Changes coming to the Lexington History Museum

In the quarterly print edition of The Bluegrass Historian this month, a major change was announced concerning new admissions procedures at the Lexington History Museum. As of September 25, 2010, all visitors will be charged an admission fee. At the June board of trustees meeting, members voted to approve the admission charge in light of the museum’s budget. After the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, the admission policy will change again to offer free admission to Fayette County residents.

The admission changes also bring about changes in entering and exiting the Old Fayette County Courhouse which houses the Lexington History Museum. As of September 25, point of entry will be the Short Street entrance. The Main Street entrance will be permanently closed and signage will be placed accordingly.

After the Games close on October 10, Fayette County residents will be admitted at no charge upon presenting proof of residence (driver’s license, student ID, check, library card, etc.) The change in policy is because of projected budget deficits, but still remains in keeping with the spirit of Dr. Thomas D. Clark’s vision that local residents should not have to pay to learn about their heritage. The decision to charge admission to non-residents is supported by Dr. Clark’s widow.

Museum President and CEO had this to say about the impending changes:

The Museum receives no public operating funds, although the building is maintained at a minimum by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. The Museum operating expenses are totally dependent on private donations, such as the impending admissions costs.

The cost will be $5 for Adults and Children over 12, $3 for Children 6-11. Children 5 and under will be free. Visa, MasterCard and American Express credit cards will be accepted at both the admissions desk and in the gift shop. The three other History Center museums Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum, Pharmacy Museum and Public Safety Museum will remain free to the public.

For questions regarding these changes, please contact Museum President and CEO Jamie Millard by email or by phone (859) 254-0530.

Located at 215 W. Main St in Downtown Lexington, KY, the Lexington History Museum is open seven days a week 12-4 with extended hours on Saturday 10-4. During the World Equestrian Games, the hours will be extended to fit with the Spotlight Lexington events downtown. The new hours will be Sunday through Friday 10-6 with hours of 10-6 on Saturday. Following the close of the games, the museum will revert to its Friday through Monday schedule.

The Lexington History Museum engages all people in discovery and interpretation of the history of Lexington, KY and the Bluegrass region.


If it’s May, it’s Preservation Month!

May is Historic Preservation Month! As part of our observance of this national holiday, the Lexington History Museum will be out in the community for a few Saturdays this month.

Saturday, May 8 (and possibly Sunday, May 9) come say hi to us at Mayfest Art Fair in Gratz Park. This annual event features local art vendors, artisans and crafters. We’ll be hanging out at the education tent, so come make some crafts (and kids, impress your moms with your art skills) and take home some information about our upcoming programs. Gratz Park is located between Third and Second Sts at Mill and Market Sts. Music, a book fair at the Carnegie Center, educational activities, and fun times await you at Gratz Park for Mayfest. And just think… it’s the beginning of funnel cake season!

Saturday, May 15 we’ll be at Founders Day celebrating the founding of Lexington at McConnell Springs off Manchester St. Due to construction, there may be some detours in getting to McConnell Springs so give you up-to-date information. We’ll have crafts and activities focused on the founding of Lexington.

Beginning Saturday, May 29, the Lexington Learning Cooperative will be offering free educational activities for families at the Lexington Farmers Market at the new 5/3 Pavillion at Cheapside Park. Check back for more information!

A completed Lincoln hat from Mayfest 2009

Lexington’s Most Colorful Characters

Lexington’s Most Colorful Characters
by Jamie Millard
March 31, 2010

With the death of Louis “Shoeshine” Cobb this past November, Lexington lost its latest in a string of colorful characters that stretches unbroken to the community’s founding days in the late 1700s. Certainly, anyone who takes on a wildcat (of the four-footed kind) with his bare hands must be quite a character. Thus, one John McKinney qualifies as the town’s first such type (and its first school teacher), as in early June 1783 he was attacked by a strangely behaving cat inside the one-room schoolhouse on the site of today’s Lexington History Museum. As the cat’s claws dug into his torso, its teeth deep in his shoulder, the commotion from the fight convinced the other settlers of an American Indian attack. Finally, McKinney got the upper hand and choked the cat to death. After being bandaged, McKinney called his class to order and resumed their instruction for the day. Understandably, shortly thereafter, McKinney left teaching to take up farming in Bourbon County, helped write the state’s first constitution, and was elected to the first legislature.

William “King” Solomon is also counted among the town’s earliest characters. Reputedly the scion of a wealthy Virginia family, he migrated to Lexington and took up residence – as the town drunk. One day, while inebriated, he climbed a tree, only to fall and land on a constable. Promptly arrested, Solomon was auctioned to pay his fine and debts. Bought for the sum of 50 cents by a free black woman known as Aunt Charlotte (for which the East End’s Charlotte Court is named), he was essentially enslaved – a white man to a black woman. Solomon’s lasting fame stems from the 1833 cholera epidemic. Because he drank whiskey, not water (or so the story goes), he was impervious to the water-born germs in polluted wells. As even the grave diggers fled for safe haven, Solomon calmly stayed behind to bury the dead at the Old Episcopal Burying Ground on Third Street at today’s Elm Tree Lane. Upon his death in 1854, Solomon was buried in the new Lexington Cemetery, and a statue declaring him a “hero” was erected at the gravesite. (Footnote to history: Solomon was not the only person digging graves. Two others worked with him: London Ferrell, a free black who is the only non-white buried in that graveyard, and a young U.S. Army Lieutenant Jefferson I. Davis, graduate of Transylvania University and later president of the Confederacy.)

After the War Between the States, former soldiers on both sides returned to their communities to live out their lives with memories of heroic wartime adventures. For years, Col. O.F. Redd, CSA, celebrated his exploits by leading the town’s many parades high on his cavalry steed. Sometimes, he would swoop a watching youngster up on his saddle where she had a bird’s eye view of the parade route. At the terminus of the parade, he would always remove his hat with a grand gesture, stand in the stirrups, and let out a blood-curdling Rebel Yell.

Of course, regular readers of the Chevy Chaser and its sister publications are familiar with the visage, if not the story, of the dog known as Smiley Pete. For 11 years, Pete, a mixed breed with an apparently fixed grin, was a fixture at the corner of Main and Lime, holding court outside Hart’s Drugstore. Nearby merchants saw to his nutritional needs.When the regular rabies outbreak occurred, Smiley Pete took up residence at Del-Tor Veterinary until the crisis passed. In 1952, Pete sired his only documented litter. But his loose living caught up with him, and he died on June 17, 1957. A plaque is in the sidewalk at “his” corner, and he is buried near the old Fairlawn mansion on North Broadway, where the marker reads: “Pete/Our Dog/A Friend to All/A Friend of All.”

Lexington’s colorful characters have been such to prompt newspaper editorials. The Lexington Leader of April 5, 1965, pays tribute to no less than five individuals whose antics entertained the community, if not the police department. Lost John wore a top hat and tails, strolling around downtown and the UK campus, playing the harmonica. Evidently, he came into a few hundred dollars, which he splurged on a motor scooter, extending the speed and range of his wanderings. Eddie Young was banned from Main Street after he suggested how an inquiring woman could “catch a streetcar.” Pete McGarvey, whose residence was listed as the Workhouse on Bolivar Street, spent his non-jail time preaching to whomever would listen from his perch on Cheapside “while he got himself in shape to go back to jail.” Walkin’ Munn Wilson was a perennial candidate for political office who would “preach politics and brimstone” until led away by the police. And there was a certain Mrs. Littleton who took Lexington society by storm – until a police detective recognized her as a former resident of The Hill (the city’s red light district).

No accounting of Lexington’s colorful characters would be complete without mention of James “Sweet Evening Breeze” Herndon. Known as “Sweet Evening” or just “Sweets” (and rarely called or even known by his given name), Herndon was born in 1889 in Scott County. Allegedly, the youngest of eight children was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital for treatment of an eye injury – and abandoned. Miss Lake Johnson, the administrator, took a liking to him and provided living space at the hospital. He paid for his room by running errands for the hospital and playing ukulele for patients. In time, he trained as an orderly, and earned a reputation for his skills of tenderly turning the bedridden. He also earned a reputation as the city’s first cross-dresser. Many a Saturday evening found Sweets dressed in feminine finery, wearing makeup and sporting a handbag while he strolled downtown streets. Many legendary tales are told about Sweets, perhaps the most memorable being when he was lowered in a basket from the Woodland Auditorium ceiling to perform the “Passion Dance of the Bongo Bongoes.” Sweets died Dec. 16, 1983, and is said to have donated a hefty sum to Pleasant Green Baptist Church, of which he was a longtime member.

Now that “Shoeshine” has joined the pantheon of Lexington’s colorful characters, who stands ready to take up the mantel?

The Lexington History Museum is currently developing an exhibit based on the lives of many of these colorful characters. We would like your input. If you feel that we have omitted any treaured Lexington character, please letus know.

This Day in History — April 11

Though Kentucky is famed for its bourbon distilleries, the Commonwealth did not escape Prohibition and the temperance movement’s advocacy for a dry America. In truth, there were plenty of Kentuckians who valued theimportance of living a Christian, alcohol-free lifestyle. One of the most famous is Carrie Nation, who actually took up a hatchet to destroy the evils of the a bar. Frances Beauchamp utilized her voice, more so than a weapon, to convince people of the ills of the drink.

On April 11, 1923 Frances Estill Beauchamp passed away. The temperance advocate was born in Madison County in 1857, an only child.She was educated in Madison County and moved on to Science Hill Academy in Shelbyville. In 1875, she married James H. Beauchamp , an attorney.

The couple moved to Lexington in 1880. Frances was a devout Presbyterian and had embraced the temperance lifestyle at an early age. A temperance movement criticizes excessive alcohol use, complete abstinence, or government eradication of alcohol by legislation.

In America, temperance began as early as the American Revolution and continued through the 1800s and well into the 1900s. Beauchamp became active in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) in 1886, when a local chapter was formed in Lexington. She took charge of the Lexington union as president and helped to form chapters across Kentucky. In 1894 Beauchamp was elected assistant recording secretary of the national WCTU, an office she held for ten years, but returned to the Kentucky chapter in 1895 and held the position until her death.

Under her guidance, the WCTU exploded in Kentucky. There were more than 300 chapters formed across the Commonwealth. Temperance education was pivotal to expanding the message of the movement. Frances was a gifted orator. She gave speeches at chautauquas (educational meetings for adults), women’s clubs, revivals, and other forums across the nation. She used her voice and was  widely credited for the ratification of the prohibition amendment to the state constitution in November 1919.

Beauchamp died in Geneva, New York, on April 11, 1923, and was buried in the Lexington Cemetery.

Lexington History Museum to be open seven days a week

Spring Break is coming and to provide activities for families during this week, the Lexington History Museum will be open seven days a week beginning Friday, March 26. Open 12-4 with extended hours on Saturday (10-4) the museum will continue to be open until November 1. School breaks are a perfect time to come explore the museum and there will be plenty of activities, including our Playdate with History room and family areas within Lincoln and His Wife’s Hometown.

We will be opening new exhibits including A Salute to the World Equestrian Games and Lexington in the Civil War in the coming months.

For more information, email, leave a comment on this post, or call 859-254-0530.

Chevy Chaser History: Those Clay Women

This day in history, March 18, Lucretia Hart Clay was born. To honor the birth of Lucretia Hart Clay, here is the Women’s History month article for the Chevy Chaser written by Jamie Millard and Joan Grever. Not only does it feature Lucretia, but other very important Clay women.

Those Clay Women
by Jamie Millard & Joan Grever
Originally printed in the Chevy Chaser magazine
March 04, 2010

Lexington, KY – As we begin the run up to the War of 1812 bicentennial, a lot of attention will be given to Lexington’s Henry Clay, leader of the War Hawks who embarked on the flawed adventure. Every bit as fascinating as the patriarch of the fabled family are three Clay women: a wife, a granddaughter cum daughter-in-law and a second cousin once removed.

Spanning three generation across 160 years, each Clay woman in her own way made significant contributions, not only to Lexington, but to the nation as well.

Lucretia Hart Clay (1781 – 1864), the daughter of a Continental Army Colonel, was born in Hagerstown, Md. Her father, Thomas Hart of North Carolina, was a principal in the Transylvania Company, which drove the settlement of Kentucky. The family moved to Lexington in 1795, residing in a fine house on the southwest corner of Mill and Short Streets (the structure was torn down in 1955 – an event that sparked the founding of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation).

Lucretia was considered one of Lexington’s most attractive young women. The Hart home was a social center of town, where Lucretia played the first piano in Lexington. She drew the eye of young Henry Clay, a very eligible bachelor who arrived in Lexington from Virginia in 1797 penniless, but intent on building a law practice in the growing city.

Married at age 18, Lucretia and her husband established their home, “Ashland,” just six years later. By all rights, Lucretia was very much the woman of the house, organizing the kitchen gardens and overseeing the entertainment of the leading lights of the day. Such famous visitors as the Marquis de Lafayette, President Chester A. Arthur, Vice President John C. Breckinridge, Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln, and many others either visited or stayed at the house.

Along the way, Lucretia became the mother of 11 children who, along with their tutor and 10 house slaves, comprised a small village east of Lexington. Over the years, that community suffered great sorrow. By the time of her death on April 7, 1864, at the home of her youngest child, Lucretia had buried all but four of her children.

Josephine Russell Erwin Clay (1835 – 1920) was the widow of Lucretia’s grandson Andrew Eugene Erwin, a Confederate Colonel killed during the Siege of Vicksburg. She returned to her late husband’s hometown from her family farm near Independence, Mo., in 1864. Lucretia had invited Jo, her three daughters and her mother, Zaenett Freeland Russell, to supervise the household of her youngest son, and eccentric bachelor, John Morrison Clay – a move that scandalized Lexington society. The two were married the following year, by which time Lucretia was dead and unable to witness her granddaughter-in-law becoming her daughter-in-law (perhaps an outcome she intended).

When Henry Clay died in 1852, John had inherited 200 acres of Ashland property along the Tates Creek Pike. Having managed his father’s Thoroughbred breeding program, John established Ashland Stock Farm and built “Ashland on Tates Creek Pike,” designed by famous architect Thomas Lewinski. A Union man, John fended off several attempts by Confederate John Hunt Morgan to raid his fine stock.

Upon the marriage, Jo put a stop to John’s carousing, although letters written while he was out of town document his wild streak was not entirely tamed. Jo was a Catholic, and her husband frequently attended Mass with her, having been disallowed from joining Christ Church because he “ran” horses; John noted the discrepancy that trotters were admitted, but runners denied.

Jo became a partner in the farm, having grown up around horses in Missouri. Together, they bred Day Star, Ashland’s first Kentucky Derby winner in 1878. As John aged (he was 14 years her senior), Jo took on more and more of the farm operations. Under her hand, she converted the farm from a racing stable to a breeding operation as her husband retired from the track. Jo became known as the “Horsewoman of the Bluegrass,” raising the farm’s reputation to national prominence.

Not to be a one-dimensional horsewoman, Jo was also a best-selling author of romantic novels published by Lippincott & Co. of Philadelphia. Jo died suddenly on March 29, 1920. Eventually, portions of the farm were sold off. Cassidy Elementary and Morton Middle schools stand on part of the farm, Lakewood Subdivision in Chevy Chase on another.

Laura Clay (1849-1941), the eighth of 10 children born to Cassius Marcellus and Mary Jane Warfield Clay, was definitely the child of both her parents. Mary Jane was strong willed, holding her family together while Cassius spent vast amounts of time away from home pursuing abolition, and not a few skirts. At the age of 12, Laura and her family traveled to Boston, then London, and eventually St. Petersburg, where her father served as Ambassador to Russia under President Abraham Lincoln. Returning to Kentucky to save expenses, Laura was enrolled in the Sayre Institute, cared for the wounded from the Battle of Richmond, and observed a cavalry raid led by Gen. John Hunt Morgan.

Early in 1878, her parents divorced and Laura was given a portion of the farm at White Hall, as were each of her siblings. Calling herself a “practical farmer,” Laura became known for her strong business skills. Unlike the other two Clay women, however, Laura’s national reputation was far removed from the soil – and from any man, for that matter.

Laura Clay was one of the nation’s leaders in the struggle to secure voting rights for women. She became active in the movement in her early 30s, and by 1881 was elected president of the Kentucky Woman Suffrage Association, which evolved as the Kentucky Civil Rights Association when the cause broadened to include property rights for married women and the right to practice as physicians in asylums.

Laura led the charge in the Kentucky legislature that created benefits for women and children, secured the right to vote in school board races, and helped draw up the 1890 Kentucky Constitution. Laura’s work was not confined to Kentucky. She campaigned tirelessly in a dozen other states.

Finally, the tide was turned and Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution and sent it to the states for ratification. Kentucky ratified it in January 1920, and by August of that year the right of women to vote was the law of the land. Her sole foray into electoral politics came in 1923 when she ran for the Kentucky senate. She was defeated on the divisive issue of betting at horse tracks. She died on June 29, 1941, having enjoyed just over two decades of voting.

Just three of the many Clay women (and not a few men) who helped shape the destiny of our community, Commonwealth and nation.

We love Lexington. It’s true.

Commentary by Natasha Collier

I’ve been a volunteer at the Lexington History Museum since 2007. In that time, I have seen exhibits come and go, thousands pass by the reception desk, and have been involved in some wonderful projects. Preserving Lexington’s history, though extremely fun, is not an easy task, then again, I do not think anyone said it was. I was approached by a community member in August to talk about the museum and about Lexington for the Review Lex series and I was proud that the museum was featured as one of the first stops along the journey. Frankly, I was also very nervous (and you can tell when you listen to me speak) and I was thankful that Jamie Millard, the museum’s President and CEO was in his office so he could provide the intro for the clip.

I love Lexington. I love waking up to a crisp Spring morning in the Bluegrass, driving down Winchester Road and smelling the glorious aroma of roasted peanuts*. Horse farms, Keeneland, the FEI World Equestrian Games, Red Mile: I love the horse industry and its impact on the history of Lexington. I love First Presbyterian Church, the oldest church in Lexington. I love it all.

What does this have to do with Lexington’s history? Everything, really. At the end of the day, it is my love for this city that makes what I do at the Lexington History Museum very special. I want to share it with you.

What do YOU love about Lexington?

*By the way, the now Jif plant was formerly Big Top Peanut Butter and was owned by William T. Young. You can see an original can of Big Top peanuts and an unopened jar of Big Top Peanut Butter on display in Athens of the West.