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.
In honor of Halloween, BGT deTours took us to the Old Episcopal Burying Ground and Chapel this month to hear legends and lore associated with the cemetery. (We also toured Lexington’s Fire Station #1 because October is Fire Prevention month. More on that tomorrow).
The Old Episcopal Burying Ground (OEBG) is located on Third Street in Lexington. It sits on 2 acres of land purchased by Christ Church Episcopal in 1832. The cemetery is referred to as the “old” burying ground because no one has been interred there since 1870. Although it was nicknamed “Lexington’s Westminster Abbey” because it was the resting place of Lexington’s most prominent citizens, many of the bodies have been moved to the more fashionable Lexington Cemetery. Established in 1849, the much larger cemetery is laid out in the romantic park-like style favored during the Victorian age.
The OEBG was particularly important during the 1833 Cholera Epidemic. Over 1500 Lexingtonians were infected by the disease and it caused 502 deaths. Over 1/3 of Christ Church’s congregation perished.
William “King” Salomon, the town drunk, became a Lexington folk hero during the epidemic. He worked day and night digging graves and burying victims. Legend has it that he was unaffected by the disease because he never drank water, only booze. And if, by chance, he had been infected, the bacteria was killed by the alcohol content of his blood. It is believed that he dug many of the ca. 1833 graves at the OEBG.
The only person of color buried in the OEBG, is Rev. London Ferrill, a former slave who ministered to the black population of Lexington at the First African Church, now the First African Baptist Church. He was one of only three ministers who did not flee during the 1833 epidemic, which claimed the life of his wife.
It was noted in the OEBG’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, that many inscriptions were mostly obliterated and many headstones were damaged by neglect or vandalism.
A Gothic Revival cottage sits at the center of the Old Episcopal Burying Ground. Built in 1867 to serve as a chapel, the building’s design has been linked to John McMurtry, a popular Lexington architect and builder. It’s steeply pitched roof, lace barge boards, trefoil window, hooded entrance, and gable windows are typical of the Gothic Revival style. The building was later converted for use as a sexton cottage and later as a caretaker’s residence.
It’s most recent renovation took place in 1947 with the help of noted architectural historian, Clay Lancaster.
Check back tomorrow for a glimpse into Fire Station #1