James Dufour to come to Lexington to set up the Kentucky Vineyard Society, of which he was one of the incorporators in 1799, in the hope of developing a local wine industry. Bradford also was an early advocate for the emancipation of slaves — a very unpopular idea among white men in Lexington at that time and for several decades to come. Even so, Bradford was also a slave owner.

Of all Bradford’s public roles beyond journalism, perhaps none was more influential than his longtime positions as trustee and chairman of Transylvania University.  In the book, Bluegrass Renaissance: The History and Culture of Central Kentucky, 1792-1852, which was published last year by the University Press of Kentucky, my daughter, Mollie, and I wrote a chapter about Transylvania — its meteoric rise under President Horace Holley and its subsequent fall after he left Kentucky. Who was the man behind the scenes of Holley’s success story? John Bradford.

After the steamboat’s invention made two-way river navigation possible, Lexington lost its economic edge to the river cities of Louisville and Cincinnati. Desperate for economic development, Bradford championed making Lexington the “Athens of the West” by investing in education and culture. The key to doing that, he believed, was turning tiny Transylvania into the great university of western America. That would require an outstanding president with vision, he believed. The man Bradford wanted was Horace Holley, a Yale graduate and up-and-coming minister in Boston. Against all odds, including a bitterly divided Transylvania Board of Trustees, Bradford convinced Holley to move to Lexington in 1818. Within a few years, Holley transformed Transylvania into one of America’s most acclaimed universities. When, late in life, Thomas Jefferson was seeking models for his new University of Virginia, he looked to Holley’s Transylvania. Despite this success, though, Holley was run out of Kentucky by religious conservatives, anti-intellectualism and a governor, Joseph Desha, who wanted to spend state money on roads rather than higher education. Bradford’s success and failure with Horace Holley would echo through Kentucky history for nearly two centuries.

Although Bradford kept his rural home “Fairfield” until the year before his death, he spent most of his years as publisher living in a handsome house on the corner of Second and Market Streets in Lexington. He bought the house from Thomas Harte, a prosperous early settler and father-in-law of Henry Clay. It was in that house that John Bradford died on March 22, 1830. His burial place is uncertain.

I mention Bradford’s downtown home, because it would play an important role in Lexington’s modern history 125 years after the publisher’s death. In 1955, Bradford’s house was demolished for a parking lot. The ensuing outrage led to the creation of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Kentucky Gazette was sold out of the Bradford family in 1840, a decade after the pioneer publisher’s death. It ceased publication in 1848 after its fortunes and influence declined under an owner from Louisville.

Unfortunately, no complete file of John Bradford’s Kentucky Gazette remains. The Lexington Public Library has perhaps the best collection of original copies, although it does not include the first one. The last known first issue was destroyed in a fire more than a century ago at the Cheapside office of H. Howard Gratz, who revived the Kentucky Gazette after the Civil War and published a newspaper by that name for nearly 50 years. Thanks to modern digital technology, you can read the surviving copies of John Bradford’s Kentucky Gazette on your computer at the Kentucky Digital Library site.

SOURCES

The Voice of the Frontier: John Bradford’s Notes on Kentucky, Thomas D. Clark (University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1993)

The Pioneer Press of Kentucky, William Henry Perrin (J.P. Morton & Co., Louisville, 1888)

John Bradford Bicentennial, C. Frank Dunn (The Filson Club History Quarterly, Louisville, 1947)

John Bradford and the Kentucky Gazette, J. Winston Coleman (The Filson Club History Quarterly, Louisville, 1960)

The History of Pioneer Lexington, 1779-1806, Charles R. Staples (University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1939, republished with a foreward by Thomas D. Clark, 1996)

Liberal Kentucky, 1780-1828, Niels Henry Sonne (Columbia University Press, New York, 1939)

Bluegrass Renaissance: The History and Culture of Central Kentucky, 1792-1852, edited by James C. Klotter and Daniel Rowland. Chapter 9: Horace Holley and the Struggle for Kentucky’s Mind and Soul, by Tom Eblen and Mollie Eblen. (University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 2012)

Kentucky Settlement and Statehood, 1750-1800, George Morgan Chinn (Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, 1975)

Stories of Kentucky from the Life and Works of John Wilson Townsend, Dorothy Edwards Townsend, The Keystone Printery, Lexington, 1972

The Kentucky Encyclopedia, John E. Kleber, editor (University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, 1992)


Lexington neighborhood project results in history book

January 8, 2013

Every place has a story. When residents of Lexington’s Fairway neighborhood began researching the story of their place, they got a lot more than they expected.

They chronicled some fascinating history. But they also grew closer as neighbors, and they created a model for other neighborhoods interested in doing the same thing.

The idea began when Robert Figg was president of the Fairway Neighborhood Association in the late 1990s. He moved to the subdivision off Richmond Road in 1965, thinking he had found his family a starter home. That was 48 years and three home renovations ago.

Figg had heard many colorful stories about the neighborhood and its history, and he wanted to record interviews with longtime residents before the memories faded.

In 2008, the neighbors discovered that the Kentucky Historical Society offers technical assistance grants to train oral history interviewers and loans recording equipment. After training, the interviewers gathered some great material, now archived at the University of Kentucky’s Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History.

But some memories conflicted, and the more information interviewers gathered, the more they realized they needed to fill in gaps to complete the neighborhood’s story. That process turned into a book, Fairway, A Living History ($35 hard cover, $20 paperback. More information: Fairwayneighborhood.org.)

I have seen other neighborhood histories, but none that are as well-researched, well-written and well-illustrated. Even for readers with no ties to Fairway, it offers a fascinating glimpse into Lexington’s rich history.

The neighborhood historians had some good help: a five-member advisory board included four professional historians and archivists and one of the nation’s most respected journalists: Fairway resident John Carroll, retired editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Baltimore Sun and the Los Angeles Times.

“In many ways, this little piece of land is a microcosm of more than two centuries of American history,” said Valerie Askren, a member of the five-person committee that researched and wrote the book.

In examining the neighborhood’s 118 acres, the book outlines the early history of much of southeast Lexington. The story begins with a 1779 Virginia land grant to John Todd, one of three brothers who were among Lexington’s first settlers. Their descendants included Mary Todd, wife of Abraham Lincoln.

The land changed hands several times during the 1800s, including one time that underscored Kentucky’s racial and gender politics before the Civil War.

John Todd’s daughter and heir, Polly, was forced to give title to her land to her second husband, Robert Wickliffe, to secure freedom for her mixed-race grandson, Alfred Russell. That was because, upon her marriage to Wickliffe, Russell had legally become his slave. Once freed, Russell left Kentucky for Africa, where he later became president of Liberia.

Wickliffe’s heirs eventually subdivided and sold the land for residential development, creating the neighborhoods of Mentelle Park, Kenwick and, beginning in 1926, Fairway.

Fairway’s mix of traditional-style homes, built in the 1920s to 1950s, range from modest apartments and ranch houses to mansions. Several were designed by three well-known Lexington architects who built their own homes in Fairway: War field Gratz, Hugh Meriwether and Robert McMeekin.

Fairway’s development included two Kenwick elementary schools, the second built in 1937 and renamed in 1963 for its longtime principal, Julia R. Ewan. It is now the Lexington Hearing and Speech Center.

One little-known chapter of Fairway’s history is the military base that once occupied 12 acres north of the school along Henry Clay Boulevard. The Army Remount Station bought and processed military horses from 1920 until the cavalry was mechanized during World War II. It was also home to Troop B of the 123rd Kentucky Cavalry, a National Guard unit.

The Fairway Neighborhood Association paid for the book’s printing by soliciting $250 and $100 sponsorships from residents and others and from businesses with ties to the neighborhood. More than 400 books have been sold, with proceeds generating several thousand dollars for the neighborhood association.

Figg, Askren and Sandra Ireland, the book’s three principal authors, said their effort was particularly successful because Fairway has many longtime residents, including several generations of some families. But they encouraged other neighborhoods to follow their example.

“While working on this project,” Askren said, “I got to know my neighbors so much better.”


Al Smith’s new memoir offers good stories, analysis of Kentucky

November 2, 2012

Al Smith’s autobiography, Wordsmith: My Life in Journalism, was the top seller at last year’s Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort. But, as always, Smith had a lot more to say.

So, two months shy of his 86th birthday, Smith will be back at this year’s book fair on Nov. 10 with another memoir, Kentucky Cured: Fifty Years in Kentucky Journalism (History Press, 219 pp., $19.99.)

This book hits some highlights of the personal-transformation story Smith told in his autobiography — professional redemption after overcoming alcoholism and marrying the right woman — but it says a lot more about Kentucky than it does about Al Smith.

Kentucky Cured is a collection of new and updated essays, some of which first appeared in the Herald-Leader or The Courier-Journal of Louisville. Most are reflections on some of Kentucky’s most fascinating public figures of the second half of the 20th century.

Smith got to know them all, and many more, during his varied career. The Tennessee native published newspapers in Russellville, London and several smaller towns; was the founder and host for three decades of Kentucky Educational Television’s Comment on Kentucky show; ran the Appalachian Regional Commission under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan; and, late in life, helped start the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky.

Stories in this book involve many familiar names: Albert B. “Happy” Chandler, Bert Combs, Louie Nunn, Earl Clements, John Ed Pearce, Ed Prichard, Edward “Ned” Breathitt, Robert Penn Warren, Lyman Johnson, Georgia Powers, Larry Forgy, Gatewood Galbraith, Lucille Little, Mike Mullins, Leonard and Lillian Press, and the crafty politician/educators who transformed Kentucky’s state “teacher colleges” into dynamic regional universities.

Smith is a gifted writer of tight prose, a storyteller with a good ear for a quote or a telling anecdote. But more than that, he is a keen observer and analyst who understands the historical and cultural forces that make Kentucky tick.

Smith has been a friend and mentor for 35 years, since his stepdaughter and I were college classmates. He always has been my model of an engaged community journalist — a reporter of facts, yes, but also someone who seeks to help citizens understand and improve the place where they live.

In this regard, Smith has reminds me of the late historian Thomas D. Clark, another man of letters who adopted Kentucky as his beloved home but was always frustrated because so many of his fellow citizens were willing to settle for mediocrity or worse.

Consider the final paragraph of Smith’s essay Why Clements and Prichard Still Matter. It asks a question as relevant now as when it appeared in the Herald-Leader’s Opinions and Ideas section three years ago:

“In a state like Kentucky, leadership often falls to political hacks or fresh faces with painless promises, which fail. Clements and Prichard mattered because they knew the game before they got on the field and played it courageously, with a vision that had lasting, positive consequences. Where is the courage, where is the vision for Kentucky today?”

Smith’s passion and hope for his adopted state shine through in Kentucky Cured. Perhaps that is why, two decades after many other men of accomplishment would have retired to a life of leisure, Al Smith is still producing journalism that is well worth reading.


Digging for answers at Fort Boonesborough: What did they find?

September 15, 2012

 Nancy O’Malley, a UK archaeologist, led a dig at Fort Boonesborough to learn more about the siege of 1778. She is holding what she thinks is one of the more accurate drawings of the fort. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

When I read in June that a University of Kentucky archaeologist was doing the first major exploration of Fort Boonesborough in 25 years, I had to know what she found.

Nancy O’Malley wasn’t just looking for 18th century artifacts, although she found some: a hoe, a skillet, buttons, buckles, bullets, hand-wrought nails, forks, bits of English ceramic and a blue glass trade bead.

O’Malley, an expert on Kentucky pioneer settlements who first confirmed Fort Boonesborough’s location in 1987, was trying to figure out exactly how much of the fort still exists. She was specifically searching for evidence of the most famous event that occurred there: a nine-day siege 234 years ago this week in which Daniel Boone and a small group of pioneers repelled an attack by several hundred Native Americans.

“This siege is just completely out of the ordinary in terms of what was happening in Kentucky during the Revolutionary War,” O’Malley said. “On the face of it, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense — some of the things that happened and, more to the point, some of the things that didn’t happen.”

While East Coast colonists were fighting the British for independence, settlers were streaming across the mountains into Kentucky. Shawnees and other northern tribes were alarmed and tried to run them out. The British took advantage of the situation, offering bounties for settlers’ scalps.

Boone, an explorer, hunter and surveyor working for the Transylvania Co., established Boonesborough in 1775. As Native American attacks escalated, the fort became an important shelter.

Shawnees captured Boone in February 1778 while he was with men who had gone to Blue Licks in what is now Nicholas County to make salt. Boone convinced them not to kill him and the 30 salt-makers, but to take them back to their villages as captives. Boone also made vague promises about arranging for Boonesborough’s surrender.

Blackfish, the Shawnee chief, grew fond of Boone and adopted him as a son, giving him the name Shel-tow-ee, which meant “big turtle.” But when Boone heard tribe members plotting to attack Boonesborough, he escaped and returned to warn the settlers and strengthen the fort.

Warriors from five tribes arrived at Boonesborough with a dozen French Canadians working for the British. Boone estimated the force at nearly 450, although O’Malley suspects it was smaller. Still, they greatly outnumbered the approximately 40 men and 95 women and children inside the fort.

After chastising his “son” for running away, Blackfish asked Boone to surrender the fort. During two days of negotiations, the chief promised settlers wouldn’t be harmed if they became captives. Boone made excuses and stalled for time.

“Of course, everybody was lying through their teeth,” O’Malley said. “Once it was clear the settlers were not going to give up, it was pretty much no holds barred.”

For nine days — Sept. 9-17, 1778 — settlers and warriors waged a battle of constant rifle shots. The attackers sent torches and flaming arrows into the fort, but settlers, helped by steady rain, extinguished the flames.

“There was a lot of trash talk going on,” O’Malley said. “And inside the fort there’s all this subterfuge.” Women dressed as men and hats were put on sticks along the stockade fence to make the garrison appear bigger.

“You have this huge force against this very limited number of people who are holed up in a pretty rickety fort,” O’Malley said. “I still don’t understand why the Indians didn’t figure this out.”

The Canadians convinced the warriors to try to dig a tunnel more than 100 feet from the Kentucky River bank into the fort, but, after days of work, the rain-soaked ground collapsed. Why didn’t they just storm the place? That probably would have worked, O’Malley said, “but that wasn’t a typical Indian tactic.”

After losing about 35 warriors while killing only two settlers, including a black slave, the attackers gave up and left. “All of these things could have gone differently,” O’Malley said. “There was a lot of luck involved.”

With a $27,000 grant from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, O’Malley hopes to use historical archaeology to learn more about what happened and where.

She fully excavated a stone foundation and hearth she found in 1987 and now believes was Squire Boone’s gunsmith shop in the center of the fort. Evidence she found, compared with a survivor’s crude map, have led her to conclude that the tribes camp was about where the state park’s miniature golf course is now.

Using ground-penetrating radar, O’Malley hoped to find evidence of the tunnel, but she didn’t. “Unfortunately, with bank erosion, I’m pretty sure this tunnel is downstream,” she said.

The biggest challenge has been figuring out all of the dramatic changes in Boonesborough’s landscape over the past two centuries: later structures, massive silting and erosion, rechanneling of creeks and construction of park facilities.

O’Malley plans to keep looking at physical evidence and historical records to try to clarify the often conflicting accounts of siege survivors, whose memories were colored by the passage of time and other versions they later heard and read.

“There were just so many things about the siege that were very strange, and so many funny stories, that after a while you wonder what to believe,” O’Malley said. “History is a messy business.”


Journal issue focuses on Kentucky black history

February 22, 2012

Kentuckians love a good story. But when it comes to recording the stories of blacks in the commonwealth, historians have had a lot of catching up to do.

Gerald Smith, a University of Kentucky history professor, makes that point in the introduction to a special black-history issue of The Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, which he edited for publication in April.

Historians had written about slavery in antebellum Kentucky, but a deeper exploration of the black experience didn’t really begin until 1971, Smith writes. That was when the Kentucky Human Rights Commission published Kentucky Black Heritage, a supplementary text for seven- and eighth-grade students.

Then, in 1982, The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians was published by Alice Dunnigan, who was born in Russellville in 1906. Dunnigan made history of her own in 1948 when she accompanied Harry S. Truman on a Western tour, becoming the first black journalist in Washington to cover a presidential trip.

A scholarship milestone came in 1985 when George C. Wright published a book about black life in Louisville between the Civil War and 1930, Smith said. Wright followed that five years later with the chillingly detailed study, Racial Violence in Kentucky, 1865-1940. Wright, now president of Prairie View A&M University in Texas, and Marion Lucas, a Western Kentucky University history professor, published the two-volume A History of Blacks in Kentucky in 1992.

Since then, more academics have mined this rich vein, including Smith and fellow historians J. Blaine Hudson, John Hardin, Tracy E. K’Meyer and Douglas A. Boyd. Another valuable resource is the UK Libraries’ Notable Kentucky African American Database.

Smith, Hardin and Karen C. McDaniel are now editing the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia and trying to raise money to finish the book by 2014.

Smith said this issue of The Register is another significant milestone. The Register, created in 1903, is one of the nation’s oldest historical journals. The quarterly publishes work from leading academics, but it also tries to be accessible to average readers. It is a good mix of scholarship and storytelling.

Hudson writes about the free black community in antebellum Louisville, and Hardin tells the stories of key figures in the desegregation of higher education in Kentucky. Smith writes about Kentucky chapters of the Congress of Racial Equality during the civil rights movement. Joshua D. Farrington’s article looks at strategies used to pass public accommodation laws in Louisville in 1960 and 1961.

One of the most interesting stories, by Sallie L. Powell, is titled “It is Hard to be What You Have not Seen.” It tells about Brenda Hughes of Lexington and the complex issues of race, gender and sports culture that she navigated to become a pioneer in Kentucky’s unofficial religion, basketball.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association certified Hughes as a basketball referee in 1973. She went on to become the only black woman to officiate at a Kentucky girls’ state tournament game during the 20th century.

Good timing helped Hughes, a young mother of two, succeed. In 1971, a federal judge had ordered the KHSAA to hire more black referees. That was because, 15 years after desegregation, half of student athletes were black, but only 1 percent of refs were. The year after Hughes became a referee, the federal Title IX law forced Kentucky to reinstatement girls’ high school basketball after a 40-year absence that many people blamed on sexism.

While studying at the old Dunbar High School and UK, Hughes’ only athletic opportunities were cheerleading. But she grew up with three brothers, and sports became her passion. The full-time postal worker became a part-time youth sports leader for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“This is no front or cause for me,” she told Lexington Leader reporter Gary Yunt in 1973. “I want to be a referee.”

Hughes died in 1986 at age 39. Nine years later, she was inducted into the Dawahares-Kentucky High School Athletic Association Sports Hall of Fame. Her story, and others told in this issue ofThe Register, remind us that Kentucky history is a rich tapestry of stories, from epic social movements to a young woman determined to become what she has not seen.


Walk down Short Street is long on Lexington history

December 24, 2011

The street is named Short, but it is long on Lexington history.

I have been thinking about how this milelong street, which runs parallel to Main Street through downtown, ties together so many aspects of Lexington’s colorful and checkered past. I quickly came up with a dozen examples.

When I mentioned it to Jamie Millard, director of the Lexington History Museum, he quickly offered a dozen more. (The history museum, by the way, is on Short Street, in the old Fayette County Court House. It is worth a visit. More information: Lexingtonhistorymuseum.org.)

Maybe you will have a spare hour during the holidays, some nice weather and an urge to get out of the house for a walk. Clip this column and take a tour with me down Short Street.

Start on the west side, where Short Street begins at Newtown Pike. But first look behind you at the statue atop the 120-foot column rising out of Lexington Cemetery. It marks the grave of Lexington’s most famous citizen, early 19th-century statesman Henry Clay.

As you begin walking along Short through Lexington’s first suburb, you will see many homes Henry Clay would have seen. To your right, on the corner just across Old Georgetown Street, is the former home of Billy Klair, a colorful political boss in the early 1900s.

If you look beyond adjacent Klair Alley, you will see a gas station, the site of Belle Brezing’s childhood home. Brezing grew up to run a famous house of prostitution and is thought to have inspired the Belle Watling character in Gone With the Wind.

At Jefferson Street, you enter Lexington’s 1791 city limits. The next long block toward Broadway is filled with history. On your right, where First Baptist Church now stands, was the city’s original graveyard. It filled up quickly during the 1833 cholera epidemic.

William “King” Solomon, an alcoholic vagrant, became a local hero during that epidemic, risking his life to bury hundreds. After he died in 1854, the community saw to it that he was buried in Lexington Cemetery with an impressive monument. When you get home, search the Internet and read James Lane Allen’s fascinating 1891 story, King Solomon of Kentucky.

Farther along Short Street, you will pass two old homes on your left with a historical marker between them. They replaced two older ones where Mary Todd Lincoln was born in 1818 and where her grandmother, Elizabeth Parker, lived next door. (The future first lady moved to what is now the Mary Todd Lincoln House museum on Main Street when she was 14.)

When Abraham Lincoln visited his wife’s family in 1849, he got perhaps his most close-up view of the evil institution he would later take the lead in abolishing. There were slave jails across the street from the Todd and Parker homes and to their side facing Broadway. That side property is now occupied by three historic buildings: St. Paul Catholic Church, Sts. Peter & Paul School and Lexington Opera House.

The Short Street jail was Lexington’s most notorious because, from 1849 to 1856, it is where slave trader Lewis Robards kept what he called his “choice stock” — young mixed-race women he sold into sexual slavery.

In the block past Broadway, you will see the soon-to-close Metropol restaurant. It is housed in Lexington’s oldest surviving post office building, circa 1825. When you come to Mill Street, look to your right. The left side of Mill housed the shop of the great silversmith Asa Blanchard. Further on was the office of Cassius M. Clay’s 1840s abolitionist newspaper, The True American. It was an unpopular publication in slave-holding Lexington, so Clay guarded the door with a cannon.

The right side of Mill has the remaining half of a building that was a confectionery and ballroom operated by Mathurin Giron. The building now houses Silks Lounge. Giron’s upstairs ballroom played host to Lexington’s most prominent visitors in the early 1800s, including President James Monroe and the Marquis de Lafayette.

Cheapside was for many years the center of Lexington commerce, including outdoor slave auctions. Mary Todd Lincoln’s father had a store where Bluegrass Tavern is now. The old courthouse on the public square was Lexington’s fourth. Before that, in the 1780s, there was a log school, where the teacher was once attacked by a wildcat.

You might be tired of walking by now, but keep going for a few more blocks. You will come to the Deweese Street intersection, once the commercial hub of black Lexington. There you will find one of the city’s least-known historic buildings.

Now Central Christian Church’s child-care center, it was built in 1856 to house First African Baptist Church. It is an interesting piece of Italianate architecture, but what is most remarkable is that it was financed and built by slaves and free blacks.

The building was something of a monument to the church’s longtime minister, London Ferrill, who died two years before its completion. Under his leadership, the congregation grew to become Kentucky’s largest, black or white.

Ferrill was widely respected by both races. His funeral procession in 1854 was said to have been the largest Lexington had ever seen, save for one — that of Henry Clay two years earlier.

Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo:


A century after statue, rebel raider still debated

August 22, 2011

The John Hunt Morgan statue, erected 1911. Photo by Tom Eblen

Descendants of Gen. John Hunt Morgan’s men and other Civil War buffs will gather Saturday outside the Lexington History Museum to mark the 100th anniversary of Morgan’s heroic statue being placed there.

But it will be nothing like the spectacle that occurred at what was then the Fayette County Courthouse on Oct. 18, 1911. That day, 10,000 people packed the square, and hundreds more filled the windows and roofs of nearby buildings to honor the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy.”

It was quite a tribute, especially since many of those people might have once cursed the man whose troops stole their horses, looted their stores, burned their homes and robbed their banks. Nostalgia is a strange thing.

As two excellent books published last year explain, Morgan’s statue marked the zenith of Kentucky’s ironic transformation from Union to Confederate state. That’s right; once the Lost Cause was truly lost, most white Kentuckians sided with the losers.

As America begins a four-year commemoration of the Civil War’s 150th anniversary, this is a good time to reflect on John Hunt Morgan — one of Lexington’s most colorful and controversial characters — and the role nostalgia has played in Kentucky’s collective memory.

Morgan was born in Alabama in 1825, the maternal grandson of John Wesley Hunt, one of Lexington’s founders and first millionaires. His family soon returned to Lexington, where Morgan attended Transylvania University for two years before being kicked out for dueling.

He joined the Army as a private in 1846 and emerged from the Mexican War as a battle-tested officer. Morgan returned to Lexington and went into the hemp business, but he missed the military life. He formed the Lexington Rifles in 1852 and drilled his militia in city parks.

Morgan, like most slave-owning Kentuckians, opposed Southern secession at first. But by 1862, he had raised a Confederate cavalry regiment and led his men through the Battle of Shiloh.

“He was the very image of the grand cavalier — a man who was romanticized, particularly by the women of the Confederacy,” said James Klotter, Kentucky’s state historian and a Georgetown College professor.

Morgan was a brilliant cavalry officer and tactician. His daring raids into Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio destroyed valuable federal property and supply lines, earning him the nickname “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy.”

But he pushed his luck too far; Morgan and most of his men were captured during a raid on Ohio in 1863. He and a few others made a daring prison break and returned to Kentucky to form a new unit. But his fortune had changed.

Morgan’s new men weren’t nearly as good as those who sat out the rest of the war in prison. He especially missed Basil Duke, his brother-in-law and second in command, who enforced discipline among his troops. Kent Masterson Brown, a Lexington lawyer and historian, described Morgan’s last unit as “a motley crew.”

As the war dragged on, Kentucky life got leaner and meaner. Raiders increasingly turned to civilian targets as they sought supplies and military advantage. Morgan’s men confiscated horses, robbed banks, looted trains and stores, and set several blocks of Cynthiana on fire.

When he was killed in Greeneville, Tenn., on Sept. 4, 1864, Morgan was ignoring a suspension order from superiors, who were investigating charges of thievery brought by his own officers, according to Rebel Raider, a biography written James Ramage, a Northern Kentucky University history professor.

Kentuckians might have been angry with Morgan’s raiders, but they were even angrier with Union occupiers. Gen. Stephen Burbridge had turned Kentucky into a police state. Arbitrary executions earned him the nickname “Butcher Burbridge.”

The war’s end brought a new social order. Many white Kentuckians feared former slaves and were determined to keep blacks “in their place.” Racism intensified, white-on-black violence grew rampant and Kentucky earned a national reputation for lawlessness.

Many white Kentuckians longed for the “good old days” and embraced Confederate identity, a phenomenon that Anne Marshall, a Lexington native and history professor at Mississippi State University, chronicled last year in her book, Creating a Confederate Kentucky.

In the book How Kentucky Became Southern, Maryjean Wall, a historian and former Herald-Leader turf writer, explained how Kentucky Thoroughbred breeders encouraged that Old South mythology to attract wealthy Northern horsemen.

By 1907, the United Daughters of the Confederacy was raising money to erect a monument to Morgan, the martyred cavalier. The result was Italian sculptor Pompeo Coppini’s statue of Morgan mounted on a stallion — ironic, since his favorite horse was a mare. (Generations of college pranksters have spray-painted the inaccurate genitalia under cover of darkness.)

By the end of the Civil War, the reputation of Morgan’s men was one of “murder and highway robbery,” wrote Duke, his former second-in-command. But a few years later, thanks to white public nostalgia, “if you could claim that you rode with Morgan, you were a kind of nobility,” Brown said.

The ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday will try to strike a historically accurate balance, said Sam Flora, president of the Morgan’s Men Association, an old veterans’ group resurrected in 1988 by soldiers’ descendants and Civil War buffs.

“Our take on it is that we’re proud of our history and heritage,” Flora said.

We will hear many more such comments over the next four years, as Americans keep trying to understand the Civil War’s complexities and the legacy of slavery.

“What we do is not a defense of slavery,” Flora said. “Most of the men who served under Morgan were young and did not even own slaves. They were caught up in the war and the adventure of the war. Our ancestors are no different than anyone else’s; they all had their warts. We just try to celebrate their memory.”

The dedication ceremony for the John Hunt Morgan statue on Oct. 18, 1911, filled the courthouse square with more than 10,000 people. Photo courtesy of the R. Burl McCoy Collection, Lexington History Museum


Historic home threatened by unneeded parking lot

October 31, 2010

LONDON — This is one of those stories that drives preservationists crazy: an historic home is about to be demolished for a parking lot. But it also is a story that should drive every taxpayer crazy, especially those angry about wasteful government spending.

It is a story about a project that would spend nearly $1 million in state money — and perhaps millions more in federal money — to provide more parking space in a downtown that already seems to have plenty of it.

The story has its roots in the massive courthouse construction program that since 2000 has built 65 new judicial centers around Kentucky at a cost of more than $880 million.

The Herald-Leader published a series of stories in 2008 questioning the high cost and management of that program. Kentucky lawmakers and John D. Minton Jr., who inherited the program when he became the state’s chief justice last year, have vowed to look for savings and improve oversight.

Laurel County’s new $23 million Judicial Center opened this summer. In a special meeting Sept. 21, the Laurel County Fiscal Court approved the Judicial Center Project Development Board’s request to spend $930,000 in “leftover” money from the courthouse bond issue to buy a residential block across Broad Street for parking.

The sale would require the current property owners to remove four houses and all trees on the block so it could become a gravel lot. Eventually, county officials hope to get federal money to build a parking structure for the Judicial Center and the nearby federal courthouse.

This deal outraged some Laurel County citizens, because one of the four houses to be demolished is one of the few 19th century houses left downtown. The Pennington House is thought to have been built in 1875, but possibly as early as 1847. It is a handsome Victorian building once owned by Dr. Henry Pennington, who founded what is now Marymount Hospital.

The Pennington House would be demolished for parking for the new Laurel County Judicial Center unless plans change. Photo by Tom Eblen

The Pennington House is owned by Tom Weatherly, who uses it for his law office. He has taken good care of the house, but he has been trying to sell it for years. The county would pay him $397,750 for the property, but he must clear the land.

On Friday, more than a dozen people attended a Fiscal Court meeting to ask for time to figure out how to save the Pennington House, either by finding another site for a Judicial Center parking lot or moving the house.

“Any community can have a gravel parking lot, but only London can have the Pennington House,” Chris Robinson told Fiscal Court members. He spoke on behalf of the booster group London Downtown and the Cumberland Valley Board of Realtors.

“It may need lots of work and rehabilitation, but once it is gone the history inside is gone forever and cannot be replaced,” Robinson said. “Every avenue should be explored before the wrecking ball is taken to any structure.”

Robinson said the house could be moved to another site and restored, and the Realtors’ board is willing to help. He asked for more time to explore possibilities and perhaps raise money for a costly move.

But Donna Horn-Taylor, a local architectural designer, said there are many alternative parking sites. Indeed, there is plenty of vacant or under-utilized land around the Judicial Center, and the county already owns much of it.

“The best thing is to leave the house where it is,” Horn-Taylor said. Then money could be raised to buy it from Weatherly and adapt it to enhance the downtown, which has made progress toward revitalization.

Laurel County Judge-Executive Lawrence Kuhl, who also is on the Judicial Center Project Development Board, promised to meet with citizens this week to discuss alternatives. He also acknowledged at the meeting that downtown has plenty of parking space, although it would require lawyers, jurors and Judicial Center employees to make a short walk.

In fact, three short blocks away, there is a fancy brick-and-concrete parking structure built four years ago with $5 million in public funds. There were only a few other cars when I parked there Friday, and several London residents told me it is rarely more than half-full.

It would be a tragedy to see the Pennington House demolished. It is the kind of historic building that towns across America are restoring for new uses that boost civic pride and the local economy.

As state government faces painful budget cuts, and the federal government grapples with massive debt, it also would be a tragedy to waste millions of public dollars on parking space that isn’t needed.

If state lawmakers and court officials are serious about reining in Kentucky’s costly courthouse building spree — and citizens really want to cut wasteful government spending — an unnecessary parking lot in downtown London would be a good place to start.


How Kentucky became the Thoroughbred capital

September 29, 2010

Maryjean Wall learned a lot about the “Thoroughbred capital of the world” in 35 years as an award-winning racing writer for the Lexington Herald-Leader. But it wasn’t until she retired and finished her doctorate in history at the University of Kentucky that Wall figured out how it came to be.

Kentucky’s domination of Thoroughbred breeding during the past century wasn’t really about the mineral-rich bluegrass and limestone water, although they certainly helped. It resulted from a chain of events during the turbulent decades after the Civil War that Kentuckians cleverly exploited.

Maryjean Wall. Photo by Mark Cornelison

It involved crafting an Old South image for Kentucky at the turn of the last century that appealed to the nation’s richest horsemen — and all but erased African- Americans from the picture. Wall pulls this story together in a new book, How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders (The University Press of Kentucky, $29.95)

I had heard pieces of this fascinating story for years. When Wall was still at the Herald-Leader and I was the managing editor, she would occasionally wander into my office and tell me about her research.

The finished book is a remarkable page-turner that earned glowing cover blurbs from some of the best historians of Kentucky and Thoroughbred racing. The book puts together many pieces of a complicated puzzle, and it is filled with well-documented stories that explain a lot about the evolution of Kentucky society and the horse industry.

Kentucky dominated Thoroughbred breeding in the early 1800s, thanks to its grass and water. But the Civil War devastated Kentucky’s economy; much breeding stock was killed, stolen by raiders or moved out of state for safe-keeping.

Northeast industrialists and Wall Street speculators emerged from the war as the nation’s richest men, and they embraced the “sport of kings.” They began buying the best mares and stallions and installing them on new farms in New York and New Jersey.

Kentucky breeders realized they were losing their grip on the industry and needed to attract that Northeast capital. But there was a problem: Kentucky had a well-deserved reputation for violence and lawlessness that scared away the tycoons who now dominated horse racing.

Kentucky was a Civil War border state that officially remained loyal to the Union. But as industrialization led to more anxiety and racism in American society, the public imagination was captured by “lost cause” nostalgia for an idealized Old South.

Until the 1890s, African-Americans had been some of the most successful jockeys and trainers. Jockey Isaac Murphy became a rich man. But as racism grew, blacks were forced out of all but the most menial horse racing jobs, not just in Kentucky but across the nation.

Wall writes that Kentucky breeders eagerly exploited this Old South myth to rebrand the state. Novelists and newspapermen started depicting a land of white-suited “Kentucky colonels” on columned verandas — a place where the living was easy for wealthy white people and black folks knew their place.

New York’s leading equine journal, Turf, Field and Farm, published by Lexington-born brothers Benjamin and Sanders Bruce, offered Northeast horsemen a steady drumbeat of Bluegrass boosterism.

That led several Northern moguls, including August Belmont and James Ben Ali Haggin, to start breeding farms near Lexington. Many more followed after anti-gambling forces outlawed racing in New York and many other states about 1910.

Modern Kentucky has many legacies from this period, including the large number of absentee farm owners and a professional class of bloodstock agents, trainers, veterinarians and others who have made horses a vital part of the state’s economy.

“I hope readers put this book down with a greater respect for the (horse) industry,” Wall said over lunch last week. Like many, Walls fears for the Thoroughbred industry’s future in Kentucky, but she thinks the solutions are more complex than the long fight over expanded gambling.

“It was never a given that the horse industry would stay here after the Civil War, and that is still relevant today,” Wall said. “The grass was never enough. And it’s still not enough.”

If you go

Maryjean Wall will discuss and sign How Kentucky Became Southern: A Tale of Outlaws, Horse Thieves, Gamblers, and Breeders:

■ 4 p.m. Oct. 2, Morris book shop, 408 Southland Dr., Lexington

■ 7 p.m. Oct. 5, Woodford County Public Library, 115 N. Main St., Versailles

■ 6:30 p.m. Oct. 7, Kentucky Historical Society, 100 W. Broadway, Frankfort


A brief Bluegrass history lesson as the Games begin

September 12, 2010

How did Central Kentucky become the Horse Capital of the World? A clever combination of good geology, good marketing and good luck.

When the first white settlers arrived in the 1770s, they discovered that horses grew strong and fast from drinking the limestone water and munching bluegrass grown in the mineral-rich soil. Race horses became a big business until the Civil War made a mess of things.

By the late 1800s, Northeast industrialists discovered the “sport of kings” and began breeding and racing operations in New York and New Jersey. But savvy Kentuckians lured them here with a clever marketing campaign built around an Old South myth of the mint julep-sipping Kentucky colonel. That story is told in the soon-to-be-published book, How Kentucky Became Southern, by retired Herald-Leader turf writer Maryjean Wall (University Press of Kentucky, $29.95)

This is a big year for horses because of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, Sept. 25 to Oct. 10. The Games will be at the Kentucky Horse Park, which is a great place to learn about our equine heritage.The Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau has information about horse farm tours. And every April and October, you can see “racing as it was meant to be” at Keeneland Race Course.

But horses are just one part of Central Kentucky’s rich and colorful history waiting to be explored. This has been a popular tourist destination since Native Americans began wandering through about 13,000 years ago. When white surveyors first came here in 1750, Kentucky was a hunting ground for the Shawnee, Iroquois, Cherokee and other tribes.

By the 1770s, Britain’s colonies along the East Coast were getting crowded, and real estate speculators began eyeing land beyond the mountains. Richard Henderson bought much of Kentucky from the Cherokee in one of history’s biggest private land deals. Henderson tried to form his own colony, Transylvania, and hired a frontiersman named Daniel Boone to blaze a trail through the Cumberland Gap.

Boone also built Fort Boonesborough along the Kentucky River, not far from James Harrod’s fort at Harrodsburg, the first permanent settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. Harrod’s fort has been reconstructed at Old Fort Harrod State Park in Harrodsburg, and a reconstruction of Boone’s fort can be seen at Fort Boonesborough State Park (for information on both, go here).

Authorities were not amused by Henderson’s land grab, and they voided his claim. Kentucky became a Virginia county and then, in 1792, the 15th state.

Land-hungry settlers rushed to Kentucky, in part because of author John Filson, whose 1784 best-seller, The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke, described this region as a “new Eden.” One place still recognizable from Filson’s descriptions is the Kentucky River Palisades, or steep limestone cliffs. You can see them on the one-hour Dixie Belle River Cruise from Shaker Landing.

The Shakers, a religious sect, sought their own Kentucky Eden, founding a utopian community in Mercer County in the early 1800s. The Shakers made elegantly simple furniture, architecture, crafts and music. But they didn’t believe in sex, which is why there are no more Shakers. The restored Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg is a great place to visit, stay overnight, eat and shop.

People found that Central Kentucky’s limestone water made good whiskey as well as strong horses. More than 90 percent of the world’s bourbon is still made here, and several distilleries welcome visitors.Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort has tours but isn’t part of the official Bourbon Trail.

Agriculture and trade made Lexington the most prosperous and cultured town in western America in the early 1800s. Young men came from all over to study at Transylvania University, and Lexingtonians proudly called their town the “Athens of the West.”

Loyalties were divided during the Civil War. Lexington was a big slave-owning town, but it also had been home to Henry Clay, who for decades fought harder than anyone else in Congress to preserve the union. Mary Todd, a Lexington girl, might have been married to Abraham Lincoln, but that didn’t stop many of her relatives from fighting for the Confederacy.

Lexington has several historic home museums that offer a glimpse into aristocratic 19th-century life, including Waveland State Historic Site (Parks.ky.gov); the Mary Todd Lincoln House; Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate; and the Hunt-Morgan House.

Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods are filled with history. The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation has mapped a Bicycle Tour of Historic Lexington (drive if you must), and Doris Wilkinson, a University of Kentucky sociology professor, developed an African-American Heritage Trail.

For an overview of local history, visit the Lexington History Museum downtown. A good place to explore Kentucky history is the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort.

This column is from the LexGo Guide to Central Kentucky. To read other articles from the Guide, click here.