Clays Mill

In a conversation with another local historian, I recently learned the location of Clays Mill.

The spokes out of Lexington each head somewhere. Harrodsburg Road goes to Harrodsburg. Nicholasville Road to Nicholasville. Old Frankfort Pike. Well, you get it. If you consider all the springs and creeks around our community, then consider all of the roads with names related to that lost topography and industry that has been covered with residential and commercial zoning and structures.

Armstrong Mill. Or Millpond. Which is close to Spring Run Road. Then there is Higbee Mill. But probably the most significant “mill” road in today’s Lexington is Clays Mill (historically written Clay’s Mill).

Clays Mill Road Today

Google Maps.

Clays Mill Road runs from Harrodsburg Road all the way into Jessamine County where it terminates at Brannon Road. The map above shows Clays Mill Road, in red, from where it begins to the Fayette-Jessamine County line. You can see just south of there where the road now terminates in Fayette County.

The road itself was once two-lane the entire distance until a proposal begun in 2002 led toward the road’s widening. The proposal was opposed by many neighbors because of the increased traffic and character change that would result from the project.

Another oft-mentioned project, once in the state’s six-year road budget, was the construction of an exchange from New Circle Road at Clays Mill. That project was “indefinitely delayed” in July 1985.

Clay’s Mill Road of History

But the Clays Mill Road of today (or even of 35 years ago) doesn’t answer the historical questions of the road. In 2003, it was posed in the Lexington Herald-Leader: “Did the Clay family own a mill for which Clays Mill Road is named and, if so, where was it located?”

It’s a good question. Newtown Pike ended in Newtown. When you drive out Richmond Road, you’d eventually arrive in Richmond. But driving out Clays Mill only takes you to Brannon Road.

The newspaper’s answer: “The Clay family mill was owned by Marston Clay and was sold to Samuel Barkley in 1803. The mill was located in Jessamine County on the Jessamine Creek near what is presently the end of Clays Mill Road where it connects to Brannon Road.”

Whoever wrote the answer for the newspaper clearly didn’t travel out Clays Mill Road. If they had, they’d discover that Jessamine Creek isn’t close to Brannon Road.

Thats because Clays Mill Road was once much longer than we think.

Google Map.

In the map above, the arrows point to a treeline which follow the old path of the Clays Mill Road. At the top of the map is Brannon Road and at the bottom is Catnip Hill Road in Jessamine County (you can see the reference to Chaumiere du Prarie at the very bottom of the map).

But that’s not all folks!

Google Maps

On the south side of Catnip Hill Road is a 1.6 mile road called Rhineheimer Lane. it is a straight shot almost the entire distance to KY-169/Keene Road in Jessamine County. The two yellow arrows in the map above point to Rhineheimer Lane. And the star — well, that is the site of the old mill. The old Clay’s Mill.

Hewitt’s 1861 Topographical Map. Library of Congress.

In the yellow square added to the 1861 map above, you can see the “Mill” adjacent to property identified as being that of Jane Barkley (which matches the newspaper’s account noted above). The small arrow points to another sign: Clays Road.

History Repeats Itself

Yes, I’m a history junkie. But I also like to follow the future growth of central Kentucky. As a result, I tend to read things like the Nicholasville-Jessamine County Joint Comprehensive Plan every time it updates. It was last updated in 2017.

Buried on page 62 is information about a proposed “local connector road” is this potential future addition: “Begin at Clays Mill Road Extension south to meet Rhineheimer Lane at Catnip Hill Road; continue from south end of Rhineheimer Lane south to meet Keene Road.”

This proposed project is identified as “3” on the map below. (Another interesting project, “4” would extend Lexington’s Boston Road all the way to Baker Lane in Jessamine County. With these local connectors planned, you can anticipate a lot of residential growth in northern Jessamine County.

If/when completed, the old course of Clays Mill will once again run its full course. History has a funny way of repeating itself, doesn’t it?

Nicholasville-Jessamine County Joint Comprehensive Plan – 2017.

A deTour of Lexington’s East End

Lexington’s East End neighborhood is proud to once again be the site of the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation’s September deTour. On Wednesday, Sept. 4, deTours will offer a glimpse of how the East End evolved and changed over the course of 100 years. And we will do it all without ever leaving East Fifth Street. The deTour will visit three locations: the Zirl Palmer Pharmacy Building, the site of the old Kentucky Association Race Track, and Shiloh Baptist Church. Tour details are at the bottom of this post.

Zirl Palmer Pharmacy Building

Google Streetview

The Zirl Palmer Pharmacy Building is located at the corner of East Fifth and Chestnut streets which is where the deTour will begin. It was built in 1962 by Dr. Zirl Palmer, a black pharmacist and prominent businessman who would later become the first African American appointed to the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees. Dr. Palmer also was the first African American to own a Rexall franchise in the United States. He operated his pharmacy at this location for several years before relocating his pharmacy to the Georgetown Street Plaza. In September 1968, the Georgetown Street pharmacy was firebombed by a member of the KKK. Palmer, his wife, and daughter were injured in the blast. Palmer never reopened the pharmacy. He died in 1982. Most recently, the East Fifth Street building was home to the Catholic Action Center. The building is currently empty and the Blue Grass Trust is leading an effort to save and re-purpose it.

Kentucky Association Track

The Kentucky Association race track was located on 65 acres of land at the corner of East Fifth and Race Streets. The Kentucky Association was Lexington’s thoroughbred race track for 100 years until it closed in 1933. Three years later, in 1936, Keeneland would open on Versailles Road. But many of the traditions and even some of the important races that began at the East End track live on at Keeneland. Case in point: the Phoenix Stakes. First run at the Kentucky Association track in 1831, it is still run each fall at Keeneland, making it the oldest stakes race in North America. A marker honoring the old race track is erected at Fifth and Shropshire Avenue, near the original entrance to the track. Photos of the track will be on display for the tour. The Kentucky Association track is among the landmarks featured in Peter Brackney’s book Lost Lexingtonwhich highlights sites that did not survive as the city grew.

Shiloh Baptist Church

The old Shiloh Baptist Church tin Thomas Street (demolished). Image courtesy of Thomas Tolliver.

A tour of the East End wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t mention its spiritual underpinnings. For this, we must look no further than Shiloh Baptist Church. The large edifice in the 200 block of East Fifth Street has not always been a black church. When the building was erected in 1923, it housed a white congregation and continued to do so for 40 years. But in the 1960s, the white congregation moved to the suburbs and Shiloh moved from its cramped quarters on Thomas Street to this location. Interestingly, neither Thomas Street nor the old church exist today.

Sanborn Map of the East End, including the Kentucky Association Track. The blue arrow
shows the location of the old Shiloh Baptist Church. Image courtesy of Thomas Tolliver.

Individually, each of the these sites attest to the rich and diverse history of the East End. Collectively, they speak to the rise and fall and now the revival of the neighborhood.

If you are interested in learning more, then please join us on September 4, 2019, for the BGT deTour. We will gather at the pharmacy at 5:30 p.m. and the program will start around 5:45. As always, deTours are free of charge and open to the public. This easy walking tour spans just four blocks. 

This post was submitted by Thomas Tolliver in anticipation of the September 4, deTour. It has been slightly edited by the author of this site.

Goodbye to the Cranes of CentrePointe

The front page of today’s Herald-Leader proclaimed that the last crane which stood for years. The cranes (you’ll recall, there were once two massive cranes) were installed in December 2014.

The news made me recall an old post I wrote with a bit of Centrepointe poetry. Of course, the name Centrepointe gave way to City Center. But the Centrepointe will remain in my memory and in the pages of Lost Lexington.

My haiku poem was written in early 2015 as we continued to await whatever would be constructed over what had once been a historic block of commercial buildings before becoming CentrePasture and then CentrePit (the nicknames, no doubt, contributed – along with a corporate partnership agreement – to the renaming of the project to City Center).

High o’er our city

Tow’ring cranes idle they stand

What will happen here?

Well, now we know. Just look downtown and see.

A Museum at the Stockyards

On October 3, 1889, the Lexington Leader reported that the “Bluegrass Stock Yards buildings, the property of Carrithers & Beard, were leveled to the ground by fire Wednesday afternoon. The buildings occupied an area of about two acres. This is the second time the stock yards have been burned out. The buildings were unusually full of provender, a large quantity of it having recently been hauled.”

It would by no means be the last stock yard fire in Lexington, Kentucky. The most recent fire (in January 2016) destroyed seven acres of stockyard infrastructure sending thick, black clouds of smoke skyward in a plume that could be seen from neighboring counties. Emerging from this destruction is a new stockyards, though the location has left the urban center of Lexington and found a new home along the interstate near the Kentucky Horse Park.

In September 2018, the new stock yards opened in an impressive 232,000 square foot facility that boasts a regional marketplace. With a friend, I visited there a few months ago for the first time to have lunch at Hayden’s Stockyard Eatery. On the way out, I discovered another treat: The Blue Grass Stockyards Museum.

According to its website, the museum “is home to pictures, artifacts and information about central Kentucky’s storied past and influence on the region, country and the world. Stop by the museum to reflect on the past and dream about the future of production agriculture’s vital role in the Bluegrass state.”

If you haven’t previously checked this museum (or the stockyards, or Hayden’s) out, take the opportunity to do so!

A Stretch of Waveland Museum Lane Closes

Waveland Museum Lane will close November 15, 2018

A stretch of Lexington’s Waveland Museum Lane will be closed today, November 15, 2018, to traffic. This is an old stretch of road that connects Winthrop Drive and Millpond Road; the stretch used to be part of Higbee Mill Road when that road transversed the farms west of Nicholasville Pike in the southern edges of Fayette County.

Old city maps identifying Higbee Mill Road

The stretch of roadway will become part of a mixed use trail. The stretch of roadway is right around  the corner from my office – Brackney Law Office, PLLC. The soon to be “lost” roadway has become part of my daily commute, so I created a little video to remember her by.

Lexington Lincoln Day

Anyone familiar the history of Lexington, Kentucky knows that there are many connections between our community and our nation’s sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln. His wife, Mary Todd, was born in and grew up in Lexington. As a result of this connection, Lincoln made three trips to Lexington from 1847 to 1850.

Lincoln’s Trips to Lexington

The first of those trips was in November of 1847.  Abraham Lincoln was a Congressman-elect, having just won an election to serve the people of Illinois in Congress. The young couple stayed in Lexington for about three weeks during their sojourn to Washington, D.C. During the visit, Abraham Lincoln heard two great orators speak with views that ultimately shaped his own.

Henry Clay, on November 13, 1847, gave an impassioned speech to a Lexington audience that included Mr. Lincoln. Lincoln was a supporter of Henry Clay and was influenced by both Clay and his Whig political views.

On the 25th of the same month, Lincoln heard the Rev. Robert J. Breckinridge, minister of First Presbyterian Church, preach a guest sermon at the newly opened Second Presbyterian. It was a Thanksgiving Day sermon. Rev. Breckinridge was known as the “Napoleon of the pulpit.” Though the words of his sermon from that day have not been preserved, Breckinridge was “noted for his hostility to slavery” and his sermon, no doubt, also had an influence on the future President. That afternoon, the Lincoln’s left Lexington for a trek by stage, boat, and train to our nation’s capital.

Two future occasions would cause Abraham Lincoln to return to Lexington: the death of Mary’s father in 1849 and her maternal grandmother in 1850.

Event Details

To celebrate the President’s Lexington connection, November 17, 2018 will be designated Lincoln Day in Lexington. Hopefully, this will become an annual event timed to coincide with the occasions of Lincoln’s first visit to the Athens of the West!

Come celebrate with us the first Lexington Lincoln Day on November 17, 2018. The celebration will be from 10 am to 1 pm at the new VisitLEX Visitors Center at the newly renovated former Fayette County Courthouse. LEX History Tours and the Lexington History Museum are putting on this event with VisitLEX and the Explorium of Lexington. We will celebrate the significant influence that Lexington and Lexingtonians had on the remarkable life of Abraham Lincoln. We will also celebrate the recent designation of Camp Nelson as a National Monument and its importance to central Kentucky.

There will be activities for adults and children alike. Included will be presentations on Lexington’s influence on Lincoln followed by a short walking downtown tour displaying pertinent locations that were impactful to Lincoln during his three visits to Lexington. A short presentation will also be made describing the importance that Camp Nelson had on the African-American community in and around Lexington. The Explorium of Lexington will provide a table with fun tools for kids to learn the history of Kentucky.

Another Day Cycling Through Lexington

Whiskey offerings at James E. Pepper Distillery. Author’s collection.

My sister and I embarked on what has become our annual tradition (2018 was our third annual) of cycling through  Lexington’s past and exploring new developments and changes to the landscape in the town we both call “home.”

Our 2018 trek was met with an early disruption as I discovered that my bike lock was still at my house and that going to retrieve it would delay our ride by an hour. After posting my predicament on Facebook, a friend quickly came to my aid. But the five minute drive there and back was punctuated by a quick drive through The Lexington Cemetery,, to see the monuments that had recently been relocated there from the courthouse lawn. I had supported the removal of the two Confederates from Lexington’s most premier public space to the cemetery, and the new locations for Hunt-Morgan and Breckinridge are fitting and proper. The monuments are much more accessible having been removed from their lofty pediments.

Looking up toward the dome of the Old Courthouse.
Author’s collection.

A bike lock in hand, we proceeded to our starting point (and what should certainly be the start of any Lexington tour): The Lexington Visitors Center, VisitLex recently reopened in the old Courthouse on West Main Street. Construction of the old courthouse began in 1898 and it served as the county courthouse for a century until new courthouses opened on North Limestone Street in 2002. It was thereafter occupied by a number of museums, most notably the Lexington History Museum,, but all tenants were forced to vacate in 2012 due to lead paint, asbestos, and other environmental factors. A two year, $32 million project brought the old Courthouse to its historic grandeur.

After the visitor’s center, we walked my bike down West Short Street to the nearest available Spin bike on North Mill. Spin,, introduced its bicycle rentals to Lexington just within the past few months and allow customers to rent bikes for $1 per half hour using a mobile app. My sister, in town for a week, had become an expert in Spin bikes and loved their comfort, affordability, and ease of use. They are certainly a win for Lexington and its bikeability.

We both mounted are bicycles and took off toward the Distillery District,, where much has changed since our 2017 tour. Most significantly, the James E. Pepper Distillery,, is now open for tours. Although our schedule didn’t permit a tour, we were welcomed into their visitors center where a large flag adorns the wall. The flag was found in California and returned to the distillery where it had been flown until the distillery shuttered in 1958. At one point, Pepper was the largest whiskey distillery in the United States. Today, it produces five whiskeys (3 ryes, 2 bourbons) which were fortunate enough to sample.

Our appetites whetted, my sister and I walked next door to the Goodfellas Pizza,, to enjoy their $6 lunch special: a huge slice of pie, a side (we each opted for a salad), and a drink (soda, tea, or a Narragansett Lager, Although it was by no means my first time at Goodfellas, it was hers and she is looking forward to returning.

Back down Manchester Street, we turned onto Oliver Lewis Way so that we could reach the next destination: Country Boy Brewing, It was another first visit for my sister; she and I have twice before reached their door only to find it closed due to my failure to first check operating hours. There is no pretension in this cinderblock building, only good beer. I had their Living Proof: Golden Wild Ale which was tangy and almost like a mild gose; very enjoyable. My sister, a fan of the pilsner, found their Survive to be on the money.

New student center at University of Kentucky. Author’s collection.

After leaving Country Boy, we maneuvered over to UK’s campus to sample some of the older landmarks like the Gillis Building, the Patterson Office Tower, and the statue of President Patterson. But the real reason for visiting my alma mater was to check out the new $200 million student center. Wow! Just wow. This was definitely not there when I was a student. The new two-story bookstore, operated by Barnes & Noble, is nothing but impressive (though it is remarkable how little space is actually committed to textbooks for a university having an enrollment of over 30,000). The old Alumni Gym has been preserved and repurposed as a student fitness center – it may well be the most beautiful, most well-appointed fitness centers in town.

A race down Euclid Avenue and a left onto Ashland Avenue unveiled one of Lexington’s newest bookstores: Brier Books, A great selection and an awesome staff. Further down Ashland Avenue, we entered Warehouse Block, My sister visited with a friend at Centered,, and we settled into another beer at Mirror Twin Brewing,, (we shared Bee Sting, a honey hefeweizen).

We began back toward North Limestone with a brief pitstop to see the bicycle-beer combo at Bicycle Face,, (a shop I will surely return to). It was a great day for a leisurely 8 mile ride punctuated by so many stops at local shops and watering holes. #sharethelex

Lexington, Kentucky’s City Hall

The old Lafayette Hotel and present City Hall. Author’s Collection.

Lexington, Kentucky may be well on its way to a new city hall. Four developers have submitted proposals to city officials and three of the developers have released renderings of their proposals to the public (pictures below). With city offices spread across five downtown buildings, Lexington has been considering moving its city hall for many years. If city hall moves, it certainly won’t be the first time in history. Here are a few locales that have served as Lexington’s city hall.

Early City Hall Sites 

In 1845, the Lexington Observer and Reporter noted that “Mayor and council have entered into arrangements with owners of old medical hall to be converted into a city hall.” City offices moved into this facility located at the northwest corner of Market and Church streets along with other entities such as the library and the Odd Fellows.1

Market House (Jackson Hall) and home of city hall from 1880-1929. University of Kentucky Libraries.

In 1879, the Lexington Transcript reported that Phelix Lundin had submitted plans for a new market house which would house the council chamber on the second floor. At the end of July 1879, the cornerstone was laid for the construction of the “new market house and city hall.” By May of the following year, the city hall was occupied in the market house known as Jackson Hall. It was located in a block bordered by Limestone, Upper, Vine, and Water streets. The city sold Jackson Hall in 1941. whereupon it was almost immediately demolished to make way for a parking lot and later for the widening of Vine Street.

Long before selling, however, city hall had already moved.

In 1924, Leon K. Frankel and John J. Curtis were hired by the city to design a new city hall.  It was located on the east side of Walnut Street (later renamed  Martin Luther King Blvd) at Barr Street. According to Clay Lancaster in his book Vestiges of the Venerable City, a widening of Barr Street was completed “for an impressive approach” “with a large strip being taken from the front yards of the ante-bellum houses on the block.” The new city hall was completed in 1928 at a total price tag of $319,000.

Municipal Building, Lexington’s city hall from 1928-1983. University of Kentucky Libraries.

Lafayette Hotel

The twelve-story Lafayette Hotel was completed by 1920 and for forty years was a premier Lexington institution. By the early 1960s, the hostelry had shuttered and the building was converted into offices.  Wrote the Herald-Leader in 1983:

After opening with a gala ball in 1920, the Lafayette Hotel provided elegant lodging, refined dining and a posh place for proms for decades. The hotel closed in 1960 and served as a private office building for 20 years. But at the Lexington-Fayette government Center, the high-rise at 200 East Main Street is recapturing its public identity.

The move has long been described as temporary, however, and there have been growing discussions over the past decades about a new home for city offices. Today, the discussions are beginning to materialize.

The Proposals

As noted above, there are four submitted proposals for a new city hall. In determining which one you prefer, think about the criteria set forth by the retired dean of UK’s architecture school, Anthony Eardley, who was profiled by Tom Eblen in a 2016 column published in the Herald-Leader. In anticipation of this very project, Eardley considered (and found examples worldwide) of what makes a good – and a bad – city hall. His findings are accessible at
Proposal by Municipal Consolidation and Construction which would locate City Hall on Main Street just
to the east of the Lexington Public Library’s Central Branch.
Proposal by CRM Companies which would locate City Hall on Midland Avenue in the former
Lexington Herald-Leader building. 
Proposal by Cowgirl Partners which would locate City Hall on Corral Street at Martin Luther King Blvd
There is a proposal from one more developer (Pure Development) for which there are no public details available. I’ll update this post from time to time as more information becomes available.

Estate Planning Awareness Week

Advertising Material.
Hart-Bradford House. Library of Congress.

In the opening chapter of Lost Lexington, I wrote that Thomas Hart left to his wife a life estate “in the house and lot which I at present occupy.” At first blush, one might believe that a life estate was given to his wife in the Hart-Bradford House that housed such significant history. But both Hart’s last will and testament and its probate were after Thomas Hart had transferred, by deed, the residence at the southwest corner of Second and Mill streets to his son. Thomas Hart left his wife a life estate in a different residence than the infamous home that was the site of Henry Clay’s nuptials, the home of Laura Clay, and since the 1950s the site of a parking lot.

Examining the historic places of Kentucky inevitably brings one to deed books and recorded wills that reveal much about the history of place. Sometimes, a last will and testament will reveal something about the testator (the person making the will) as well.

Henry Clay

Take for example, Henry Clay. Clay was a slaveowner having owned as many as 60 slaves during his lifetime. His will provided for his slaves manumission (or gradual emancipation) upon their achieving a certain age. The intent would be to ensure that each slave would be provided with basic shelter, food, etc. until they were 25 (females) or 28 (males). Further, Clay favored the removal of blacks from North America and their return to Africa. To accomplish this aim for his former slaves, Clay provided that “the three years next preceding their arrival at the age of freedom, they shall be entitled to their hire to wages or those years … to delay the expense of transporting them to the one of the African Colonies.”

These provision, fortunately, have no place in a last will and testament today. But these lessons from the past are reminders for the present and for the future: estate planning is important no matter our circumstances.

Even though estate planning is for everyone, the majority of Kentuckians (and Americans, generally) do not have their estate plans in order. This can create confusion after death with the disposal of property and the guardianship of minor children, and it can lead to unnecessary costs as well. Neither is something you want to leave behind for your grieving loved ones.

Congress recognized the importance of Estate Planning and proclaimed the third week in October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week. In 2017, that’s October 16-22.

Every adult (especially those with children!) should have a will, a power of attorney, and their healthcare wishes properly written down. For many, setting up a trust is also an important part of planning. Everyone has a unique situation and it is important that everyone have a tailored plan.

In 2009, I started the Kaintuckeean and I also started practicing law here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In my practice, I believe that estate planning is for everyone. To learn more about estate planning, national estate planning week, a special offer, and what you need to do next in order to get your estate plan crafted – just visit

(859) 559-4648 | [email protected]
Sponsored Post. Advertising Material.

Two statues, a military heritage commission, and the telling of history

Kentucky Revised Code. Legislative Research Commission.

The Kentucky Military Heritage Commission, until recently, was a little-known state agency. Over the past week, the Commission has received quite a bit of news, both locally and nationally, as Lexington considers what to do with two statutes presently standing in the public square.

Yesterday’s unanimous vote by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council was to “support the relocation” of the two statutes, a decision that will ultimately be made by the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission.

The Statues

The two statues at issue are of John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan. Both men were slaveowners who took up arms against the United States during the Civil War. Both men came from prominent, white Lexington families who were instrumental in Lexington’s 19th century growth and prominence (that familial success being achieved largely through the involuntary toil of slaves owned by the respective families).

Said one woman speaking to the LFUCG Council before their unanimous vote on August 18, 2017, “[Breckinridge and Morgan’s] only claim to fame is treason against this country.” Well, here’s a little more about the two men and the monuments that have stood for more than a century in the heart of Lexington…

John C. Breckinridge

The statue of John C. Breckinridge in its original location. Kentucky Digital Library.

Breckinridge was a Lexingtonian, a Vice President of the United States under President Buchanan, and then a U.S. Senator from Kentucky. But Breckinridge was expelled from the Senate upon joining the Confederate Army in 1861. He received a commission as a brigadier general; on February 7, 1865, Breckinridge would become the final Secretary of the Army for the Confederate States of America.

Statue of John Cabell Breckinridge. Collection of
Michael Swartzentruber.

In The Breckinridges of Kentucky, James Klotter (the state historian since 1980) described Breckinridge’s fate in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. By June 1865, the majority of the Confederate cabinet, including Vice President Stephens and President Davis, were captured and imprisoned. “Breckinridge determined early that he would not suffer such a fate.” Klotter writes of the Breckinridge’s escape from capture:

What followed enhanced the Breckinridge legend and surrounded an already appealing figure with even more romance. Here was a daring, charismatic Southern leader fleeing from Union pursues. Swarms of mosquitoes, ticks, sand-flies, and other insects of every description tormented him as he fled through Florida. In a boat too small to lie down in, the party rowed along the rivers of the area for days. Alligators surrounded them; rain soaked their food; hunger reduced them to eating turtle eggs, sour oranges, green limes, and coconuts. … Needing a larger boat to cross to Cuba, the “sailors” commandeered at gunpoint a larger craft. … The sloop No Name sailed into Cardenas, Cuba, on 11 June 1865. General Breckinridge – bronzed, unshaven, his feet swollen by salt water but the long mustache still intact, wearing a blue flannel suit open at the neck and an old slouch hat – was welcomed as a conquering hero. 

John Cabell Breckinridge remained on the lam through the remainder of the 1860s until after President Johnson had issued him amnesty; Breckinridge died in 1875. The statue commemorating Breckinridge was erected by the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1887 in the middle of Cheapside Park.  In 2010, the statue was relocated so that it fronted Main Street making space for the Fifth Third Bank Pavilion. The bronze statute rests upon a granite pedestal, with each “being of equal height” according to the 1997 National Register nomination form.

John Hunt Morgan

Statue of the John Hunt Morgan. Author’s collection

John Hunt Morgan was born in Alabama, but his mother was raised in Lexington before marrying an Alabaman. John Hunt Morgan returned to Lexington for two years as a student at Transylvania before being suspended for dueling. During the Mexican War, Morgan achieved the rank of lieutenant in the United States Army.

John Hunt Morgan is best known, however, as the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy.” He joined the Confederate Army in early 1862, and, following the Battle of Shiloh, began a series of raids. His raids were intended to disrupt Union supply lines and communications. His guerrilla tactics had as much, if not more, effect on citizens as it did on Union forces. In one raid, much of Cynthiana was burned. Morgan’s actions were unauthorized and, in 1864, he was killed by Union troops during a raid in Tennessee. Some persuasively argue that his death was akin to “suicide by police,” as he desired to neither be captured by Union forces nor court martialed by the Confederacy.

Hopemont, now known as the Hunt-Morgan House, was the home of Morgan’s maternal grandfather, John Wesley Hunt; it was built in 1814 and is located in Lexington’s Gratz Park neighborhood. John Wesley Hunt was the first millionaire west of the Allegheny Mountains. Henrietta Hunt, John Hunt Morgan’s mother, inherited the home. Although it was his mother’s home, John Hunt Morgan never lived here.

The statue of General Morgan was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1911. New York sculptor Pompeo Coppini believed that “no hero should bestride a mare,” so he sculpted Morgan atop a stallion. Morgan’s horse, Black Bess, was not.

These two sculptures are located at Cheapside, the site of one of the South’s largest slave markets. Here, families were torn apart. Wives were separated from their husbands; children torn from the arms of their mothers. And, there can be no doubt, slaves owned by the Breckinridge and Hunt-Morgan families were sold on the very ground now memorializing these two men who rose up in arms against the United States.

The Military Commission

The Kentucky Military Heritage Commission was established in 2002 and is charged with “maintaining a registry of Kentucky military heritage sites and objects significant to the military history of the Commonwealth.” Sites accepted onto the registry “cannot be damaged or destroyed, removed or significantly altered, other than for repair or renovation, without the written consent of the commission.”

The commission consists of the Adjutant General, the State Historic Preservation Officer, the Director of the Kentucky Historical Society, the Director of the Commission on Military Affairs and the Commissioner of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs.

Both the Breckinridge and the Morgan monuments are included on the registry. As a result, their removal, destruction, or alteration, must have the written approval of this Commission.

By the Numbers

The registry of sites under the purview of the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission, as of January 2016, is available online (Word file). According to the KMHC, there are 230 “eligible” military sites and objects eligible for inclusion on the commission’s registry; only 25* sites or objects, however, are listed.

[* There actually is a little confusion as it pertains to the registry index. At the beginning of the report, there are total listings by county and a separate listing by war/conflict. According to the former list, there are 25 listings on the register which the latter list suggests 27. As I count the total listings, I count 27. Meanwhile, the war/conflict total list suggests 14 Civil War sites, while I only count only 12 as provided in the graphic below.]


Civil War Sites on the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission’s Registry (fn – *)

Among eligible sites/objects, 113 (49%) relate to the Civil War while 52% of sites on the KMHC registry relate to the Civil War. An overwhelming share of these pay homage to those who fought against the United States of America. (It’s worth noting that there are 0 sites/objects recognized as eligible from the War of 1812 despite the fact that 83% of military age Kentucky males served in the conflict fielding 36 regiments for the cause. Further 570,000 of saltpetre was mined out of Mammoth Cave and used in the war effort. Yet, no eligible sites or memorials?)

In Fayette County, there are 11 sites/objects identified although only 4 appear on the registry. Those four are the Breckinridge Monument, the Morgan Monument, the Confederate Soldier Monument (erected 1893), and the Confederate Monument (Ladies Memorial) (erected 1873). In other words, all 4 sites/objects on the registry (1) relate to the Civil War and (2) memorialize Confederate causes or individuals.

It cannot be ignored, by the nominations submitted to the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission have historically been more about the preservation of Confederate/Lost Cause history than anything else.

Of the 12 Civil War related sites/objects on the registry, 10 are connected to the Confederacy. That’s 83%. Now, keep in mind the following: Kentucky never seceded from the Union (we were, however, a house divided). Both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were born in Kentucky. More Kentuckians fought and died for the preservation of the Union than did for her destruction.

Telling History’s Story

Some have suggested that the removal of the statues in Lexington and across the country is a revision of history. I would argue to the contrary; the history memorialized by the Morgan and Breckinridge monuments does not properly tell of what truly transpired. What is more, it is a glorification of the worst among us. Furthermore, the history contained in these monuments is, itself, a revisionist history.

In the introduction to Creating a Confederate Kentucky, Anne Marshall quotes Kentuckian Robert Penn Warren, “When one is happy in forgetfulness, facts get forgotten.” The horror that Morgan poured out upon the Commonwealth was forgotten in favor of a perception of a genteel South and a noble cause.  Marshall went on to write:

The conservative racial, social, political, and gender values inherent in Confederate symbols and the Lost Cause greatly appealed to many white Kentuckians, who despite their devotion to the Union had never entered the war in order to free slaves. In a postwar world where racial boundaries were in flux, the Lost Cause and the conservative potluck that with it seemed not only a comforting reminder of a past free of late nineteenth-century insecurities but also a way to reinforce contemporary efforts to maintain white supremacy.

In discussing the unveiling of the Morgan statue, Marshall wrote:

There was no outward sign of public objection to the man who had brought destruction to so many civilians during the war and no mention of the irony that the state on which he had inflicted so much damages and the state whose people he had robbed of thousands of dollars in species and horseflesh had spent many thousands more to honor him.

James Klotter also examined Kentucky’s nostalgic shift toward embracing the Lost Cause in his book Kentucky: Portrait in Paradox 1900-1950. He wrote that in the final decades of the 1800s, “Kentucky turned more and more sympathetic to the Lost Cuase.” Klotter noted that in 1902, a Confederate Home was built for Southern veterans and funds were appropriated for Confederate graves at Perryville. In 1910, the state legislature appropriate funds to the United Daughters of the Confederacy for the completion of the Morgan statue now at issue. In 1912, the state purchased the birthplace of Jefferson Davis. In 1926, Robert E. Lee’s birthday became a state holiday (and its not the only Confederate state holiday we celebrate in Kentucky).

Wrote Klotter,

Ironically, Kentucky had no need for a religion based on the Lost Cause, nor for a way to overcome the psychology of a tragic defeat – as did southerners generally – because most Kentuckians, and the state itself, had been on the winning side. Yet, they wholeheartedly embraced the mythology and the moonlight and magnolia image.

Much of the rewriting of history occurred in the waning years of the 19th century and the opening decades of the 20th century. The present discussion on removing the statues is not an attempt to hide history, but to tell a more complete and honest version of America’s history.