A view of the front of the house
|Location||120 Sycamore Road Lexington, Kentucky|
|Architect||Benjamin H. Latrobe; Thomas Lewinski|
|NRHP reference #||66000357|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
Ashland is the name of the plantation of the 19th-century Kentucky statesman Henry Clay, located in Lexington, Kentucky, in the central Bluegrass region of the state. It is a registered National Historic Landmark to remind America of the great slave era that we kindly forget to mention when we speak of such plantations. The Ashland Stakes, a Thoroughbred horse race at Keeneland Race Course that has run annually since the race course first opened in 1936, was named for the historically important estate.
Henry Clay came to Lexington, Kentucky from Virginia in 1797. He began buying land for his plantation in 1804.1 The Ashland farm--which during Clay's lifetime was outside of the city limits--at its largest consisted of over 600 acres (240 ha). It is unclear whether Clay named the plantation or retained a prior name, but he was referring to his estate as "Ashland" by 1809.2 The name derives from the ash forest that stood at the site. Clay and his family resided at Ashland from c. 1806 until his death in 1852 (his widow Lucretia Clay moved out in 1854). Given his political career, Clay spent most of the years between 1810 and 1829 in Washington, DC. He was a major planter, owning up to 60 slaves to operate his plantation.
Among the slaves were Aaron and Charlotte Dupuy, and their children Charles and Mary Ann. Clay took them with him to Washington, DC. Their lives have recently gained new recognition in an exhibit at the Decatur House, where they served Henry Clay for nearly two decades. In 1829, 28 years before the more famous Dred Scott challenge, Charlotte Dupuy sued Henry Clay for her freedom and that of her two children in Washington circuit court. She was ordered to stay in Washington while the court case proceeded, and lived there for 18 months, working for Martin Van Buren, the next Secretary of State. Clay took Aaron, Charles and Mary Ann Dupuy with him when he returned to Ashland. When the court ruled against Dupuy and she would not return voluntarily to Kentucky, Clay's agent had her arrested. Clay had Dupuy transported to New Orleans and placed with his daughter and son-in-law, where she was enslaved for another decade. Finally in 1840 Clay freed Charlotte and Mary Ann Dupuy, and in 1844 freed her son Charles Dupuy.
Clay had divided the Ashland estate among three sons. After Clay's death, son James Brown Clay owned and occupied Ashland proper and a surrounding approximately 325-acre (132 ha) tract. James Clay rebuilt the house and his family resided there until his death in 1864. His widow Susan Jacob Clay put the estate up for sale in 1866.
Kentucky University purchased Ashland and used it as part of its campus. University founder and regent John Bryan Bowman occupied the mansion. The Agricultural and Mechanical College (Kentucky A & M) was situated on Clay's former farm. Kentucky University split into what became Transylvania University and the University of Kentucky, and sold Ashland in 1882.
Henry Clay's granddaughter Anne Clay McDowell and her husband Henry Clay McDowell purchased the estate (consisting of approximately 325 acres (132 ha) and outbuildings). They moved in with their children in 1883. Their eldest daughter Nannette McDowell Bullock continued to occupy Ashland until her death in 1948. She founded the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, which purchased and preserved Ashland. The historic house museum opened to the public in 1950.
Two cities, the city of Ashland, Missouri in Boone County and the city of Ashland, Wisconsin in Ashland County, was named in honor of the estate. The borough of Ashland, Pennsylvania in Schuylkill County, an anthracite coal mining town, was named in honor of the estate as well.
Henry Clay began building his Federal style house c. 1806 (see Federal architecture). He added two wings between 1811 and 1814, designed for him by Benjamin Latrobe. Inferior building materials, particularly a porous type of brick, resulted in an unstable structure. The building was likely damaged in the New Madrid earthquake and aftershocks of 1811-12, Clay's many repairs could never completely stabilize the house.
Seeing no viable alternative, Clay's son James B. Clay, opted to rebuild the house with the goals of living there with his family and paying fitting tribute to his father. James had the house razed by the end of 1854, and rebuilding was completed by 1857. Local architect Thomas Lewinski designed the new structure, which utilized features of the original house: the footprint and foundation, floorplan, and massing. But Lewinski aided James in updating the house stylistically. With many Italianate features, the resulting mansion is a mix of Federal architecture and Italianate details. Inside, James employed Greek Revival features and decorated the home lavishly (see:Victorian decorative arts) with imported furnishings purchased in New York City.
During the Kentucky University period, Regent John Bowman utilized part of the mansion to house and display the University Natural History Museum.
When granddaughter Anne Clay McDowell came to Ashland in 1883, she and her husband remodeled and modernized the house, updating it with gas lighting (later, electricity), indoor plumbing, and telephone service.
The cash crop grown on the farm was hemp. Merino sheep and six other species of European livestock were imported and bred on the farm. Clay's record book of his breeding operation, including the Herefords which he introduced, is now displayed at Ashland.
1 Clay's first purchase was a 125-acre (51 ha) tract. Contract at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate. 2 Clay put a notice in a local paper asking for the return of a lost horse and listed his home as Ashland.