Learn about Lexington's History!
Lexington, Kentucky has a rich history full of exciting events. Continue reading to learn what made Lexington what it is today!
Lexington has a long and important history. Located in the heart of the Bluegrass the city and its citizens have been involved in world affairs politically, economically, and culturally. The history of Lexington dates back more than two centuries and the founding of the town is congruent with the founding of the nation. In 1775 William McConnell and his fellow frontiersman were camped on the outskirts of the current city at what has since become known as McConnell Springs.
While encamped at this location the pioneers received word of the "shots heard round the world" and the first battle of the American Revolutionary War at Lexington, Massachusetts. They then named the settlement in honor of this monumental event.
Lexington soon became one of the first permanent settlements on the frontier. The town consisted of nothing more than a stockade with the citizens' cabins within the walls. The frontier, at this time, remained a dangerous place and early settlers clashed with the indigenous American Indians.
At the time Kentucky was not yet a state but territory within the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 1780 the Virginia General Assembly divided Kentucky County into three separate entities including Fayette, Lincoln, and Jefferson counties. Lexington was deemed the "capital" of Fayette County. In April 1782 the town inhabitants officially petitioned the Virginia General Assembly to become a town. At this point Lexington was transformed from the rough, wild settlement of years past into the community that would soon become known as "the Athens of the West."
Source: National Park Service, 2010
Sites to See:
Although you can read all you want abou tthe history of the area, the only way to truly form a picture of the history of the area is to tour some of the many historical sites throughout the city. Below is a list of a few of the more popular sites for you to visit.
Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate: Henry Clay was an important statesman and famous orator in early 19th-century American politics, a U.S. Senator, Speaker of the House, Secretary of State and three time Presidential candidate. In his home city of Lexington, "Harry of the West" was a respected lawyer, revered and leading gentleman farmer. Although most of the 600 acres of his "beloved Ashland" are now a residential neighborhood, about 20 acres are preserved as a National Historic Landmark. Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate includes an Italianate-style house built for Henry's son, James. (The house where Clay lived from 1809 until his death in 1852 was torn down in 1857; some of its materials were used in the new Ashland.) There's a great deal of family memorabilia on display, much of it relating to the "Great Compromiser" himself.
Ashland is located at 120 Sycamore Road and offers tours on the hour, Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. Closed January. Only open for groups in February, by appointment. Admission charged. There's no charge to visit the formal English parterre-style garden, a favorite spot of local artists, or walk the lovely wooded grounds. The walled garden is locked at 5:00 p.m. but you can stroll the grounds at any time. (859) 266-8581
The Mary Todd Lincoln House: Mary Todd, who would become Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, one of America's most controversial First Ladies, was born in Lexington in 1818. Her father, Robert Todd, was a successful businessman and Whig politician; her grandfather, Levi Todd, was one of Lexington's founders. Her mother died when she was six. In 1832, her father and his new wife moved the family to this brick house on West Main Street. Mary lived here until she was 21, when she went to Springfield, Illinois to live with her sister.
She and Abraham Lincoln visited the house several times. Today, family pieces and period antiques as well as personal possessions of Mary Todd are on display. The late Georgian style brick house was built in 1803 to 1806, and includes a period herb and perennial garden in the back yard. Open for tours 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed December through mid-March. Admission charged. (859) 233-9999
The Hunt-Morgan House: The brick house at 201 North Mill Street has several claims to historic fame. It was built in 1814 for the first millionaire west of the Alleghenies, a hemp merchant named John Wesley Hunt. Among Hunt's descendants was Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, the flamboyant leader of the guerrilla fighters known as "Morgan's Raiders." Local legend has Morgan riding his mare Black Bess up the front steps, stopping to kiss his mother in the hall, and galloping out the back door—with Union troops in hot pursuit. Morgan's nephew, Thomas Hunt Morgan, born in Lexington in 1866, would become the first Kentuckian to win a Nobel Prize, for his work in genetics.
The Hunt-Morgan House is cherished not only for its human history, but for its architectural features as well. Representing a Kentucky adaptation of the Federal style, it features a large, impressive entrance door with leaded fanlight and sidelight windows; reeded woodwork and door jambs; beautifully carved mantels; and a three-story cantilevered staircase.
Tours are given at 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m.on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday. On Saturday tours are given at 10, 11, 12, 1, 2 and 3 p.m. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The house is closed mid-December through mid-March. There's a Civil War museum on the second floor. Admission charged. (859) 233-3290 or (859) 253-0362
Waveland: Waveland was built in 1847 for Joseph Bryan, a great-nephew of Daniel Boone. With its Ionic columns and portico, frieze patterned after those on the Acropolis in Greece, 14-foot ceilings, and grand yet graceful demeanor, it is considered an excellent example of Greek Revival architecture in Kentucky. Its human story is that of life on a pre-Civil War hemp plantation. Along with the house itself, slave quarters have been restored.
Owned by the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Waveland is a State Historic Site. There are flower and herb gardens as well as picnic tables and a playground. Tours are given year-round on the hour. Call ahead for hours of operation. The house is closed on Sundays and Mondays in January through March. Admission charged. (859) 272-3611
Latrobe House:There's no furniture, and in fact, some of the walls have been torn out. But that's precisely what attracts most visitors – particularly those with a serious interest in architecture and preservation — to the Latrobe House at 326 Grosvenor Avenue near downtown.
Within easy walking distance of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, Latrobe House offers a rare opportunity not only to see a restoration in progress, but to see the restoration of one of only three remaining homes in America designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Latrobe was one of the designers of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, and is known as the "Father of American Architecture." He is considered America's first trained professional architect.
The house in Lexington, also known as the Senator John and Eliza Pope Villa, was designed for a prominent early Kentucky politician in 1811. One of its most interesting architectural features is a rotunda set in the middle of the square house plan. Over the decades, however, the house's facade and interior were greatly altered and remodeled. It wasn't until a 1987 fire and subsequent cleanup that it became apparent that the house was built exactly to Latrobe's design, a factor that makes it even more architecturally significant.
During a tour you'll get an explanation of whatever work happens to be underway. Plans include restoring the facade to its 1811 appearance and restoring the original interior layout. When the restoration is complete the house will serve as a center for preservation.
Latrobe House is owned by the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation, and is open for tour by appointment (call 859-254-POPE or 859-253-0362). Admission charged.
Patterson Cabin: At Transylvania University, on Broadway at Third Street, you can see the Patterson Cabin, built around 1783 by one of Lexington's founders. Old Morrison, the school's Greek Revival style administration building, was built between 1830 and 1834. Its designer was Gideon Shryock, one of Kentucky's leading Greek Revival architects.
First National Building: Also on Main Street is Lexington's first "skyscraper." The 15-story First National Building at Main and Upper streets was the tallest building between Cincinnati and Atlanta when built in 1914.
Old Fayette County Courthouse: This Romanesque-style structure on Main Street is Lexington's fifth courthouse. It is now home to the Lexington History Center. To the west is Cheapside, a small park. Originally a wide street, this was the site of slave auctions and abolitionists' speeches in antebellum Lexington; later it was the site of horse sales and other trading.
The Lexington Opera House: at Broadway and Short Street was built in 1886 and restored in 1975. Al Jolsen, Will Rogers and Fanny Brice are among those who have graced its stage; the Opera House is still used for ballet and stage performances. (859) 233-4567
Lexington Cemetery: Since 1849, over 60,000 people have been buried in this beautifully landscaped, parklike cemetery west of the downtown business district. Nationally known as an arboretum and garden, it contains many lovely and interesting monuments to well-known Kentuckians, many adorned with statues, poetry and interesting epitaphs. Most visible is the 130-foot tall Henry Clay monument. At the top is a statue of Clay facing toward his beloved Ashland estate. The grounds are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Free. Keep in mind that while parklike, the Lexington Cemetery is not a park; no picnicking, pets, bicycling, sports activities or sunbathing allowed. (859) 255-5522
Loudoun House: The Gothic villa at 209 Castlewood Drive in Lexington is considered one of the finest Gothic Revival houses in the South. It was built in 1849-1850 for Francis Key Hunt, who chose one of the leading architects of the time, Alexander Jackson Davis of New York, to design his house. Davis had designed many of the mansions in New York's Hudson Valley. Davis designed a romantic, castle-like villa with towers and turrets. Loudoun House is home to the Lexington Art League, which uses it as exhibit and classroom space and for special events and artists' studios. (859) 254-7024