A Lost Fall Tradition: Haggins’ Huge Party at Elmendorf

Green Hills Mansion – Lexington, Ky. UK Libraries.

Fall traditions in Kentucky abound. Each community seems to have a fall festival. Grand plans are made to enjoy the rites of Keeneland and Commonwealth Stadium. Each glorious event occurring with anticipation of the next. All the while, the weather turns brisk just as leaves turn their color.

James Ben Ali Haggin

But one tradition faded into the recesses of our past. But a scion of central Kentucky would make his annual pilgrimage to his Kentucky mansion for a few months before returning north again.

James Ben Ali Haggin, the Mercer County native who made his millions on California gold, consolidated his equine holdings to Fayette County in 1905. It was here, on his Elmendorf Farm, that he built Green Hills Mansion.

Green Hills was 40-rooms strong and its construction costs are estimated in today’s dollars at over $200 million. Opulence was everywhere.

And the opulence continued at the gala hosted by Haggin and his wife upon their arrival at Green Hills each autumn.

Dining Room at Green Hills. UK Libraries.

The Lexington Leader had this to say of the inaugural gala in 1902:

Unusual interest centers today in the cotillion to
be given tonight by Mr. and Mrs. Haggin at Green Hills, their palatial country place
on Elmendorf farm. Scores of guests have arrived from
nearby and distant cities and are quartered at the hotels or with friends. The
caterers and decorators have several special cars sidetracked at Muir Station,
a few miles from Elmendorf.

The next day, the morning Herald gave its notes on the “huge party.” Each year, the Haggins hosted a “festive array” for both “the Lexington and country people.” But after only a few months in the Bluegrass, Haggin and his wife annually departed Kentucky and their empire here for their New York and Rhode Island homes.

After Haggin’s death, Green Hills was sold to Joseph Widener. By 1929, the vacant home was too costly to maintain and the property taxes too steep. Green Hills was demolished leaving behind only the columns as a “mute testimony” to the grandeur that once was.

This post is based on an excerpt about the Green Hills Mansion from LOST LEXINGTON, KY.

Lexington has dozens of well-restored landmarks, but so many more are lost forever. The famous Phoenix Hotel, long a stop for weary travelers and politicians alike, has risen from its own ashes numerous times over the past centuries. The works of renowned architect John McMurtry were once numerous around town, but some of the finest examples are gone. The Centrepointe block has been made and unmade so many times that its original tenants are unknown to natives now.

Preorder LOST LEXINGTON here