deTour: Spindletop Hall

The Blue Grass Trust’s deTours  is a group of young professionals (and the young at heart).  The program provides behind-the-scenes tours of  historic buildings, places, and sites in central Kentucky.   BGT deTours are free and open to the public. They occur on the first Wednesday of every month.

Spindletop Hall primary facade, glass awning added in 1960s after home became a private club

Touted as the “Good, Bad, and Ugly Tour,” general manager Gerald Marvel gave our group free reign to roam the magnificent 1930’s Georgian Revival mansion known as Spindletop Hall. Named after Spindletop Field, where Frank and Pansy Yount struck oil, Spindletop Hall was established in 1935 on 800 acres of land in Fayette County.  At a cost of one million dollars (over 40 million today!), construction of Spindletop Hall took two years to complete. The widowed Mrs.  Yount intended the the house to be a showplace – it was and still is.

It is currently owned by the University of Kentucky.  It is a private club open to faculty, alumni and friends of the university.  You may recognize it from the Disney film, Secretariat. Portions of the movie were filmed at the estate!

It’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places was recently approved by the Kentucky Heritage Council.  Management is awaiting word on the NRHP’s final approval.

Mrs. Yount

Pansy Yount

By all accounts, Pansy Yount was a devoted mother, an unassuming millionaire, a generous spirit and a spit-fire who bucked tradition.  After the love of her life,  Frank Yount, died, Pansy fulfilled their dream of owning an award-winning Saddlebred horse farm in Kentucky with grit and determination.  When workers realized midway through construction just how much Pansy was worth, they dug their heels in. Without blinking, Pansy doubled their wages (from $1 a day to $2) and they were back to work before lunch. Unfortunately, her lavish spending during the Great Depression (locals would travel out to the farm to watch construction just for the entertainment!) rubbed Lexington blue-bloods the wrong way. When construction was completed, Pansy planned a huge and extravagant celebration.  She flew in French chefs and fancy ingredients.  And no one showed up.

Undeterred by the snub, Pansy said to hell with them and lived her life any way she pleased. She wore house-dresses into town (both unfashionable and inappropriate for a woman of her social status), dined with her staff (another faux pas!), and generally ignored Lexington high society.


Mildred Yount’s Bathroom

Spindletop Hall was designed in the Georgian Revival style – it utilized classic form and design elements, however, it was constructed using modern materials and with modern technologies in mind.  The two most interesting examples are the use of concrete in the structure and the installation of the Kimball reproducing organ. The bulk of Spindletop’s structural elements were fabricated with concrete, but the material was manipulated in such a way as to fool the casual observer.  The concrete forms were designed to impress a wood-grain pattern into the material.  The concrete is only recognizable in the basement and attic where it has been left exposed.   The most impressive example of the skill and workmanship involved in the house’s concrete fabrication is the circular double staircase located in the entry hall. (At the time of construction, it was the largest circular staircase in Kentucky).  All floors, including the attic, rest on 4-7 inch thick reinforced concrete and are the only per-fabricated elements in the house – everything else was constructed on site by a  team of artisans, carpenters, and other skilled laborers.

Prefab concrete slabs in attic

Wood grain impressed in concrete

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Mrs. Yount’s beloved daughter, Mildred, was a talented musician.  In order to accommodate the Kimball reproducing organ purchased for her, a large part of the house was designed around the extensive pipes and mechanics of the organ.  Much of its inner workings are built beneath the classic Georgian Revival porch. The mechanics also stretch into the basement and attic.   The organ was played manually or in conjunction with a Welte reproducing machine which used specially recorded paper rolls. The sound was funneled from the luxurious music room throughout the mansion thanks to a sophisticated system of speakers.  Staff loaded the Welte with a selection of music each morning and inserted a hand-written list into state-of-the-art remote controls installed in six rooms of the house. At a press of a button in any of the six rooms, the song of your choice would play throughout the house.  The organ, the Welte reproducing machine, most of the paper scrolls, and the remote controls are still in place at the estate.  Plans for a half a million dollar refurbishment to get it back in working order is underway.

Kimball Organ pipes in the basement

Other unique technological amenities included individual thermostats in each of the mansion’s forty rooms, 14 modern bathrooms (which included bath tubs and showers with 10 spray heads each), swimming pools, an intercom system, a six bay garage, and copper plumbing, pipes, fittings and roofs.

Welte in chinoiserie cabinet with paper scrolls (a small bit of the organ can be seen on the left side of the cabinet)

There is so much to say about Spindletop Hall, I had to break this into more than one post. Check back later today for descriptions and photographs of  Spindletop’s incredible interiors and grounds!

Marvel and the head chef sit with the organ – the fretwork behind them is a speaker.

Intercom in Mrs. Younts suite

Grande Entrance Hall – notice the fretwork on the ceiling and wall



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