Restore the Historic Markers

Previous Historic Marker at Hopemont in Lexington, Kentucky. WUKY.

In a column for the Jessamine Journal in 2015, I wrote about how historic markers shared Kentucky’s history. That 2015 column convoluted the Historic Markers Society and the current historic markers program in Kentucky when, in reality, the former evolved into the latter. A shortcut was made for the sake of brevity.

But the full history is being properly told this week at a legislative committee (Interim Joint Committee Tourism, Small Business, and Information Technology) which is hearing testimony on the need to restore and rehabilitate historic markers which have gone missing or are in need of repair.

In 1935, some businessmen from central Kentucky discussed an effort of “marketing the bluegrass” by “starting a movement” to promote historic places around the Bluegrass. this Historic Markers Society wanted to install 100 historic markers, though it fell short by delivering only 21. Ultimately, the historic markers program fell until state control and the effort was made to utilize these roadside markers to share Kentucky’s history statewide.

Unveiling by Foster & Brenda Pettit of the new Historic Marker #3 (#2365) at Hopemont in 2012. Author.

Many of the original 21 markers are in desperate need of repair, though some have already been repaired. Through that process, a more complete history can also be told (modern technique allows more text and context. To illustrate, compare the two photographs above of the marker outside Hopemont in Lexington; work to restore and update this marker was paid for by a non-profit organization.

Since 1935, joint federal and state efforts have sought to “preserve for public use historic sites, buildings and objects of national significance.” In 1966, the National Preservation Act strengthened this mission. The sites identified through the historic marker program truly tell Kentucky’s story through over 2,400 unique markers. You can explore them by clicking here. And you can support their repair and upkeep by encouraging your legislators to take up the cause of a line-item in the state budget for the preservation of these markers.

The hearing of the Interim Joint Committee will meet on Tuesday, July 27, at 1pm. Testifying will be Scott Alvey (Executive Director Kentucky Historical Society), Kurt Krouse (Chair, St. Paul Parish Historical Preservation Ministry), and Foster Ockerman Jr., JD (President and Chief Historian Lexington History Museum). Although the legislature is only hearing testimony at this time, it is our fervent hope that funding will be found so that Kentucky’s rich history can continue to be told through these historic markers.

Almahurst Farm

In 2010, a road project in Jessamine County completed the widening of a six-mile stretch of Harrodsburg Road. Before the project was completed, KY-169 didn’t cross Highway 68 at an intersection. Coming from the west toward Nicholasville, KY-169 seemed to dead end at Highway 68 (to continue, you’d turn right and then left to continue on KY-169). At that dead end was a historic marker – # 565 – noting the site of the “Almahurst Farm.”

A Missing Marker

Behind the historic marker was a beautiful stable which remains standing although now much further back from the road. That historic marker, however, seems to have never found its way back to the roadside. The historic marker reads

This is part of the original land granted to James Knight, 1750-1831, for his services in the Revolutionary War. A portion owned by his heirs in 1962. Among the famous horses bred, foaled, and raised on this farm were: Greyhound, world’s champion trotter of all times; Peter Volo, founder of one of the great trotting families; Exterminator, known wherever thoroughbreds are raced.

Almahurst Farm Marker Number 565 [1]
Postcard of Almahurst Farm. University of Kentucky Libraries.

During a recent bike ride along the old US 68 corridor, I thought of the old historic marker as I passed a metal gate between stone columns which bore the name of Almahurst. The Almahurst name, however, might not have been easily seen unless you were looking for the word as some of the letters etched into stone had been patched and filled. But it triggered my memory of that marker which I hadn’t seen in a decade. Another vestige of that old era is that the metal gate and columns are on a stretch of the old highway, just south of KY-169, that today is called Almahurst Lane.

I reached out to the folks at Ramsey Farm, the current property owner.[2] I learned from them that the historic marker remains! It stands at or close to its original location and if you look really closely from the trail, you can make out the marker’s iconic outline. They kindly shared with me this current photo of Historic Marker #565:

Almahurst Farm Historic Marker. Ramsey Farm.

The Knight’s and Exterminator

The original owner of record of the property was James Knight.[1] He received land grants for some 300 acres in 1783 and 1784 for his service during the Revolutionary War in the Continental Army’s Virginia Line. Ultimately, five generations of the Knight family would own the property before it was conveyed beyond the family. Grant Knight, James’ grandson and thus the representative of the third generation of Knights, had three sons: William, F.D. “Dixie,” and Grant Lee.[2] [3] Grant began the family’s equine love affair; his sons built upon the legacy.

Exterminator was the winner of the 1918 Kentucky Derby despite being a long-shot with 30-1 odds. Exterminator was bred by Dixie Knight out of Fair Empress, though the dam was owned by Dixie’s mother.[3] As a result, Dixie may have handled the paperwork on successful horse to his own mother’s discredit.

Knight sold Exterminator for $1,500 in Saratoga’s yearling sales; the buyer was Cal Milam. In the spring of 1918, Milam sold Exterminator to an agent for Willis Sharpe Kilmer. Soon thereafter, Exterminator won the 1918 Kentucky Derby. The gelding’s winning purses exceeded a quarter million dollars.[4] That’s nearly $3.7 million today![3]

Grant Lee Knight’s son, Henry Knight, acquired full ownership of the farm and gave it the name Almahurst. [3] Eventually, the farm ultimately included some 2,100 acres on which both thoroughbreds and standardbreds were raised. Despite its prominence, the Knights never engaged in racing.[3] In time, he would also parcel out portions of the farm to family while liquidating the rest. From the 1960s to the 1990s, P. J. Baugh owned the property and continued to breed standardbreds there.

Ramsey Farm

The property was purchased in 1994 by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey. They renamed the property Ramsey Farm.

Though they gave the farm a new name, the Ramsey’s have expanded its legacy. Ramsey also owns racing thoroughbreds; according to the Lane Report, “their horses have just short of $95 million in winnings.”[5] They have expanded the property to over 2,000; in 2015, they also acquired the historic Chaumiere des Praries.


[1] Trabue Chapter. Jessamine County Historical Markers placed by Kentucky Historical Society. Trabue Chapter, NSDAR. [Online] [Cited: May 5, 2020.]
[2] Ramsey Farm. Ramsey Farm. History. [Online] [Cited: May 5, 2020.]
[3] Nevills, Joe. Kentucky Farm Time Capsule: Before it Brelonged to Kitten’s Joy, Almahurst Raised Exterminator. Paulick Report. [Online] [Cited: May 5, 2020.]
[4] Hunter, Avalyn. Exterminator (USA). American Classic Pedigrees. [Online] [Cited: May 5, 2020.]
[5] Lowe, Jeff. 2019. Making Yet Another Big Bet. [Online] The Lane Report, November 7, 2019. [Cited: May 6, 2020.]