walkLEX: Robert Patterson Cabin at Transylvania University

Patterson Cabin - Lexington, Ky.
Patterson Cabin – Lexington, Ky.

On Third Street, just east of Broadway, is a fantastic log cabin that dates to 1783. If this date is correct, the cabin would be one year older than the “oldest house in Lexington” – the Adam Rankin House. In Lexington: Heart of the Bluegrass, the claim is disputed altogether: the Patterson Cabin was likely not the first cabin built outside the blockhouse, but was one of about 30 cabins built around the same time. Still, it is the only surviving cabin… so symbolically, it is the first.

The cabin itself was built by and belonged to pioneer Robert Patterson who was among those who settled Royal Springs (Georgetown), Lexington, and later, Cincinnati (Ohio). Born in Pennsylvania, Patterson was only 22 years old when he set out with a group to explore the wilderness. Leaving Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) in 1775, the group ultimately established a fort which would become Georgetown. Patterson went to the fort at Harrodsburg before returning to Fort Pitt for additional ammunition in 1776.

Patterson Cabin - Lexington, Ky.After returning to Kentucky, he led a group of 25 men in 1779 to construct a blockhouse which would become the basis for Lexington. Four years later, Patterson felt it sufficiently safe to erect a cabin outside the walls of the blockhouse for himself and his growing family (not that the blockhouse would provide much further protection; it was torn down in 1783) [Lexington Leader, 5/25/1951]. It is unclear how long Patterson lived in the cabin, but we do know that he and his wife (married in 1780) had eleven children.

In 1782, Patterson was second-in-command at the Battle of Blue Licks, a bloody battle which he survived. In 1788, Patterson formed a partnership in which he received a one-third ownership of the town site of Cincinnati, Ohio. But Patterson did not relocate to Cincinnati; he continued to serve Kentucky in various political roles until 1800 (his political career had begun in 1781).

Patterson sold his Kentucky landholdings and moved to Dayton in the same year that Ohio achieved statehood, 1803. His cabin followed in 1901.

That’s right! According to a 1901 announcement in the Bourbon News, “The old log cabin…has been purchased by John H. Patterson, President of the National Cash Register Company, and is being removed to Dayton, Ohio.” The Lexington Leader confirmed:

The work of tearing down and loading the old Patterson cabin on the cars was completed yesterday, and the car was started last night to Dayton, where the old structure will be re-erected near the scene of Col. Patterson’s conflict with the Indians, on the Pickaway plains. [10/9/1901]

On May 5, 1906, the Lexington Leader followed up on the old Lexington landmark:

John H. Patterson, of Dayton, O., the famous National Cash Register man, has just issued an attractive brochure in gray and gold, which tells the story of the historic log cabin built by his ancestors in Lexington over a century ago, which he bought a few years and removed to Dayton, and rebuilt on a part of the ground adjoining his splendid home in the suburbs of that city.

Kaintuckeeans rejoice – the cabin is back! The City Commisioners of Dayton voted to return the cabin to its origin: Lexington. Transylvania College would be the recipient and the old cabin was relocated to its present location [Lexington Herald-Leader, 5/18/1939]. Transylvania was a fitting place for the Cabin as it rests on part of Patterson’s original 400 acre tract of Lexington. Patterson also was a trustee of the college.

In 1951, a great restoration of the cabin occurred as a joint effort of Transylvania University, the State Highway Department and the Kentucky Historical Society. As one can imagine, several of the old logs had rotted through. Timber was felled from the Natural Bridge area and transported to the cabin for repair. [Lexington Leader, 7/16/1951]. Another restoration followed in 1976 to this great landmark of Lexington.

You can see the rest of my pictures of the Patterson Cabin on flickr.

This post was republished by KyForward.com on June 23, 2011.

Kentucky Digital Newspaper Program
Kentucky Encyclopedia, “Patterson, Robert
Lexington Herald-Leader/Leader from local.lexpublib.org