Tagged: Blue Grass Trust

deTour to Manhattan Society Queen’s Court

Mrs. Clara Bell Walsh (1884-1957), once described by a newspaper as, “the famed Clara Bell of Kentucky, who knows more about horses than any other woman in America and so much about society that society wishes she would be stricken with a loss of memory,” has many claims to fame.

She was the first resident of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. She is nvented the cocktail party. She had an elephant at the St. Louis Zoo named after her. (Don’t worry, it wasn’t a slight – she was very fond of elephants.) And she rubbed elbows with movies stars and politicians.


Bell Place and its park like setting at the center of the Bell Court neighborhood in Lexington, KY was once the home to millionaire socialite, Clara Bell Walsh.

Her cosmopolitan and colorful life began in Lexington, Kentucky. The only child of businessman D.D. Bell, she was born into luxury. Their home, Bell Place, was one of Lexington’s largest residences. It was built upon the foundation of her grandfather’s Greek Revival mansion, Woodside, just outside of downtown. After her father died, she inherited a sizable trust fund that included Bell Place and its surrounding acreage.  By the time Clara took control of her trust at just 21, she was a very, very wealthy young woman –  in part because the property around Bell Place had been subdivided into the Bell Court neighborhood. Later, Clara and her mother gifted the house to the city of Lexington.  Today, it is Lexington’s Parks and Recs department and its carriage house is home to the Studio Players, Kentucky’s oldest community-involved theater!

Bell Place (1884)

Bell Place, Clara’s childhood home, is large and handsome. Though its exterior has an eclectic mix of decorative elements, a strong Greek Revival theme unites them. The result is not the overly-wrought and effusive nature of some Victorian design.   It is classically elegant.  The strong Greek Revival influence was inspired by Woodside,  the Greek Revival mansion (ca. 1854) of Clara’s grandfather, Henry, which stood on the site before it was destroyed by fire.

Henry Bell began his career as a store clerk in Baltimore, and died one of the most influential and wealthiest men in Lexington after proving himself as a sound businessman and financier. His home, Woodside, was designed by an important Lexington architect, Maj. Thomas Lewinski.  It was a showplace. Conveniently located just outside of downtown, it was a suburban social center where Lexington elites paid calls, attended gatherings and had parties.  In 1848,   Mary Todd Lincoln described Woodside to her husband, US Congressman Abraham Lincoln, in a letter.  “…[R]ode out to Mr. Bell’s splendid place this afternoon to return a call. The house and grounds are magnificent,” she wrote.

After Henry’s death, Woodside passed to Clara’s father, D.D. Bell.  Not long after Bell and his wife, Sydney Sayre Bell (daughter of David Sayre), moved into the house, Clara was born. Unfortunately, when she was only a few months old, it burned. The fire that destroyed Woodside started in a servant’s quarters where an unattended lamp exploded.  Though the Lexington Fire Department worked to save the house, its rescue was doomed by a burst hose, the absence of the engine horses, and exhausting the water supply from Woodside’s three wells.

D.D. Bell hired Cincinnati architect Samuel Eugene Des Jardins to reconstruct the mansion.  Des Jardin blended the classic proportions and decorative elements of Woodside with current design trends to create Bell Place.   Surviving blue prints and the architect’s notes indicate that  Des Jardins used some of Woodside’s surviving components in the new construction, as well.  Some, if not all of Bell Place rests on Woodside’s foundation.  Walls that were not damaged and fit the new configuration of the house were also maintained. Much of the brick that was not scorched or smoke damaged was also incorporated into the new structure. (The bricks, incidentally, were made entirely on site during the original construction of Woodside). Elements that were not salvaged from Woodside were dictated by the architect to be of the finest quality and were carefully chosen.

By 1884, Greek Revival architecture had fallen out of favor in preference of eclectic revivals of historic styles mixed with elements of middle east and Asian influences.  The design of Bell Place reflects the trend, but is tempered by strong Greek Revival elements that mirrored the Bell’s beloved Woodside, particularly on the exterior. A good example of Des Jardins blend of Greek Revival and eclectic are the windows.  As the National Register points out,  they “have Victorian hoodmolds yet they are Greek Revival in appearance.”  The triple windows on the facade are also Greek Revival,  but the transoms are fashionable stained glass.  Stained glass is featured in other windows, as well.  The nursery designed for Clara has a triple window in the oriel with stained glass transoms depicting cupids- one learning numbers, one learning music and the other of a biblical motif!

Bell Place’s interior expresses the aesthetic movement more fully that it’s exterior.  Interior decorations were profuse and opulent, having been carefully chosen for their quality and beauty. Interior finishes include Gothic, Queen Anne and Eastlake, Arabist, and Adams, as well as a Japanese influenced elements.  (See photos).

The Carriage House to the rear of Bell Place was designed to have a Swiss Chalet effect – and was probably where Clara housed her award-winning pony, Fancy.

The Society Belle’s Court

D.D. Bell increased his suburban land-holdings with an eye to subdivide the property around his home after he observed electric trolleys spurring development at the edge of downtown. Though he died before implementing his plan, he left instructions for his wife to carry out the subdivision to provide income for Clara.  His will also set up a trust for Clara that included Bell Place among other assets, such railroad stock and government bonds. By the time Clara was 15, she was worth over $600,000, not including Bell Place. That’s almost 2 million today!

In 1906, D.D.’s plans were finally implemented. The property around Bell place was subdivided into 134 lots, reserving 4 1/2 acres around the main house and its ancillary buildings. The sales substantially added to Clara’s net worth.

Bell Court quickly became a coveted neighborhood.  It was near downtown, but was a “separate and quiet enclave defined by its physical boundaries and its neighborhood spirit.”  The houses built on the property surrounding Bell Place are mostly cottages and bungalows with  Arts and Crafts, Colonial Revival, and/or Dutch Colonial details.  Architectural historian, Clay Lancaster, grew up in the neighborhood. In 1985, he recalled,

When I came from downtown, along Main Street, with its noise and smell of traffic, a great peace settled over me as I turned into the quiet of Bell Court. Many people walked, in those days, and people sat on their front porches in the late afternoons and evening, talking and visiting, while the children played together in the yard. Sometimes we could persuade my mother to perform on the piano in the living room, and some of us would sing. It was a friendly sociable atmosphere. People lived just close enough together and just far enough apart, and the neighborhood was agreeably cloaked in verdancy.

The Gift of Bell Place

On her 21st birthday, Clara Bell came into her fortune. The house and all of her assets transferred from her trust to her control. The same year, she married Julius Sylvester Walsh, Jr., son of one of St. Louis’ chief capitalists and railroad men. (Clara’s grandfather and father had established business ties in Missouri by 1860). The wedding took place at Bell Place.

Shortly after their wedding, Clara and Julius were among the first residents to move into the luxurious Plaza Hotel on Oct 1, 1907. There, they lived lavishly, dividing time between NYC, St. Louis and Europe. Trips to Lexington and Bell Place, which she gave to her mother for Christmas the year after she married, were also common.

Alas, despite her wealth and advantages in life, Clara’s marriage was not a happy one.  In 1923, she shocked society by suing for divorce. Thereafter, she referred to her husband as deceased – she really wasn’t a woman to go in for subtlety!

After her divorce, she continued her busy social calendar, making The Plaza her main residence.  And if anything, her lifestyle became even more lavish.

She was friends with the likes of Mae West, John Barrymore, Ethel Merman, Queen Mary, Gregory Peck, and Dwight Eisenhower – whom she entertained at The Plaza with small intimate gatherings of several hundred people.

The company she kept could sometimes be controversial, however.  Ward Morehouse wrote that she was

“an early champion, in her own personal way, of human rights, inviting prominent blacks into her apartment at a time when they were barred even from entertaining downstairs. one of her best friends was Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, the black tap dancer who rocketed to international fame. Nevertheless, his renown didn’t shield him from the racial profiling of his day. A security guard spotted him coming off the elevator on Walsh’s floor one time and immediately asked the entertainer what he was doing there. Whereupon Bojangles literally danced his explanation that he was visiting his friend Mrs. Walsh. Which was all the dumbfounded guard needed to know.”

Her extravagance and eccentricity also often set the public’s tongue wagging. When she traveled to Europe in 1933, she reserved round trip fair for her automobile and chauffeur. This was during the Depression!  And speaking of her car, she was also noted for special lights mounted on her limousine that allowed her to park almost anywhere in Manhattan!

Bell Place Re-Gifted

In 1940, Clara and her mother gave Bell Place and its surrounding 4.5 acres to the city of Lexington (retaining life estate) as a memorial to D.D. Bell.  Her mother died later that year, but the property remained in the control of Clara who eventually rented it to the Cumberland Corporation.

The estate finally passed into the hands of the city in 1957 when Clara Bell Walsh died at The Plaza at the age of ” 70-odd (‘none of your business’),” to quote her obituary in TIME Magazine, exactly 50 years after she moved into the hotel.

(A curious side note: a court order was issued in 1969 authorizing MIT to make a chemical analysis of her remains). She is buried in Lexington Cemetery.

Clara Bell’s Legacy


The Bell Court neighborhood is a tight knit community. They have had an active neighborhood association since the 1960s.

Though the cocktail party may be Clara Bell’s most lasting legacy, Bell Place and Bell Court are a close second. Though meant to be a monument to her father, her fame far outreached his – so much so that the house is often referred to as the Clara Bell Walsh House. The neighborhood, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is almost entirely intact and continues to be a close-knit and active community. Currently, Bell Place houses the offices of the urban-county governments’ parks and recreation department. The ground floor is available to the general public for events, which means that brides are still saying “I do” there, just like Clara.

*Special thanks to Jim Birchfield for leading a very informative and entertaining walking tour of the Bell Court neighborhood, beginning at Bell Place.  And for sharing his research on the family, house and neighborhood. Much of this post was culled from his efforts!*

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.

Link to U of L’s photo of the D.D. Bell House

BGT deTour: Sayre School

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.

Sayre School, in downtown Lexington, has a lush green campus.  At its center is “Old Sayre,” a five story Italianate building topped by the school’s trademark cupola.  It was in this building that David Austin Sayre founded the Sayre Female Institute,  an all girls boarding school in 1854.  Sayre, then and now, offers  “an education of the widest range and highest order.”  The school became a co-educational institution in 1876, but was not renamed until the 1940s. It is no longer a boarding school, but it does boast of programs for students beginning at the age of two and ending with high school.

Today, Old Sayre is ringed by a cluster of modern educational facilities. The school offers state of the art architecture, technology and teaching methodology while remaining firmly rooted in Lexington’s history and the  downtown community. Students leave campus during the day for field trips, nature walks, and to patronize nearby businesses (especially Third Street Stuff, the coffee shop and boutique  across the street).

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Sayre School Quick Facts

  • Actress Ashley Judd attended Sayre
  • David Sayre purchased the school property and original two-story brick building for $15,900.
  • Sayre was the first independent school in Kentucky to have a one:one laptop to student ratio.
  • Sayre’s mascot is the Spartan. The school’s colors are blue and gold.
  • The preschool program offers Montessori and traditional methods.
  • The school’s sports teams have a “no cut” policy. Any student can play on an athletic team regardless of ability.
  • The average class size is 14 students.
  • The original two-story Greek Revival building on the campus was designed by local architect, Thomas Lewinski.
Sayre 1904

The Sayre campus as it appeared in 1904. Image via Wikipedia

BGT deTour: Woodward Heights

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.


Merino Street

The Woodward Heights neighborhood, a quirky and eclectic area between Maxwell and High Streets, has been experiencing a slow, but steady revitalization since the 1980s. Today, it is posed to become the most coveted neighborhood in downtown Lexington – because downtown is happening these days. And I don’t mean happening as in the cliched, 1960s  “it’s a happenin’ place,” but that it is HAPPENING. It’s coming into its own, it’s developing into a vibrant space filled with people and business and opportunity! And Woodward Heights is right in the thick of things. It is within walking distance of the city center, Rupp Arena, the new Distillery District, and boarders the proposed path of the Town Branch Trail/Commons.   It is also the latest subject of the BGT’s walking tour series, so with that in mind, we slipped on some comfy shoes  to learn about this historic district’s roots and to meet some of the neighbors that are safeguarding its future (a few gracious folks even let us take a look inside their homes!)


The neighborhood has a long and rich history. Much of it sits on a 400-acre tract of land first granted in 1776 to Colonel Robert Patterson, one of Lexington’s key founders.  At its heart sits what is left of the Botherum estate, an eclectic romantic-revival house and gardens built in 1851, which was subdivided in the late 19th century to create the neighborhood.   The result of the subdivision is today a largely intact area filled with an almost complete spectrum of late 19th century/early 20th century Lexington architecture: large front porches, carriage houses, elaborate mill work, stained glass, turrets, shingles, bay windows, contrasting brick work… you name it.  Greek Revival to bungalow, Woodward Heights has it. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and became a local, regulated historic district in 1987.


Queen Anne to bungalow, Woodward Heights has a variety of late 18th and early 19th century architecture.


As you might expect from a neighborhood as steeped in history as Woodward Heights, the neighborhood has quirk and charm in spades.

First, there are the place names. The neighborhood and its street names reflect its history. Merino Street is named for the soft-wooled sheep that were the “craze” in the early 1800s. A local businessman invested heavily. Though he never saw returns on that investment, the name remains all these years later.  Madison Place is named for Colonel Madison C. Johnson, the eccentric who built Botherum. (More on him later!) The neighborhood itself takes its name from developer J.C. Woodward, who is responsible for creating the neighborhood.  He bought 36 acres from Johnson’s heirs, which he subdivided into individual plots. As the plots were sold and developed by individual owners, Woodward Heights was born!


The sunburst was a very popular design element in Woodward Heights.

The original residents of Woodward Heights were mostly successful businessmen and tradesmen. No bankers or lawyers or politicians, but  printers,  grocers, saloon keepers, policemen, carpenters, the owners of mills and livery stables, etc. It was a squarely middle class affair. Therefore the houses are large, but not palatial (though still still big by today’s standards). Fashionably ornamented, but not ostentatious.


Botherum is currently being restored. The Henry Clay tree is the large tree near the vintage cars on the right.

And then there are the residents!  First, let’s take Colonel Madison Johnson of Botherum. Of course he wasn’t really a resident of Woodward Heights, as the neighborhood was developed after his death, but he’s so interesting! First of all, he graduated from Transylvania University at the age of 15! After becoming a successful banker, lawyer and businessman, he hired a prominent local architect, John McMurtry, to design his house. McMurtry included Roman Classical style, with Corinthian columns and porticoes; Gothic touches such as bay windows, diamond panes in the french doors and a Gothic rib-vaulted ceiling in the drawing room; and an unusual octagonal cast iron open belvedere on the roof where Colonel Johnson observed the stars with his telescope. The house was Johnson’s tribute to his late wife and is sometimes referred to as Lexington’s Taj Mahal. While Botherum is mostly famous for its design, which is one of the outstanding examples of romantic architecture in America, it is also famous for its Henry Clay tree. The massive Ginko that shades the front portico, was supposedly a gift from the statesmen to Johnson. If that wasn’t enough, Botherum has literary ties as well!  Supposedly, Johnson named the estate for a Counsel Botherum in one of Henry Fielding‘s plays and the estate was the setting for James Lane Allen‘s Two Gentlemen of Kentucky. The faithful servant, Peter Cotton, in Allen’s story, was based on Botherum’s gardener. And finally, Botherum is now the home of garden-designer-to-the-stars, Jon Carloftis. He and his partner, Dale Fisher, have been in the process of restoring/renovating the property since they bought it last Spring.

According to one former Woodward Heightsian, famed race car driver and automobile pioneer, Barney Oldefield,  once called Woodward Heights home.   Oldefield was the first man to drive a car at 60 miles per hour on an oval,  which led to the expression “Who do you think you are? Barney Oldfield?” (Though, I must confess, I’ve never heard the expression!)  Oldefield went on to star in several silent film about racing.  Unfortunately, his residence on W. High was destroyed by fire some years ago.


Scenes from the film Black Beauty were shot here.

Speaking of films, the 1970s mini-series  Black Beauty was filmed in the neighborhood.  The Riggs-Bain House on Madison Place was used to film some scenes. Built in 1888, it is a late Italianate/Romanesque house. The classical porch was added around the turn of the century. Has anyone out there seen this particular adaptation? Do you remember this house? Or it’s stable?

Lastly (for this post at least!), Fire Station #3 at the corner of Merino and Maxwell (see photo collage below) was the last Lexington station to use a horse-drawn response unit. Though horses have not been used since July 26, 1926, a horse-drawn unit is featured on the LFD emblem to this day. The Woodward Heights station was constructed in 1920, and is currently being repaired.

Preservation and Green Space


While most buildings are well maintained, some need a little TLC. Note the ca. 1920 fire station in the lower right hand corner. The “carriage house,” bottom middle, is one of the few infill projects in the neighborhood. It replaced a structure too far gone for restoration efforts.

As I mentioned, many properties were allowed to fall into disrepair by the 1980s.  Fortunately, the residents of the area not only took note of the neglect, but worked to have the neighborhood designated as a historic district in hopes of saving it.  Since then, many have expended significant effort to restore the houses. Though there a few that remain in disrepair, most are well-kept and beautifully maintained.  Once the home to the middle-class, it is now an economically diverse neighborhood.  The spectrum runs from the successful and wealthy (like Jon Carloftis) to university students (several of the larger homes have been subdivided into apartments).

garden 2

Green space and gardens are a prominent feature of Woodland Heights.

My favorites element of the neighborhood, the crowning jewel, in my opinion, is its green space. Merino and Madison Place are book-ended by traffic medians filled with an assortment of flora including roses, yucca, poppies and day lilies.  And most of the neighbors have also established beautiful front gardens. When one looks down the street, the impression is of a lush, green, quiet oasis. It’s difficult to believe you’re standing just a few short blocks from downtown!


A few neighbors were gracious enough to let us into their homes.  Below is the Ella F. Williamson House, which was placed on the National Register in 1989. The house was slowly restored and renovated by architect Tom Cheek and his wife, Fran Taylor.  The entry hall features elaborate mill work, paneling and a grand staircase (top right, and bottom center right).  The beautiful paneling is also found in the dining room (center left), which is large enough to accommodate a table set for ten and a cozy sitting area near the the fire place. The front hall, dining room and parlor feature some of the most intricate mantels I’ve ever seen (shown in the top left photo and bottom, center left photo). The abundant use of wood (all cherry!) in the house reflects its occupants’ connection to the East End Planning Mill on the Town Branch. If you’d like to learn more about the Williamson House or its restoration, check out this wonderful article recently featured in the local newspaper.

Williamson House

The Ella Williamson House, ca. 1889 (Click to enlarge image)

I know much less about the second house we visited, 312 Madison Place. As you can see, I was way in the back of the crowd and couldn’t quite hear the introduction. I scanned the National Register nomination for any mention of this house specifically, but came up empty handed. If any of you know more about it, please let me know!  Currently, it is inhabited by local artist Helene Steene.  It has the massing of a romantic revival, but the details are Colonial inspired. Doric columns, similar to those that adorn the porch, are also found inside. They are used around several fireplaces, to separate the entry hall from the parlor and from the staircase (middle photograph, bottom right, and bottom left). As might be expected, the decoration on the staircase is more subdued  than that of the Williamson House, as effusive decoration was falling out of favor by the turn of the century (center top, and bottom left).  Simple decoration can be found on the newel post (top center), windows (top right), and the pretty tile floor on the front porch (photo under window). However, my favorite aspect of Ms. Steene’s home is not the house, but its garden. Check out the roses growing up the two story back porch (bottom center and center right)! That is the stuff of fairy tales, right there!


The home of artist Helene Steene. (Click to enlarge)


As always, the deTour was a lot of fun. Thank you to everyone who came out and everyone who helped make it happen! And as usual there are no photographs from the afterhour at Paulie’s Toasted Barrel, because, well, we were having TOO much fun…Next month (July 3), we’ll be seeing behind the scenes at Sayre School, after which we will enjoy the Patriotic Music Concert at Gratz Park to kick off July 4th celebrations!

Latrobe’s Pope Villa

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.

pope 2

Latrobe’s Pope Villa in 2011. When built, the villa was isolated and was surrounded by several acres of forested rolling hills. The property was subdivided in 1900.  The villa is now within a neighborhood of moderate-sized twentieth century homes.  Image via The Kaintuckeean

Called “one of this country’s greatest treasures,” by Richard Moe, the Pope Villa in Lexington, Kentucky  was one of the most avant-garde buildings in the country when it was built in the early 1800s.  Designed by America’s “first professional architect” for a US Senator, the house was a cutting edge master piece.  As the home passed into subsequent hands, however, its genius was misunderstood or unrecognized and was soon altered to fit a more traditional mold. Buried under layers of additions, the house was eventually divided into student housing before suffering its final degradation, arson, in the 1980s.  Today the house is owned by the Blue Grass Trust and is being slowly and painstakingly restored.

To kick of Preservation Month, the BGT invited deTours to visit the house.  It was a rare behind-the-scenes look at a historic building mid-restoration/reconstruction. Behind the reconstructed facade,  architectural elements original to the interior lay propped against walls with exposed lathing and cracked plaster, waiting to be installed.  Upstairs, a structure of temporary pathways crisscrosses the vast rooms to provide safe passage for visitors who are curious about the second floor reception rooms for which the house is famous or the fire that nearly destroyed the building.  Charred beams, plaster, lathing and other evidence of the fire remain exposed.  Bits of the original wallpaper chosen by Eliza Pope still hang on the walls in some places. It is at once eery and exciting.  Eery because of the house’s state of suspended decay (one expects to catch sight of a ghost at every turn), exciting because so much of the house’s inner workings and historical elements are currently exposed to study.

Pope Villa2

The interior of the villa is mid-reconstruction/restoration/conservation (click to enlarge). Counterclockwise from top left: the rotunda (notice the niche for statuary on the right), detail of remaining original dining room wallpaper, the dining room, bedchamber (notice the layers of plaster revealed), charred remnants, and the main receptions rooms (standing in the dining room looking toward the drawing room).

The Architect

Born and educated in England,  Benjamin Henry Latrobe emigrated to the United States in 1795 or 1796. Trained by neoclassical architect SP Cockerell and engineer John Smeaton, Latrobe quickly found commissions to design houses and public buildings in the US.  Having established himself as the foremost architect, engineer and designer in the country, President Thomas Jefferson appointed him surveyor of public buildings in 1803. As surveyor he was responsible for continuing design and construction of the White House and the US Capital building.


Latrobe’s sketches of Pope’s villa showing a 2 story and 3 story option. Image via Period Homes Magazine

Over his illustrious career, Latrobe helped create a distinctly American style of architecture “elegantly austere exteriors which contained interiors rich in variety” and set a standard of professionalism that resonates today. He designed and collaborated on some of the country’s most important structures including the Bank of Pennsylvania (the first major Greek Revival building in the country), the Baltimore Basilica, the University of Pennsylvania, and Christ Church in Washington, DC. etc.

The Pope Villa is one of only three remaining residential buildings designed by Latrobe.

The Senator

While in Washington, Latrobe met John Pope, an attorney and US senator from Lexington, Kentucky.  “One-Arm” Pope (I’m not joking here, he literally had one arm due to a childhood farming accident), needed a summer home in Lexington to entertain guests and to use as a political base. He asked Latrobe to contribute a design – a move that would ensure that the summer home was the talk of Lexington. And it was, as much for its aesthetic and the reputation of Latrobe, as for the dignitaries that were entertained there.

Unfortunately, the entertaining was not done by Senator Pope.   Shortly after building the house, Pope lost his senate seat due to his opposition to the War of 1812, an extremely unpopular position in Kentucky.  His half English wife, Eliza, and house built by an Englishman did nothing to salvage his reputation.

The Popes resided at Pope Villa (also known as Pope Place) only a few short years. In 1816, Pope and his wife moved to Frankfort  he was (quite controversially) appointed Secretary of State.  The house was subsequently leased to a succession of well-positioned men who used it as a seasonal residence and for entertaining. In 1819, for example, Major William S. Dallam hosted a lavish reception for former President James Madison, General Andrew Jackson, former Kentucky Governor Isaac Shelby, and a who’s who list of other prominent Kentuckians.

Later,  Pope  formed a political alliance with President Andrew Jackson, who appointed him Governor of the Arkansas Territory.   As governor, he again collaborated with Latrobe. The two worked closely on a proposal for vast internal improvements of Western America, including highways, bridges and canals.

Pope went on to hold a number of other well-regarded political offices, but his Senate term remained the high point of his career.

Though Pope only lived in the house that bears his name for four years, he owned it for more than a quarter of a century. He did not sell the property until 1836.

The Villa

The Pope Villa is notable for the elegance of its design. It is believed to be the result of a close collaboration between Latrobe and Pope’s wife, Eliza. The design married his need for the pragmatic use of space and her sophistication. The result was an innovative plan that incorporated elements of neo-classical architecture and the picturesque and provided a wholly unique spacial concept for American residential architecture.

The cubed-shaped brick villa broke from tradition. It’s minimal facade is dominated by a one-story white portico composed of two Greek columns flanked by arches. The grand domed circular rotunda with skylight was unheard of for a residential structure. And the spacial plan defied the fashion of the day.  To enter the house, guests passed through  a doorway flanked by Ionic columns and large sidelights into a square hall, where they were welcomed into Mr. Popes office on the left, Eliza’s parlor on the right, or ushered upstairs where Latrobe placed the main reception rooms.  This was a departure from the long center hallway most guessed would have expected.


“Latrobe’s plan for Pope Villa fused 16th-century Palladian and 18th-century picturesque landscape principles – a perfect square with a domed, circular rotunda in the center of the second story and an austere a variety of rectilinear and curvilinear rooms. Three sheets of drawings survive in the Library of Congress.” Image via Period Homes Magazine

Latrobe hated the center hall plan because it caused the co-mingling of guests, members of the household and servants.  He also despised the use of a rear-ell to house all the service functions. His plan cleverly concealed the servants and their goings-about while incorporating the laundry, kitchen and bake house within the main structure. Servants were able to discreetly move between floors by using a separate staircase and hidden corridors.

pope villa analysis 1

Analysis of the circulation pattern created by Pope’s innovative floor plan. He called it a “rational plan.” Image via Exit Review

Aesthetically, Latrobe drew inspiration from 16th century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, which probably appealed to Eliza, who grew up in London where she would have been exposed to other Palladio-inspired structures.  Unlike Palladio’s villas, however, Latrobe designed a series of rectilinear and curvilinear rooms for the interior of the Pope Villa.  These rooms were another break with tradition.  They were surprising not only for their shape, but also because they were dramatically splashed with light and shadow – Latrobe’s use of the term “scenery” to describe the effect reflects his loyalty 18th century Picturesque landscape design principles.


Hypothetical reconstruction of the drawing as constructed, with original drapery wallpaper; dining room as designed by Latrobe (with furniture designed by Latrobe for other projects); rotunda as designed by Latrobe; and drawing room as designed by Latrobe(with furniture designed by Latrobe for other projects). (Digitally reconstructed by Stephanie Hawk, John Cheng, and Christopher Fahrmeier). Image via The Domestic Architecture of Benjamin Henry Latrobe

The Popes began construction of the villa around 1812, before Latrobe finished the designs.  Using local builder Asa Wilgus, they speculated and made changes as they went along, including enlarging the windows on the second floor and nixing the third floor attic story.  After the Popes were forced to sell the house, successive owners made additional changes to both interior and exterior, including a dramatic makeover by Thomas Lewinski, who was also responsible for Henry Clay’s Ashland estate.  At some point, a rear ell was added (I imagine Latrobe rolled over in his grave).  And later Victorian additions were made.  Eventually, the house was converted into ten apartments for local university students, obscuring Latrobe’s original plan almost entirely.


The villa as it appeared the 1960s, 1940s, again in the 1960s, and rear additions in 2001. Images via the Kentucky Digital Library and MCWB Projects

A 1987 arson turned out to be a boon for the Pope Villa.  Though the fire destroyed the roof and damaged sections of the second floor, the blaze caused ownership of the building to fall to The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation.  The BGT saved it from demolition  and from obscurity.   Its extensive research uncovered a wealth of knowledge about the house as an historic resource and made it famous in American architectural history/historic preservation circles.  It is now regarded as one of the most important buildings of Federal America.

Since the BGT acquired the Pope Villa, it has been a lab for restoration efforts, conservation techniques and research. Countless architectural historians, preservationists and craftsmen have studied the house and its restoration/conservation process or have made hands on contributions to research, restoration and conservation.

For more information about the process of restoring the villa, visit the links below:

Mesick-Cohen-Wilson-Baker Architects

Restoring Latrobe – Period Homes Magazine

The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation

BGT deTour: Central Christian Church

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.


A ca. 1934 photograph matched with the present day church. The sanctuary has since been rebuilt. And boy has the context changed! The church is now surrounded by tall office buildings and parking lots where it was once hugged by small commercial buildings and houses. Photograph via KDL – I encourage you to click through to the original. The automobile parked in front of the church is a 1930s crane! (There is also some debris in the churchyard, so it’s possible the photograph was taken after the fire that destroyed the original sanctuary).

April’s deTour gave us a behind-the-scenes look at Central Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky (ca. 1894).   And when I say behind the scenes, I really mean it. We covered the church from attic to basement (sometimes crawling on our hands and knees, sometimes crab walking), and everything in between!


Central Christian Church as it appeared in 1898. Image via KDL.

This church is unique in a couple of ways. It is one of the few  remaining examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture in Lexington, it is built on the site of the first Masonic Lodge west of the Allegheny Mountains, and it is home to the oldest congregation of the Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ).

First Central Christian2

Stained glass details. The image in the lower left corner shows some water damage. The image of Jesus in the lower right corner is only visible when the rose window on the side of the church is illuminated at night, or from the attic of the new sanctuary.

According to its National Register nomination, the church is the major surviving example of Richardsonian Romanesque in Lexington (it calls the Fayette County Courthouse impressive, but provincial).  The church was designed by Edwin W. and Frank L Smith (known as the Smith Brothers firm), who were responsible for many other institutional and residential structures in the area.  The Smith Brothers appear to be the “purest exponents” of the revival style popularized by American architect, H.H. Richardson in the Bluegrass region.  The NR nomination notes that with Central Christian, “Not only did they develop a convincing Richardsonian massing using the corner site near the main downtown commercial thoroughfare and incorporating the varied elements of the program in a functionally expressive yet unified composition, but they even went so far as to import some of the master’s favored type of stone, Longmeadow puddingstone (or brownstone) from Massachusetts, to contrast with the basic local rough-stone surfaces.”

Central Christian1

Architectural details – the doors shown in the center bottom photograph were installed in the 1970s

Other architectural hallmarks of the Richardsonian style found at Central Christian include the use of diaper-patterns, polished granite columns, the elaborately carved terracotta frieze on the central tower, and  stylized details derived from Romanesque and Byzantine sources.

color change

Old on the right, new on the left. Pretty good match, right!

In 1934, the sanctuary portion of the church burned. Though the congregation was tempted to relocate after the fire, they ultimately decided that their downtown location best served their mission.  Although the enlarged sanctuary was rebuilt on a somewhat different plan, “the reconstruction was remarkably well disguised.”   In the photo above, you can see where the new sanctuary was constructed – the stone used for the new portion is slightly more brown (left) while the old section’s stone is slightly more blue (right).  The new configuration of the sanctuary means that the rose window seen above is no longer visible inside the sanctuary. Luckily, it is accessible from the attic, and lights have been installed to illuminate the window at night.  We were able to view the window from the interior when we climbed into the attic.


Peter, aka the Kaintuckeen, gives two thumbs up to deTours! He likes attics almost as much as he likes basements. The rose window no longer visible to the sanctuary can be seen on the right.

The land for the church was purchased from the first Free Masons west of the Alleghenies after the Masonic Temple was destroyed by fire.  The cornerstone of Central Christian was dedicated on August 7, 1893 and “contains contents of era” and “is the same piece of rock that came out of the old Masonic Temple.”  It is believed that portions of the Masonic Temple foundation were incorporated into the design of the church.  While exploring the basement, we weren’t able to come to any conclusions, but we were quite smitten with the church’s old boiler (see below).  Obviously, it is no longer in use, but the church has kept it around all these years as an interesting bit of history. It’s really quite pretty!

First Central Christian

Though it is no longer used to heat the church, the old boiler has been retained.

Historically, Central Christian Church is the oldest of those churches that later became known as Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ). It is considered a direct descendant of the Cane Ridge Christian Church founded by Barton Stone in 1790. Central Christian not only has deep roots in Kentucky, but it is important to the history of an entire denomination. Who knew!?

santuary present

The sanctuary as it appears today

1934 Sanctuary

The sanctuary as it appeared in 1934 shortly after its completion. Image via KDL

I love that the church chose the popular Romanesque style for their building.  By choosing a highly fashionable style, church leaders showed a reverence for tradition and history (it is a revival style after all) and an understanding of what their modern congregation wanted and needed from their house of worship. (And what might attract new members!)  Central Christian Church is an example of beautiful and smart turn-of-the-century ecclesiastical architecture.

Over one hundred years later, the building is still eye catching and because of its architectural roots in even older traditions (the architecture of the Romans and Byzantines) it has never really gone out of style.  Central Christian is steeped in tradition and history from its ties to the first Free Masons to its roots in an important historical religious movement, and it is wonderful to see a group safeguarding their history while being a good steward of a historic local gem!


The deTours group admiring the architectural details of the beautiful old church.