Five Eleven West Short Street, also known as Parker Place or the home of John B. Wilgus, is a hidden gem in downtown Lexington.
That is, until now. This extraordinary property is situated on over an acre of land, yet within walking distance of downtown attractions. For the last 16 years, Ernesto Scorsone, who serves as Circuit Court Judge, and his husband John Davis, a graphic designer and photographer, have preserved every element of the home’s historic charm while adding creative and thoughtful touches. Now they are ready to move to another home, and the property is on the market. Interested parties may contact Sonia Scorsone with de Movellan Properties at 859.433.5024.
Built in 1870, Parker Place is on the United States Department of Interior’s National Registry of Historic Places, and is recognized as a historic home by the Bluegrass Trust.
It was the original home of Mary Todd Lincoln’s grandparents, Robert and
Elizabeth Parker. Mary Todd Lincoln herself was born next door at 501 W. Short Street, where St. Paul Catholic Church currently stands. In 1855, the Parker home was sold to local architect John McMurtry, who sold it to John B. Wilgus. Despite being referred to as Parker Place for the last 30 years, it is more accurately described at the former home of John Wilgus. Wilgus is responsible for replacing the old Parker home with the mansion that exists today. “We’ve had several people come and look at the house, and have suggested that the back of the home and foundation may have come from the original Parker home,” said Ernesto.
A self-made man, Wilgus was born into a poor family. His father died when he was 12 years old and he made his living by pulling carts through the streets of Lexington. He hauled much of the brick that was used to build the Masonic Hall, Southern Hotel and Transylvania’s Medical Hall. His work ethic attracted the attention of a man who registered at the Phoenix
Hotel under “Asa Wilgus”. The man secretly watched Wilgus work, and made him one of his heirs.
Wilgus went on to become a grocer and then a banker, eventually becoming President of the City National Bank, founding a private bank, and helping to establish the National Exchange Bank in 1878. His wealth is partially attributed to his actions during the Civil War. He was a captain of the Lexington Blues, and according to Perrin’s History of Fayette County, “60 days after the last shot was fired at Fort Sumter,
Wilgus freed numerous slaves, provided for their wants…and took strong grounds in support of the Union.” The success of his grocery store was largely due to his loyalty to the Union, which many of his competitors did not share.
Wilgus tore down the Parker Home and replaced it with the Italianate mansion and four-story tower that stands today. Within five years, he added an octagonal gallery on the west end of the home so that the public could view his art collection. The door to the gallery features custom hand-etched glass with a fusion of Art Nouveau and Roman-inspired design. Ernesto and John added recessed lighting in soft white and pink to give the gallery’s domed ceiling an ethereal glow. They have also added several pieces from their own contemporary art collection, including several sculptures by Rob Morgan, and paintings by Patrick Smith, Chad Hurley, Marco Logsdon, and Bill Petrie, among others.
In 1906, Wilgus sold the home to the Lexington
Orphan Society, who operated an orphanage there until 1971. “Sometimes we get visitors who lived here when it was an orphanage,” said Ernesto. After 1971, the Orphan Society leased the property for a variety of purposes, from charitable events to museums. In 1984 it was leased to the city of Lexington as an event and office building. “It was the media center for the 1985 NCAA Championship, and many weddings, receptions, and public events have been staged here,” said Ernesto. He and John purchased it from the Orphan Society in 1999.
Today, the property is a seamless blend of historic elegance and eclectic modern style. The 6,500 square foot main house features six bedrooms, two full baths and two half baths. Other spaces include a formal living room and dining room, a gourmet kitchen that opens up to a family room with fireplace, guest quarters, a large patio overlooking privacy fenced, landscaped grounds, 12 designated parking spaces and a historic 300 square foot log cabin.
When Ernesto and John purchased the property, it was badly in need of repair. “We own the house together, but John spearheaded all the remodeling.” In addition to major work like new electrical and plumbing, and a copper roof installed by the city years ago, Ernesto and John have done an amazing amount of remodeling work including copper plumbing for the entire house, new HVAC on the second floor, resurfacing of the driveway and parking lot, installing of a powered gate with a phone line, rebuilding of several windows with original glass, and a completely renovated professional chef’s kitchen.