To explore Lexington’s rich history, take a walk back in time to the late 18th century—a time when the American West was new and the individuals fundamental in shaping our country strolled the very streets we walk today. This region was the first part of Kentucky to be settled, and Lexington was known early on as the “Athens of the West” due to the vibrant intellectual core that took root almost immediately after its founding. Scattered throughout Lexington are fascinating reminders of this era—historic homes and structures preserved in time that are waiting to be explored by lovers of architecture and those who are invigorated by the past.
Get a taste of the historic nature of Lexington simply by strolling the streets, or if you’re looking to dive headfirst into the fibers of this city’s storied past, look no further than some of the most famous historic homes in town...
Lexington is a hub of historical beauty. One of the most popular historic areas is downtown’s Gratz Park neighborhood, which includes famous preserved homes, such as the Hunt-Morgan House, the Bodley Bullock House, the Alexander Moore House, the Peter Paul House, the Carrick Houses and the Carnegie Center. The exteriors of these homes are magnificent on their own, but if you want to get an insider’s look, you can call or visit their respective websites to learn about their tour offerings.
It’s hard to miss the two vibrantly-colored homes that reside on the edge of the Gratz Park neighborhood – the Alexander Moore and Peter Paul homes.
The quaint blue home with the bright red door was built by Alexander Moore, who ran a stationary store on Main Street and was responsible for selling the first school books to the children of Lexington. Peter Paul II, a stonecutter from England, built the adjacent light red Federal-style house, and the giant Ginkgo tree in the back was said to have been planted by statesman Henry Clay.
The Hunt-Morgan House, located on North Mill Street, was built in 1814 by hemp merchant John Wesley Hunt, said to be the first millionaire west of the Alleghenies. The Federal-style brick home was originally known as Hopemont, but has since adopted the name Hunt-Morgan as prominent members of the family came to reside there over time. This includes Hunt’s grandson, General John Morgan, known fervently as the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy,” due to his daring military endeavors (he was once the ostentatious leader of a group of guerilla fighters called “Morgan’s Raiders”). Dr. Thomas Hunt Morgan, Hunt’s great grandson, was also a resident of the home and was one of the few Kentuckians to win a Nobel Prize for his work in genetics. Today, the Hunt-Morgan House operates as an interpretive museum showcasing early Kentucky furniture and 19th-century paintings. It also houses the Alexander T. Hunt Civil War Museum containing Civil War artifacts.
Walk across from the Hunt-Morgan House to Market Street and you’ll come upon the Bodley-Bullock House, a home peppered with Kentucky Federal and Greek revival architectural details. It was built in 1814 for Lexington mayor Thomas Pindell but is most notably known as having housed General Thomas Bodley, a hero from the war of 1812, and Dr. Waller Bullock, an acclaimed Lexington physician.
According to folklore, one of the Bodley-Bullock House’s former residents is said to still be around—Bullock’s wife, Minnie, the co-founder of the Lexington Clinic. It’s said that the ghost of “Miss Minnie” still lingers in the house, flicking off lights and shaking tables to display her preferences even after her death in 1970. A teetotaler in life, she requested that no alcohol be permitted in her house and was thus displeased with her husband’s decision to hang a portrait of the town drunk, William “King” Solomon, in their home. You can catch a glimpse of the painting that irritated Miss Minnie so on your visit, as it resides in the house still today. The Bodley-Bullock House is now a popular wedding venue and event space, as well as the Junior League headquarters.
The Loudon House, now home to the Lexington Art League, was built in 1851 by Lexington builder John McMurtry for the cousin of Francis Scott Key, who penned our national anthem. It’s considered one of the largest and finest examples of Gothic revival architecture in the state and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It can be tricky to find, but once you come across it on Castlewood Avenue, the beautiful gothic painted white mansion is unmistakable.
While the property is still owned by the city, it has housed the Lexington Art League (LAL) since 1984. The LAL is a contemporary visual art center committed to connecting art and artists to local, regional and national communities. It offers multiple art exhibitions and events throughout the year, including youth exhibition and outreach programs, artists conversation, community tours and more, and is also responsible for putting on the annual Woodland Art Fair.
Curious about the Loudon House? Stop by and take a closer look! While you’re there, check out the beautiful outdoor sculpture exhibit known as Castlewood Downs...
A stone’s throw away from Gratz Park is the Mary Todd Lincoln House, childhood home of First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln. (Fun fact: this year would have been her 200th birthday.) The Federal-style home was built first as an inn around 1803 and was originally named “The Sign of the Green Tree” before it was bought by the Todd family. Mary Todd lived in the home between the ages of thirteen and twenty-one before meeting and marrying a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. The home has the honor of being the first historic site restored in honor of a First Lady and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It now operates as a private museum, and tours are available March through November.
Fun fact: this year would have been Mary Todd Lincoln’s 200th birthday!
Take a drive away from downtown and you’ll happen upon the historic Ashland Estate, former home of beloved statesman Henry Clay. It is said to have been named for the abundance of Ash Trees on the property. Today, the estate is preserved on 17 acres of wooded ground, on which you’ll find a carriage house, smokehouse, ice houses and dairy cellars in addition to the historic mansion. Though Henry Clay was never president, he was a well-loved orator that played a major role on the stage of national politics for more than forty years. He is also credited with introducing the Mint Julep to Washington D.C. politicos.
Also situated on the property is the Ashland Garden, a traditional English parterre garden featuring a wide variety of trees, shrubs, perennials, roses and much more. If you’re interested in learning about the 40 different varieties of trees on the Ashland Estate, you can take the Trees of Ashland tour either on your own or alongside the house tour.
If you’re interested in learning more about the trees on the Ashland Estate, you can take the Trees of Ashland tour!
The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation
Founded in 1955, the Blue Grass Trust is a non-profit passionate about preserving the special historic places of Lexington. This membership-based organization is the oldest non-profit in Kentucky, and its members work tirelessly to promote the historical beauty of the Bluegrass region through positive leadership, education and inspiration in order to enhance the quality of life for future generations.
The Blue Grass Trust originated with a group of passionate Lexington citizens who were determined to save Hopemont, today’s Hunt-Morgan house, from demolition. Since then, they have been integral in rescuing other famous Lexington structures such as the Dudley House, Shakertown of Pleasant Hill, the Mary Todd Lincoln House, Henry Clay’s Law Office and many more.
While exploring the historical sites of Lexington, you might spy the Blue Grass Trust plaque on a number of buildings around town. These are designed to call attention to architecturally and historically significant buildings in Lexington that are at least 50 years old. Since the BGT Plaque program began in the early 1970s, more than 900 plaques have been awarded. You can learn more about the Blue Grass Trust and their ongoing mission at bluegrasstrust.org