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I think I told you that before I moved to Lexington, the only thing I knew about the city was that Henry Clay once lived there. I found his house on my very first day in town, and since moving here, have lived no more than four miles away. I even wrote about Mr. Clay at length in the American History paper I finished last February. Thus, I’m surprised that I waited nearly a year and a half to visit the estate.
The house is a three-story brick structure with two wings, located within walking distance of both Richmond Road and the nearest downtown buildings. In its heyday, the Clays also owned six hundred acres of surrounding property, which they used as a successful farm (the guide told me that eleven Kentucky Derby winners can trace their ancestry to horses that were raised by Mr. Clay). What I saw came from several generations, because the original house developed cracks shortly after Mr. Clay’s death, and his sons had to knock it down and rebuild it. It remained their home for three more generations, until the last great-grand-daughter died in 1948. At that time the University of Kentucky bought the place and started turning it into a museum, but some members of the family continued to live upstairs until 1959. Here is where I went in, on the southwest side.
Here is Ashland Estate from the front. The front faces northwest, toward downtown Lexington.
And here is the back (southeast) side of the house.
This is the foyer behind the main entrance. On the left is a mirror that makes it look like there are two halls going in that direction. The fake hall is so realistic that some visitors have bumped into the mirror, so now there’s a bust of Henry Clay blocking the way.
This “conversation chair” was in the drawing room, along with the piano and some fine couches. Got a couple you’d like to see sitting in it? I nominate Gene and Rezia. After I took the picture I was told by another tourist that no photography is allowed inside, so go to the estate’s website for more indoor pictures.
The area behind the house is quite large, with many trees, especially ash (hence the name “Ashland”). The locals like to jog and walk their dogs here. You will also find this marker, commemorating a skirmish fought between Union and Confederate troops on this spot, in October 1862.
There is a nice walled garden near the house. I took several pictures there, for Leive’s benefit.
I remember lantanas in Florida, but here’s one in Kentucky. It doesn’t seem right for the same kind of plant to grow in both states, the climate is so different. This one would have looked dark red if my flash hadn’t gone off. They also had three citrus trees, (a lemon, a tangerine and an orange) but since they’re in pots, it’s easy to explain how they can grow here.
Would you believe there’s such a thing as a holly tree? Here’s one.
Aye yi yi, mushroom people!
And here’s the gardener’s cottage nearby.
These two cone-shaped buildings are the most unusual structures I saw. Called ice houses, they are brick-lined pits dug 15-30 feet into the ground, and when they are filled with ice in the winter, it takes months (usually until October) for the ice to melt. These ice houses worked so well that before the invention of the refrigerator, this was almost the only place in Kentucky where you could go to get ice cream. The door next to them leads to a cellar used for storing dairy products, that worked the same way.
The stairway down into the dairy cellar cellar is treacherous, and there’s not much to see if you take it to the bottom.
And finally, here’s a look into one of the ice houses. This is a dreary dark hole as well, but to my surprise, there’s just enough light for some ferns to grow in the walls.