ABSTRACT OF THESIS
ASHLAND, THE HENRY CLAY ESTATE, AS HOUSE MUSEUM: PRIVATE HOME AND PUBLIC DESTINATION
It is only since 1950 that Ashland, the Henry Clay estate, has been classified as a historic house museum. It is commonly agreed that a house museum is a public destination that was once a private home, but the definition continues to be debated. The international museum community has in the past decade defined the house museum as a public-private hybrid, an original authorial creation of interrelated house, collection, and function, and a representation of itself and the past. This paper examines that definition and applies it to Ashlandâ€™s pre-institutional identity. When the definition of the house museum as presently articulated is applied, Ashland indeed fits within the parameters and should be classified as a house museum. But the definition proves to be inadequate because of implicit meanings and when these are figured in, Ashland does not neatly fit the definition: the fact that Ashland was an occupied private home while it presented the past, allowed public access, and functioned museologically results in the conclusion that pre-1950 Ashland cannot, with these implied stipulations, be classified as a house museum.
Ashlandâ€™s story calls for a clarification of the definition and points to a wider vision for the house museum.
KEYWORDS: historic house museum public private
ASHLAND, THE HENRY CLAY ESTATE, AS HOUSE MUSEUM: PRIVATE HOME AND PUBLIC DESTINATION
By Wendy S. Bright-Levy
_______________________________________ Director of Thesis
_______________________________________ Director of Graduate Studies
ASHLAND, THE HENRY CLAY ESTATE, AS HOUSE MUSEUM: PRIVATE HOME AND PUBLIC DESTINATION
By Wendy S. Bright-Levy
_______________________________________ Co-Director of Thesis _______________________________________ Co-Director of Thesis _______________________________________ Co-Director of Thesis _______________________________________ Director of Graduate Studies _______________________________________ Date
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Unpublished theses submitted for the Masterâ€™s degree and deposited in the University of Kentucky Library are as a rule open for inspection, but are to be used only with due regard to the rights of the authors. Bibliographical references may be noted, but quotations or summaries of parts may be published only with the permission of the author, and with the usual scholarly acknowledgments. Extensive copying or publication of the thesis in whole or in part also requires the consent of the Dean of the Graduate School of the University of Kentucky. A library that borrows this thesis for use by its patrons is expected to secure the signature of each user.
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Wendy S. Bright-Levy
The Graduate School The University of Kentucky 2008
ASHLAND, THE HENRY CLAY ESTATE, AS HOUSE MUSEUM: PRIVATE HOME AND PUBLIC DESTINATION
__________________________________________ THESIS __________________________________________
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Art in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Kentucky By
Wendy S. Bright-Levy Lexington, Kentucky Director: Dr. Wallis Miller, Associate Professor in Architecture Lexington, Kentucky 2008 Copyright ÂŠ Wendy S. Bright-Levy 2008
ASHLAND, THE HENRY CLAY ESTATE, AS HOUSE MUSEUM: PRIVATE HOME AND PUBLIC DESTINATION
__________________________________________ THESIS __________________________________________
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Art in the College of Fine Arts at the University of Kentucky By Wendy S. Bright-Levy Lexington, Kentucky Co-Director: Dr. Richard Angelo, Associate Professor in Education Co-Director: Dr. Jane Peters, Associate Professor in Art History Co-Director: Dr. Monica Blackmun Visonà, Assistant Professor in Art History Lexington, Kentucky 2008 Copyright © Wendy S. Bright-Levy 2008
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I authorize the University of Kentucky Libraries to reproduce this thesis in whole or in part for purposes of research.
To my husband Ian. Forever.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This has been an adventure, to say the least. When I started on this journey three years ago, I never anticipated the roads I would travel. I have learned much more than I could ever have imagined. It has in many ways resembled a (very long) pregnancy, with accompanying rollercoaster emotions, discomfort, and serious impatience along the way. The miracle of birth has occurred and, oh, how joyful it is! Along the way, I have been humbled, but mostly I have been helped. Thank you to my thesis committee: Richard Angelo who, along with Wallis Miller, planted the original idea, and who prompted the in-depth research that yielded the exciting discoveries of the Kentucky University period at Ashland; Monica Blackmun VisonĂ , for her impressively thorough and valuable feedback; and Jane Peters for providing long time support and that always reassuring link to the Art History department. Thank you to the folks at the University of Kentucky Special Collections for aiding me in my research. Special thanks goes to B.J. Gooch and Jamie Day at Transylvania University for helping make possible the important findings related to the Kentucky University period at Ashland. Sincere gratitude goes to the former directors and curators of Ashland whom I was privileged to interview: Bettie Kerr, Terry Green, Rob Magrish, and Jeff Meyer; hearing your stories and views about Ashland early in my research gave me my contextual bearings. Lindsey Apple has been a guiding light in my work; by his deep commitment to Clay family research, by the examples of his accomplished writing and fascinating presentations, along with his generous assistance to me, he is my beau ideal of a scholar. Thank you, Dr. Apple. Through my research, I have tapped deep into the rich life of the house museum in which I work and that has made my work at Ashland all the more exciting. I have vividly experienced Henry Clay and his family and I am convinced that their spirits bless Ashland still. I am surrounded at Ashland by exceptional people: all the volunteers who have taken such an interest in this project; my wonderful co-workers who share my passion for this place and have supported my work, in particular: Bettye Stiles, Meredeth Durr, and Avery Malone, who have patiently listened to me talk about this for three whole years: I am proud to call you my friends. Special gratitude goes to Ashlandâ€™s executive director, Ann Hagan-Michel, who has consistently been a cheerleader both for me and this thesis: your passion and enthusiasm for Ashland is infectious. I cannot thank you enough for your unwavering support. The research for this project would not have been nearly as solid or comprehensive had it not been for two people: Ashland curator Eric Brooks and his assistant and Ashland board member, Sue Andrew. Sue has shared my zeal for getting at the answers. Deep thanks to both of you for responding to my many questions, for allowing me to run ideas by you, and for going out of your way to dig out so much helpful information. Eric has been an exceptional colleague in every way; by inspiring me through the successful completion of his book and his commitment to
authenticity, and by helping make this project richer—and, in many ways, easier—through his feedback, encouragement, and support. Eric, it is an honor to be anywhere near your league. Special gratitude goes to Ian Simmonds, American glass expert and scholar, who took a tremendous interest in this project as well as investing a tremendous amount of time to provide me with highly relevant feedback and insight. Thank you, Ian, for your mentorship. Thanks and congratulations go to my friend and fellow graduate student, Robin Fisher, who recently completed her thesis. It’s been good to travel this journey with you. Where would I be without my friends? Thank you Kelly and Martha for your prayerful, loving support and thank you for always believing in me. To my lifelong friend Patrice: thank you for your untiring interest in my work, your invaluable feedback, intellectual challenge, prayerful support, and encouragement. I’m glad we continue to live parallel lives. Special gratitude to my sainted friend, Dorothy: I know you are praying for me. I am grateful for the love and support of my family: for my mom’s no-nonsense, get-itdone straight talk, and the reinforcement of positive mental attitude (I’m finally done, Mom!); for my dad’s pride in me; and for the love and laughter my sisters Dawn and Kelly and nephew Jack and niece Grace bring to my life. To my awe-inspiring children, son Zack and daughter Jess, who ceaselessly inspire me as they live lives of excellence, creativity, and integrity: I love you both so much. I am certain that this project would not have succeeded had it not been for my adviser, Wallis Miller. I am grateful for your amazing intellect, energy, enthusiasm, high standards, fresh insight, scholarly example, patience, and straightforward feedback. Thank you especially for your unwavering belief in this subject and your confidence in me. Thanks will never be enough. And finally, I am indebted to my husband Ian, my very own in-house scholar, for his endless patience and support. I’ve definitely needed you as my “life manager” to make sure I eat well, get enough sleep and exercise, and have fun once in awhile. Thank you for serving as my sounding board for ideas, as well as for my problems and complaints. I have benefitted much from the level of intellectual stimulation you provide. It means so much that you believe in me. You know that I couldn’t have done this without you.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................................................................................. III TABLE OF CONTENTS .................................................................................................... V LIST OF FIGURES............................................................................................................ VI “ASHLAND, THE HOME OF HENRY CLAY” ........................................................................... 7 INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................................... 9 1) ASHLAND AS PUBLIC-PRIVATE HYBRID......................................................................... 23 2) HENRY CLAY AS THE AUTHOR OF ASHLAND ................................................................. 58 3) ASHLAND AS HISTORICAL DOCUMENT ........................................................................ 102 CONCLUSION.................................................................................................................... 126 BIBLIOGRAPHY........................................................................................................... 132
LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1. Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate at dusk. Henry Clay Memorial Foundation.................................................. 8 Figure 2. Henry Clay as the “Farmer of Ashland.” c. 1843............................................................................................. 8 Figure 3. Ashland timeline............................................................................................................................................. 24 Figure 4. Popular engraving showing Henry Clay in chair in front of his home. ........................................................... 25 Figure 5. Post-1852 engraving depicting the absence of the Master of Ashland............................................................ 25 Figure 6. Henry Clay. 1861 engraving of painting by Alonzo Chappel. ....................................................................... 26 Figure 7. Idealized view of Henry Clay’s Ashland, 1852. Lithographed by Thomas Sinclair. ..................................... 29 Figure 8. Henry and Lucretia Clay on their 50th wedding anniversary, 1849................................................................. 33 Figure 9. Only known photograph of original house c. 1853. George Eastman House, Rochester, NY. ....................... 38 Figure 10. Susan (left), James (in hat), and four of their children at front entrance of newly rebuilt Ashland, c. 1857. 40 Figure 11. Major Henry Clay and Anne Clay McDowell at Ashland, c. 1880s. ............................................................ 43 Figure 12. Nannette McDowell Bullock and her son Henry Bullock at Ashland, c. 1915. ............................................ 46 Figure 13. 1903 postcard of Ashland with inscription: “Drove through these grounds this afternoon. It is a grand old place. L. Nov. 14-1903.” Lexington History Museum. ............................................................................. 47 Figure 14. Excerpt of c.1920s newspaper article............................................................................................................ 50 Figure 15. Lorraine Seay at her entrance hall desk, c. 1950........................................................................................... 53 Figure 16. Ashland front façade as completed by c. 1815-16. Michael Fazio and Patrick Snadon. .............................. 59 Figure 17. Original Ashland floor plan (first floor) as conceived by architectural historian Clay Lancaster. Central block (before the two wings were added) indicated by dashed-line. Contrary to this plan’s labels, it is believed that the ‘drawing room’ was known as Clay’s parlor, that the ‘dining room’ was a second parlor, the ‘parlor’ was probably a study, and the ‘cabinet’ was Clay’s library....................................................... 61 Figure 18. A stylized rendering of Ashland from frontispiece of a contemporary biography. ....................................... 64 Figure 19. First and second Ashland façades c. 1815-1816 and c. 1857. ....................................................................... 69 Figure 20. James and Susan Clay-era drawing room furnishings. Left: carved Italian marble mantel purchased in New York City. Right: ornate plaster work on ceiling as seen in gilt mirror (also purchased in New York). ..... 70 Figure 21. Ashland during Kentucky University’s tenure (1866-1882). ........................................................................ 74 Figure 22. Dinner in the McDowell dining room c. 1880s. Anne Clay McDowell is seated at the left end of the table and Major McDowell is seated at the right end............................................................................................ 77 Figure 23. McDowell-era floor plan with current (c.2008) museum room labels. ......................................................... 78 Figure 24. The McDowell-era Eastlake central staircase, c. 1880s. ................................................................................ 80 Figure 25. McDowell-era Ashland entrance hall, c. 1907. ............................................................................................. 80 Figure 26. McDowell-era Ashland library c. 1880s. The gasolier visible in left photograph hung down from a metal serpent fixture, right (current day photograph). ........................................................................................... 82 Figure 27. McDowell-era conservatory.......................................................................................................................... 83 Figure 28. “Henry and Lucretia Clay” in the drawing room as portrayed by descendants William Clay Goodloe McDowell and Mary Stucky Platt. 12 April 1950....................................................................................... 87 Figure 29. Lorraine Seay setting Ashland’s dining room table, c.1951.......................................................................... 88 Figure 30. Mrs. Seay (right) in drawing room conducting a tour, 1957. ........................................................................ 89 Figure 31. McDowell-era style as seen in entrance hall, post-restoration, early 1990s.................................................. 98 Figure 32. The Washington goblet. Once owned by George Washington and used by him during the Revolution; later owned by Henry Clay and displayed in the parlor at Ashland. .................................................................. 105 Figure 33. Henry Inman’s The Washington Family (after Edward Savage, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.) which was featured in Henry Clay’s parlor at Ashland.............................................................................. 106 Figure 34. On display in James and Susan’s Ashland: Clay’s Treaty of Ghent jacket, as seen (right) on Clay in William Welsh’s c. 1964 painting (Transylvania University).................................................................................. 111 Figure 35. The McDowells’ bust of Henry Clay by Joel T. Hart. ................................................................................ 114 Figure 36. A glimpse of the McDowell-era Henry Clay study as seen from the entrance hall, c. 1890s...................... 115 Figure 37. Ashland kitchen as interpreted c. 1960s-80s. .............................................................................................. 119 Figure 38. A Henry Clay campaign banner hanging in the drawing room, c. 1950s.................................................... 120 Figure 39. Clothing on display in the c. 1950s Henry Clay bedroom (current Ash bedroom). .................................... 121 Figure 40. “Museum Room” at Ashland (current study), c. 1950-1980s. .................................................................... 121 Figure 41. An “enhanced space” – thematic arrangement of artifacts in entrance hall, c. 2007................................... 122 Figure 42. Stanchions in Ashland’s library. ................................................................................................................. 123
“Ashland, The Home of Henry Clay” …The old walls dream of dead, historic hours, And one immortal name…
Here, where in twilight mood of solemn musing, He built his stately edifice of dreams, His giant brain deliberating, choosing, And moulding mighty schemes; Here, where in lighter hours, with friends around him, He led them captive at his gracious will; Here, where his fate’s tremendous crisis found him, A presence lingers still.
His thoughts still move among these whispering grasses, His spirit still this spacious park pervades, Through each moon-silver night his glory passes – A star that never fades; His altruism and his high endeavor, His loyalty that dwarfs our poor pretense, And shrined within this tranquil scene forever, An endless immanence.
Excerpted from the poem by Lulu Clark Markham1
Lulu Clark Markham, “Ashland, The Home of Henry Clay.” In All That’s Kentucky, An Anthology. Josiah Henry Combs, ed. (Louisville, KY: John P. Morton, 1915), 48-50. Markham was inspired by a visit to Ashland to write this poem.
Figure 1. Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate at dusk. Henry Clay Memorial Foundation.
Figure 2. Henry Clay as the “Farmer of Ashland.” c. 1843.
Introduction Ashland, the Henry Clay estate, has since the early nineteenth century been an important American historic site. During Clay’s lifetime, the estate was often equated with the man and ‘Ashland’ became a household word. After Clay’s death in 1852 and while four generations of Clay’s descendants occupied the estate, Ashland served as a memorial to Henry Clay, symbolizing his life’s work and the period in which he lived.
In 1950 after his family
relinquished ownership of the estate, Ashland became a historic house museum under the auspices of the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation. For more than half a century, this National Historic Landmark in Lexington, Kentucky has been open for public tours and has accommodated hundreds of thousands of visitors. It is only since 1950 that Ashland has been known as a historic house museum. It is commonly agreed that a historic house museum is a public destination that was once a private home. But upon closer inspection it becomes clear that defining the house museum is not that simple: historic house museums have existed in the United States for over 150 years, but were not consistently labeled as such until the middle of the twentieth century. And what constitutes a house museum is a question that continues to be debated; since the term ‘historic house museum’ was coined in the 1930s, the actual definition has been in a state of flux. The international museum community has for the past decade worked intensively on the definition of the house museum and this scholarly attention has fortunately produced a broad—yet focused—definition. The house museum as currently defined is a dual-natured entity—a public-private hybrid—a place that exhibits the characteristics of both home and museum, an indissoluble union of house, contents, and original function; it is an authorial creation in which the original owner’s presence and intentions imbue all; and it is a historic document that represents its domestic self and the past. This paper will examine the definition of the house museum in detail. The present definition will further provide a lens through which to discern Ashland’s identity. As will become clear, Ashland does not fit neatly into this definition; it is neither precise nor valid to say that since 1950 Ashland has been a house museum and that prior to 1950 it was not a house museum. A review of Ashland’s pre-1950 history—its pre-house museum status—reveals compelling evidence that Ashland actually functioned as a house museum—even though it was not considered such. This thesis will explore the following ways in which Ashland functioned as a house museum prior to 1950: from Clay’s time through the subsequent century, private Ashland was a very public place—a destination for patriotic pilgrims and curious tourists
alike; through every change in occupancy up to the present, Henry Clay’s legacy as Ashland’s creator remained a powerful force and interpretive touchstone; Ashland not only became a museum-like place when Clay’s descendants memorialized him there through the display of artifacts, but Clay himself had earlier created an expository display at Ashland with the intention of representing the young nation’s history to the thousands who visited him there. When the current definition of the house museum is applied to Ashland’s 200-year history, one of two things must be concluded: that either the definition is adequate, but Ashland’s identity has not been correctly understood, or that the definition is inadequate and needs further clarification. The Problem of the Definition The house museum genre is marked by the ambiguity of its definition. The terminology surrounding homes with historic import that become public museums has not been precise. Laurence Vail Coleman first coined the term historic house museum in the 1930s when he set out the first professional guidelines for the burgeoning historic house preservation movement in the United States.
Up to that point, historic home sites such as Mount Vernon were commonly
referred to as preserved homes or historic shrines. These historic homes functioned as public museums but were not labeled as such until Coleman spelled it out. He stated that historic house museums were “agencies of a new kind,” places that were administered for public instruction and inspiration.
They were private homes of historic significance that were preserved from
destruction. Coleman’s definition stuck: historic house museum is today the generally agreed upon term for a particular genre of museums, namely, history museums that had once been private homes. Yet a certain looseness in terminology began with the very inception of this term. Coleman writes that the arrival of the automobile caused the burgeoning of “historic houses” in America. He clearly meant those houses open to the traveling public as museums. Yet he calls them, simply, historic houses. Were historic houses and historic house museums one and the same?
This imprecision in terminology continues today, even in museological study, and
confuses the issue. Houses deemed important historically—as Coleman says, “when their beauty, their type, or their experience” and pre-industrial origin dictates it so1—or historic houses—have, of course, not always been open to the public.
But in 1930s America Coleman was clearly
equating the preservation of historic houses with their designation as public museums. As he 1
Laurence Vail Coleman. Historic House Museums. (Washington, D.C.: The American Association of Museums, 1933), 3.
viewed it, if historic houses were worthy of being preserved—and that was a growing national viewpoint—they were destined to be opened as museums for public viewing. Preservation was the most pressing concern in early twentieth-century America as scores of old buildings were being lost to development. The ubiquity and often fragile condition of domestic structures doomed many to the wrecking ball. Yet, Coleman observed, there were those well-known American houses already viewed as precious and likely to be preserved, those “where a celebrity is born, where fame makes its home, where art or science labors in erstwhile obscurity, where important incidents occur, where death visits the great,”—these were the places that tended to survive.2
Any historically significant home that was successfully preserved would naturally
become a historic house museum in Coleman’s view. Thus the two terms, historic house and historic house museum, could be used interchangeably. Although Coleman coined the label in the 1930s, the genre itself had deeper roots. Patricia West explains that the American house museum traces its roots to both European and American models: the private, elite cabinet of curiosities or Wunderkammer;3 the International Expositions (or World’s Fairs) where public access to exhibits was popularized; the Colonial Revival in the United States and accompanying trend toward ‘period rooms’ found in museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and the nineteenth-century proliferation of historical societies—private organizations dedicated to the rescue and archiving of historical documents.4 Charlotte Smith explains that another precedent for America’s house museums were European palaces, castles, and stately homes, many which from the mid-eighteenth century provided partial public access while remaining private homes.5
Indeed, European enthusiasm for historic
preservation antedated that in America: during the mid-nineteenth century all across Europe, castles and churches were being restored and outdoor museums created. Though the United States lagged behind, with its more limited historic heritage, it eventually developed its own
Coleman, 17. Eilean Hooper-Greenhill says that by end of the sixteenth century in Europe, “collections and ‘museums’ had become fairly commonplace in Europe….all had a single objective, that of producing a ‘cabinet,’ a model of ‘universal nature made private.’….representational systems…” She explains that the “archetypal ‘cabinet of curiosity’ is the German Wunderkammer,” a “disordered jumble of unconnected objects,…‘The strange, the wonderful, the curious, the rare,’…” Eilean Hooper-Greenhill. “The Irrational Cabinet.” Museums and the Shaping of Knowledge. New York: Routledge (1992), 78-79. 4 Patricia West. Domesticating History: The Political Origins of America’s House Museums. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institute Press (1999), 1. 5 Charlotte H. F. Smith. “Great Man and Social History House Museums in the United States and Australia.” PhD diss., University of Canberra (2002), 18. 3
peculiar version of historic preservation.6 Max Page and Randall Mason point out that American preservation always differed from European preservation in that it was driven by national and local patriotism.7 Smith agrees that nationalistic feeling prompted the house museum movement in the United States because it began during a state of flux and anxiety when Americans felt their past was slipping away and many longed for the imagined early days of their country. The last of America’s revolutionary heroes had died by the late 1840s and “a disturbing sense of remoteness from the heroic age of the Revolution infiltrated American minds,” according to John Higham.8 Preserving and creating historic landmarks was an attempt to reverse the sense of rootlessness. Civil religion—or nationalism—together with the “cult of domesticity”—the exaltation of the home—promoted patriotic virtue by way of traditional religious imagery, language, and practices. National identity was constructed via the patriotic interpretations at the sites associated with the lives of great men.9 James Lindgren says that the historic house movement deified the Founding Fathers, enshrining their homes and encouraging Americans to pay homage.10 The idea of the historic house as public museum, as Edward Alexander explains, was born as a vehicle to “teach love of country.”11 West asserts that another factor in the proliferation of house museums in the midnineteenth century was that many Americans took to traveling the country in search of beauty and inspiration, often at historic places. “Pilgrimage was an implicitly accepted activity of patriotic Americans,” Smith agrees, a phenomenon “ready to be cultivated by house museum creators.” She explains that the homes of many of the Founding Fathers had become public destinations long before they officially opened to the public. Mount Vernon especially had been a place of pilgrimage for a quarter of a century before its rescue by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association (e.g., a large number of pilgrims made the journey for the centenary of Washington’s birth in 1832).12 The enthusiastic but unsupervised crowds that visited such sites—often “to the detriment of the property and the dismay of its owner,” as Smith puts it—were in fact a central motivation 6
Edward P. Alexander. Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums. Nashville, TN: American Association for State and Local History (1979), 83, 88. 7 Max Page and Randall Mason, eds. “Introduction: Rethinking the Roots of the Historic Preservation Movement.” Giving Preservation a History: Histories of Historic Preservation in the United States. New York: Routledge (2004), 10. 8 As quoted in Curators and Culture. The Museum Movement in America, 1740-1870. Joel J. Orosz. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press (1990), 182. 9 Smith, 31-34. 10 James M. Lindgren. “A Spirit That Fires the Imagination.” Giving Preservation a History: Histories of Historic Preservation in the United States. Max Page and Randall Mason, eds. New York: Routledge (2004), 109, 111. 11 Alexander, 88. 12 Smith, 34.
for the founding of the historic house museum in America. West explains that these preserved historic homes promised to “meet the recreational and inspirational needs of nineteenth century tourists, while exerting a much-needed refining and uplifting influence.”13 George Washington was the figure who would best provide that inspiration. The first American house museum was Washington’s Hasbrouck House in Newburgh, New York, opened to the public on July 4, 1850. Efforts to memorialize Washington’s former headquarters began in the 1830s and the committee working to save Hasbrouck House agreed that the pilgrim to that spot “will feel himself a better man; his patriotism will kindle with deeper emotion, his aspirations for his country’s good will ascend from a more devout mind…”14 Thus, the American historic house museum concept emerged from the twin goals of preservation of historic places and the patriotic stimulation of citizens. The most influential historic house preservation movement, that to save Washington’s Mount Vernon, was also conceived during the antebellum period. Page and Mason describe Ann Pamela Cunningham and her collaborators’ “heroic effort” to save Mount Vernon beginning in 1853 as the first grassroots preservation endeavor and a “mythic” event in America’s preservation history.15 West says that the Mount Vernon house museum “appeared on the cultural landscape as an innovation.”16 Charles Wall calls Cunningham a pioneer in that she created the prototypical historic house museum, “a precedent and a model for the preservation of our national heritage.”17 The historic house museum formula—the restoration and opening to public visitation—would ensure the preservation of scores of noteworthy homes in the years to come. This model became the established pattern for American house museums thereafter: the preservation of old, historically significant houses was linked to the idea of opening them to the public. As Leah Arroyo observes, Cunningham and her group initiated the idea of historic houses as “places for the public to visit; the restored house, the guided tours, the velvet ropes.”18
West, 3-4. New York State Legislature, Assembly Select Committee on the Petition of Washington Irving and Others to Preserve Washington’s Headquarters at Newburgh, no. 356, 27 March 1839, quoted in West, 4, and Alexander, 88. 15 Page and Mason, 6. 16 West, 1. 17 Charles C. Wall. “The Mount Vernon Experience, 1859-1959.” Museum News 38:1 (September 1959), 19. 18 Leah Arroyo. “The George We Forgot: History and Entertainment at the New Mount Vernon.” Museum News 86.5 (September/October 2007): 47. 14
The American house museums that appeared in the mid-nineteenth century were generally referred to as preserved homes or historic shrines. Their European counterparts—the hybrid public-private institutions in palaces, castles, or stately homes—were also not labeled as house museums. The hundreds of stately homes in Britain, occupied by families and regularly opened to the public as of the eighteenth century, to this day eschew the ‘museum’ label. The impression of domestic atmosphere is highly prized. Simon Thurley, director of the Museum of London, describes how even a number of royal buildings in the nineteenth century “quickly became unofficial tourist attractions” and that in 1838 Queen Victoria opened Hampton Court and the Kensington State Apartments to the public for an admission fee.19 But these privatepublic sites were not given any museological descriptor. Thus, the house museum genre was established, but the language and concepts surrounding it were yet to be fleshed-out. As discussed, the first comprehensive analysis of the house museum type was by Coleman in 1933, but, as Smith observes, it would be another six decades before house museums would be critically examined again with Patricia West’s 1999 Domesticating History: The Political Origins of America’s House Museums.20 Charlotte Smith asserts that Coleman in the 1930s had not defined the historic house museum, merely coined the term. But a closer reading of Coleman reveals his implicit definition of the term: historic house museums were sites celebrating great men and events of the pre-industrial age in structurally or aesthetically significant buildings, specifically intended for the education and inspiration of the public. In 1959 the Director of the Winterthur Museum, Charles Montgomery, explored the issue in his article: “The Historic House—A Definition.”21 Despite Coleman’s definition of the historic house museum a quarter century earlier, Montgomery contends that there remained ambiguity in the terminology: “For want of a better name, all old houses open to the public have come to be known in recent years as historic houses.”22 He does not even use the full term ‘historic house museum’ in this article. Montgomery defines a historic house as a document of the past and, in particular, one that provides an authentic period environment. He reveals his bias toward period 19
Simon Thurley. “Palace Revolution: Ideas for Reversing Decline in England’s Royal Palaces.” Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the International Council of Museums, Genoa, Italy (20-22 November 1997), 89. 20 Patricia West. Domesticating History: The Political Origins of America’s House Museums. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institute Press (1999). 21 Charles F. Montgomery. “The Historic House—A Definition.” Museum News 38:1 (September 1959), 12-17. 22 Montgomery, 12.
rooms and historically accurate furnishings, but this is not surprising for his time, because, as Smith says, “the dominant rationale for historic houses in the 1950s America [was] the provision of ‘authentic’ domestic environments that demonstrate lifestyles of America’s creators.”23 An authentic period environment is what truly set historic homes apart from any old house, Montgomery asserted.
Therefore everything in the historic house should be related to and
consistent with “the architecture, life, and status of the house, [with] the people who lived in it, and [its] community…”24 Montgomery recognized four categories of historic houses, categories which essentially describe their functionality: “the biographical house,” which can only be such if an adequate quantity of the original occupant’s furnishings are present; “the historic moment shrine,” a memorial of a moment in history which could actually be the birth or death house of an important person; “the era house,” which would include wealthy collectors’ homes whose collections represent their eras; and “the area house,” homes representative of architectural and furnishings styles of a place and time. Montgomery asserted that a historic house, no matter what its function, then, possesses an authentic and stylistic unity between its structure, its furnishings, and its function. 25 Yet he grapples with the issue of the house museum.
While the historic house is
furnished in a historically accurate way, down to the smallest objects in its rooms, he says that the house museum need not have all the authentic furnishings, need not be period-accurate, but might serve as a memorial exhibit site to an individual, a pedagogic vehicle filled with objects that were never actually in the house or in the occupants’ possession. “The question of whether it is aesthetically pleasing or not is beside the point,” he grants.26 To his mind, when the collection on display is out of context with the period of the structure or the original occupants’ era, it cannot rightfully be called a historic house. He contends that a certain type of expository display—out of context, memorial in nature—is what makes a house a museum. Montgomery defines the house museum essentially as a former residence utilized as public exhibit space and not necessarily an aesthetically pleasing, period-precise environment. The house simply provides the backdrop.
Smith, 24. Montgomery, 13. 25 ibid. 26 ibid. 24
Montgomery seems to say that the most important factor in calling a house ‘historic’ is its complete period-accuracy, inside and out. It may only be called a museum if it features out-ofcontext displays which are often memorializing in function. But a house museum will always be inferior, because Montgomery believes that the authentically appointed historic house is the quintessential paradigm of historic truth. Even pedagogic displays (read: out of context) within the homes of “America’s great men” cannot compete with those of period rooms because, as he sees it, the peak of taste and culture for any given era is found in period rooms, not in the motley displays of house museums. If a home is properly restored—that is, period-proper—he insists it will become a “historical document which will stand forth as truth.”27 For Montgomery, there was a strict division between what made a house historic and what made it a museum.
Although his mid-twentieth century analysis reveals the ongoing
confusion regarding the definition of the private home as public site, his observations about the interrelatedness of structure, contents, and original function were actually prescient. The definition of the house museum did not evolve significantly during the third quarter of the twentieth century, but the house museum genre was itself undergoing great change. The social history paradigm, which through the rest of the twentieth century revolutionized historical thought and practice with its emphasis on an all-encompassing, sociologically representative portrayal of history, influenced the analysis and interpretation of the house museum. The “Great Man” house museums, as Charlotte Smith labeled the once ubiquitous patriotic shrines memorializing prominent white males, gave way to museums that espoused the social history model. Jane Brown Gillette says that this new approach was intended to encompass the “whole of history—not just the stories of statesmanship and war—and socially dominant white men…”28 More inclusive interpretations at historic house museums promised to tell the history of all Americans. Modern visitors began to expect to hear the stories of the people behind the famous mover and shaker—the private, less-known family members (especially wives), slaves, and servants—who supported the work of the historically important person. Out of this sea change came useful categorizations within the house museum genre. In 1976, William Alderson and Shirley Low, though not attempting a definition of the historic house museum, proposed three categories of historic sites which Sherry Butcher-Younghans in the
Montgomery, 12-17. Jane Brown Gillette. “Breaking the Silence.” Preservation 47.2 (1995), 40.
1990s applied directly to the historic house museum.29 These categories were instrumental in the refinement of the definition later. “The Documentary Site” is that which chronicles the life of an individual or an important event. “The Representative Site” focuses on a way of life rather than particular individuals. “The Aesthetic Site” focuses on a collection of art, furniture, and/or antiques. It was clear that the “Great Man” shrines were beginning to be transformed and were now joined by a vast new variety of historic house museums. By the late 1990s, a thorough analysis of the house museum and its definition was long overdue. And this analysis came in an international context. A conference of the International Council of Museums was held in Genoa in 1997 to establish an international committee on historic house museums and to better define the genre (the conference title: “Dimora-Museo: un problema di identità” or “House Museums: A Problem of Identity”).
from around the world—most from Europe—came together to define and discuss various issues facing historic house museums. The 1997 and 1998 ICOM conferences yielded the International Committee for Historic House Museums: DEMHIST (Demeures Historiques-Musées, or Comité international pour les Demeures historiques-musées). Past secretary and president Rosanna Pavoni described the rationale behind DEMHIST: to make known the museological type known as the house museum and to provide a forum for the discussion of house museum problems and issues.
The house museum is particularly worthy of special attention, she asserted, and
DEMHIST would give historic house museums a voice.30 The first two DEMHIST conferences produced a preliminary definition of the historic house museum: Museum-homes which are open to the public as such, that is, with their furnishings and collections…and which have never been used to display collections of a different provenance, constitute a museographical category in every particular, and one that varies widely in typological respects. Briefly, the specific character of this type of building is the indissoluble
William T. Alderson and Shirley P. Low. Interpretation of Historic Sites. Nashville, TN: American Association for State and Local History (1976). Sherry Butcher-Younghans. Historic House Museums: A Practical Handbook for Their Care, Preservation, and Management. New York: Oxford University Press (1993). In: Smith, 24-25. 30 Rosanna Pavoni’s web site: Museum and Art Consulting. “International Historical House Museum Committee.” http://www.museumartconsulting.com/sito_inglese/DemHist_Pavoni.htm.
link between container and contained, between palace/house/apartment and permanent collections/furnishings/ornamental fixtures.31 Montgomery’s concept of the interrelatedness of house and collection is reiterated here. And his concerns regarding original context were to be picked up as well:
DEMHIST’s preliminary definition and added a component to it: functionality. She described the complex relationship between a structure, its contents, and its original function.32 She explained that a house museum is a “hybridization of two civic institutions”—home and museum—“with diametrically opposed objectives”—private life and public life—“yet with a long history of relatively close contacts.” The house-as-museum “captures the conservational and educational qualities of museums, and also the communicative, cognitive and emotional connotations of the house…”33 It is a private place made public that is full of personal and private references. At the same conference Simon Jervis of the National Trust in Great Britain underscored this dichotomy with his presentation entitled, “Museo-Dimora?” or “Dimora-Museo? [Museum-house or housemuseum?]”34 During this same period of international discussion, an important book would be published in the United States that would shed significant light on the house museum genre. The 1999 release of Patricia West’s highly regarded study of the American historic house museum, Domesticating History, The Political Origins of America’s House Museums, while not focusing on the definition of the genre per se, provided a much-needed comprehensive analysis of the origins of and motivations behind the house museum movement in the United States. The 2000 International Conference of DEMHIST generated more discussion about the identity of the historic house museum. Chair Pavoni remarked that “the recognition that the overly generic term ‘historic house museum’ may, and must, be clarified in order to render better service to visitors and the museum’s community, has spread noticeably among historic house
Rosanna Pavoni, “Towards a Definition and Typology of Historic House Museums.” Museum International (UNESCO, Paris), 53, 2 (2001), 17. 32 Rosanna Pavoni. “Visiting a Historic House Museum.” Open Museum [online] Journal 5 (July 2002), 3. Charlotte Smith and Andrea Witcomb, eds. Australian Museums and Galleries Online. http://archive.amol.org.au/omj/volume5/volume5_index.asp. 33 Pavoni, “Towards a Definition…”, 16. 34 Simon Jervis. “The National Trust, A House of Many Mansions.” Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the International Council of Museums, Genoa, Italy (20-22 November 1997), 42.
museum colleagues.”35 After three years of deliberations, the term remained unsatisfactory to international museum professionals. At that conference Stephen Bann offered focus to the definition when he asserted that house museums are not simply a sub-set of the general museum category. This is because the house museum type presents two added characteristics: “implied authorship” and “representation” that do not exist in other museum types. Bann observed that the home’s original founder whose legacy remains dominant “assumes the role of author” of the historic house. There is no other type of museum, he asserts, that “manifests the disseminated presence of the author.” The founder’s spirit lives on no matter how the house changes and it remains “essentially an authorial creation...”36 And, he says, in contrast to museums in general or houses in general, “the house museum exists as a representation” of itself and a way of life.37 It is of course not a museum representing a museum, rather, it is a house museum representing a house. There is no other type of museum that represents itself and its past life. House museums, in essence, he says, “enshrine the past as representation.” The house no longer functions as a home, but as a history museum within the context of its former domestic identity. This context—of the container and the contained on display—provides the house museum with its unique enveloping character and powerful ability to conjure the past. The sustained discussion through the late 1990s by DEMHIST regarding house museum identity clarified and refined the definition set forth in the previous conferences. Thus adding to the preliminary definition that linked public and private and the container to the contained, as well as Pavoni’s addition of original functionality, Bann’s concepts of authorship and representation filled out the definition. The house museum as defined was a public-private hybrid, an original authorial creation of interrelated house, collection, and function, and a representation of itself and the past.
Rosanna Pavoni, ed. “Historic House Museums as Witnesses of National and Local Identities.” Acts of the Annual DEMHIST Conference, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 14-16 October 2002. International Council of Museums, DEMHIST (Demeures Historiques-Musées). 36 Stephen Bann. “A Way of Life: Thoughts on the Identity of a House Museum.” Paper presented at the Annual DEMHIST (Comité international pour les Demeures Historiques-Musées) Conference, Genoa, Italy (1-4 November 2000), International Conference of Museums, DEMHIST (Demeures Historiques-Musées), 20, 23. 37 Bann, “A Way of Life…”, 20.
The complexity of the definition is evident. The ability to conclusively pin it down has proven difficult and it will become clear through this discussion that the current definition remains imprecise. Part of the problem is the inherent tension within the term ‘house museum’ itself—the two opposing objectives, as Pavoni described—the private nature of the home up against the public nature of the museum, brought together in a single entity. The State of Ashland Scholarship Since Henry Clay’s time, his life and legacy—especially his career as a statesman—have been extensively studied and publicized. Much has also been written about many of his family members and particular aspects of the estate, especially Clay’s life at Ashland, but, until Ashland curator Eric Brooks’ 2007 pictorial biography of Ashland—the first book exclusively dedicated to Ashland’s full history, including its post-1950 life—no complete institutional history had been attempted.38 It has perhaps been difficult to take the long view of Ashland’s history before today because Henry Clay’s history has been the priority, with his family’s history and general nineteenth-century history secondary. Yet prior accounts of Ashland’s pre-1950 history have been written. During the 1920s historian Judge Samuel Wilson used his extensive knowledge of Ashland’s history to make persuasive pleas in local papers for its preservation.39 Amelia Clay Van Meter Rogers’s 1934 master’s thesis provided a look at Ashland’s history up to the early twentieth century.40 Great great-grandson and last family resident, Henry McDowell Bullock, wrote a brief personal view of Ashland’s history in 1951.41
A number of studies of specific
aspects of Ashland have been done, for example, those relating to Ashland’s architectural history (Scott Clowney’s 2003 paper, Michael Fazio and Patrick Snadon in The Domestic Architecture of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 2006, and Ashland’s 2007 architecture tour),42 Ashland’s equine legacy 38
Eric Brooks. Images of America: Ashland the Henry Clay Estate. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2007. Samuel M. Wilson. Ashland Monograph: Henry Clay. Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, undated, published c. 1950; “Ashland Leads Man o’ War as Greatest Tourist Attraction, Wilson Declares.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 14 October 1926; “‘Ashland,’ Historic Home of Henry Clay, Is Portion of McDowell Trust Estate. City Lost Opportunity in 1882.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 10 October 1926; “Ashland Center of Henry Clay’s Career.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 15 April 1926; “Prices Asked for Ashland Park Tract Not Exorbitant, Judge Wilson Avers.” Unidentified Lexington (Ky.) newspaper, 4 October 1926. 40 Rogers, Amelia Clay Van Meter. “Ashland, The Home of Henry Clay.” MA thesis, University of Kentucky, 1934. 41 Henry McDowell Bullock. “The Story of Ashland.” c. 1951. Addendum, 21 September 1951. Ashland archives. 42 Scott Michael Clowney. “Ashland Architecture Tour Script.” 2003. Ashland archives. Michael W. Fazio and Patrick A. Snadon. The Domestic Architecture of Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006. Wendy Bright-Levy, Ashland Architecture Tour (Third Tuesday Tour). 2007. 39
(Lucretia Clay Erwin Simpson’s c. 1920s “Ashland Thoroughbred Stud Farm,” and the 2005 International Museum of the Horse Exhibition: Kentucky Bloodlines: The Legacy of Henry Clay),43 farming and slavery at Ashland (Richard Troutman’s work in the 1950s),44 the growth and subdivision of the Ashland estate (Richard Bean’s 1980 study, “A History of the Henry Clay Family Properties”),45 and the 1850s rebuilding of the Ashland mansion (Robert Spiotta’s 1990 thesis, “Remembering Father: James Brown Clay, Merchants, Materials, and A New Ashland”).46 Research into Ashland’s archeological and Civil War-era history is ongoing. Clearly then, much about Ashland’s history has been examined. However, previous treatments of Clay’s estate have failed to consider it as a house museum including its relationship to a public audience. The story of this historic house museum from its earliest days as Clay’s home to the current day as an institution needs to be examined in light of house museum theory. House museum theory will illuminate Ashland’s identity and Ashland’s story will prove to illuminate the definition of the house museum. This thesis will be the first sustained treatment of Ashland from that theoretical perspective. Utilizing the definition of the house museum put forth by DEMHIST and as discussed earlier—a public-private hybrid, original authorial creation of interrelated house, collection, and function, and representation of itself and the past—Ashland’s story will provide valuable illustration of three overarching themes. First, an important way to view the house museum is through its public and private natures. This is a central issue that helps establish Ashland early on as a house museum. Public and private functions, purposes, and agendas may co-exist within the house museum, which at times places invested parties at cross-purposes.
Ashland’s role as a private home will be
compared to its response to a public audience. Authorship emerges as another important aspect of Ashland as a house museum. The original creator’s legacy and presence remain dominant in the house museum through all subsequent interpretations. The second section will examine how tensions, contradictions, and discontinuity result with every reinterpretation of the life and legacy of Henry Clay. 43
Simpson, Lucretia Clay Erwin Simpson. “Ashland Thoroughbred Stud Farm.” Ashland archives, undated, c. 1920s; Kentucky Bloodlines: The Legacy of Henry Clay. Catalog of exhibition at International Museum of the Horse, Lexington, Kentucky, 1 April – 31 October 2005. 44 Richard L. Troutman. “Henry Clay and His ‘Ashland’ Estate.” The Filson Club History Quarterly 30:2 (April 1956): 159-174; and “Plantation Life.” MA thesis, University of Kentucky, 1955; and “The Emancipation of Slaves by Henry Clay.” The Journal of Negro History 40.2 (April 1955): 179-181. 45 Richard M. Bean, “A History of the Henry Clay Family Properties.” 20 August 1980. Ashland archives. 46 Robert S. Spiotta. “Remembering Father: James Brown Clay, Merchants, Materials, and A New Ashland.” MA thesis, Cooper-Hewitt Museum and The Parsons School of Design, 1990.
Another aspect of the house museum is its representation of itself and the past. House museums serve as historical documents. The portrayal of history for a public audience in a domestic setting helps establish Ashland early on as a house museum. The third section examines the display of material culture within the house museum. The objects and the stories told about them involve recurring questions of interpretation. The discussion of these three themes will first show how Ashland functioned as a house museum for over a century before it was institutionalized as such.
Although its private
ownership and private life kept it from officially becoming a public museum until the 1950s, Ashland was evolving as such all the while. Ashland was not a typical American historic house that converted from private to public use in consecutive order; the institutional museum that Ashland was to become was amply prefigured in its nearly 150 years as a private estate with a public dimension. The consideration of these themes will also provide an opportunity to test the definition of the house museum. For such a ubiquitous part of American culture, the house museum has received woefully inadequate scholarly attention and there is room for much more debate regarding the definition of the genre. Ashlandâ€™s story will serve to assess the current house museum definition and its applicability.
1) Ashland as Public-Private Hybrid The house museum is a hybrid of public and private, as Rosanna Pavoni observed, of two civic institutions with opposing objectives. Home and museum come together in a juxtaposition of public and private spheres, purposes, and agendas. But the public dimension at Ashland did not commence when the house was institutionalized in 1950—as is the case with most house museums. Instead, the public function began in the early nineteenth century as a consequence of Henry Clay’s celebrity. Ashland the private residence from that time experienced an enduring relationship with an ever-growing public audience as it became a popular destination. A Brief Overview of Ashland’s History The public-private dichotomy at Ashland, inaugurated by Clay, was afterward vividly experienced by four generations of his descendants (see Figure 3). Henry Clay (1777-1852) lived at Ashland c.1809 until his death.1 His son James B. Clay was the first descendant to own and occupy the estate after Clay’s death, until James’s own death in 1864. James and his family at Ashland continued to present their private home to the public. After the Civil War James’s widow, Susan Jacob Clay, sold the estate to Kentucky University which held the title to Ashland until 1882. Ashland returned to the family at that point when Clay’s granddaughter Anne Clay McDowell purchased the property and she and two more generations of her family resided at Ashland. Like James Clay, Anne and her family perpetuated the public/private functions. The last Henry Clay descendant, Clay’s great-great grandson Henry Bullock, lived privately in part of the mansion until 1959, even as Ashland had opened to the public as a historic house museum in 1950.
The exact dates that Clay completed the Ashland mansion and began residing there is unknown.
Figure 3. Ashland timeline. Ashland—from Henry Clay’s time forward—was no ordinary home. In that it belonged to an increasingly well-known public figure, it received extraordinary attention. Because of Henry Clay’s prominence and the fact that he cherished and spoke often of his estate in Kentucky, Ashland became nationally known and an inseparable part of Clay’s public identity. Clay had lent his celebrity to Ashland and the estate was as familiar to Americans of his time as Washington’s Mount Vernon or Jefferson’s Monticello.2 A popular engraving of Ashland widely circulated during Clay’s lifetime depicted him seated in a chair on his front lawn, Ashland’s façade behind him (see Figure 4). After his death the picture was amended, showing only an empty chair in front of the house (see Figure 5).3 As towns, cities, and counties were formed all over the expanding United States, many took the name ‘Ashland,’ including Clay’s hometown in Hanover County, Virginia.4 Through much of the nineteenth century, Ashland was a household word. The estate, famous because of Henry Clay, remained famous after his death. His home would not pass out of collective memory, but was celebrated all the more as a tangible sign of Clay’s legacy.
“…Ashland hats and Ashland campaign books and even ashwood canes were much in vogue. Pictures of his home set among groves of ash trees decorated his campaign banners. The lively steps of the “Ashland Quick Step” were danced to at Clay Rallies, barbecues and torchlight parades all over the country.” Ramona W. Marsh, “Atmosphere of Days Gone By Captured in Henry Clay’s Home.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, 19 April 1975. 3 Curator Eric Brooks believes that there are so many extant prints of these pictures because so many had been in circulation during the nineteenth century. 4 At least thirty localities in the United States are named for Henry Clay’s estate.
Figure 4. Popular engraving showing Henry Clay in chair in front of his home.
Figure 5. Post-1852 engraving depicting the absence of the Master of Ashland.
Figure 6. Henry Clay. 1861 engraving of painting by Alonzo Chappel.
As three-time U.S. presidential candidate, senator from Kentucky, Speaker of the House, Secretary of State, international diplomat, and the man hailed as the “Preserver of the Union” and the “Great Compromiser,” Henry Clay was one of the most significant and celebrated statesmen of the nineteenth century. The New York Times called Clay the “savior of his country” and “for more than half a century…among the foremost men in all the world.”5 Although the fact that Clay ran for president three times and lost each time is a striking aspect of his life story, in his other capacities as statesman he was tremendously influential. He is still considered one of the most important senators in U.S. history.6 He became a member of the Senate in 1806 and served in Congress nearly continuously in one house or the other for almost fifty years. Clay biographer
“Death of Henry Clay. A Sketch of His Life and Public Career.” New York Daily Times, 30 June 1852. The 1957-59 U.S. Senate Committee, chaired by thirty-eight-year-old freshman member, Senator John F. Kennedy chose the five greatest U.S. senators. To help the committee make its difficult decision, an advisory panel of 160 scholars narrowed the field of well over a thousand former senators down to sixtyfive candidates.” Chosen were: Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, Robert La Follette, and Robert Taft. http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Famous_Five_Seven.htm 6
and House of Representatives historian Robert Remini describes him: “Arguably the greatest Speaker to preside over the House of Representatives, the formidable, quick-witted and brilliant Henry Clay of Kentucky dominated Congress.”7
Known as “The Great Compromiser,” he
pushed through three compromise deals which delayed the dissolution of the Union, which many believe was his greatest contribution. Clay exerted significant influence on the American judicial system; cases he argued are still regularly studied and cited.8
Retired Justice Sandra Day
O’Connor observed that “we still feel the ripples of [Clay’s] actions today.”9 A significant legacy Clay left the nation was his inspiration of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln (1809-1865) considered Clay his political father and “beau ideal” of a statesman, “for whom I fought all my humble life.”10 Lincoln had deeply admired Clay, studied his speeches thoroughly, and campaigned for him. He believed that had Clay lived, there would have been no Civil War.11 But Clay was more than a prominent statesman—he became a veritable national celebrity, one of the most popular figures of his time.12 From the early nineteenth century Henry Clay attracted national attention. Chesla Sherlock later described the phenomenon: Henry Clay was the first political leader in this country to develop a great personal following. Washington was admired from afar, but he had no 7
Robert Remini. The House. The History of the House of Representatives. New York: Smithsonian Books in Association with HarperCollins (2006), 91. Clay was Speaker for a greater length of time than anyone until Sam Rayburn in the twentieth century. Merrill Peterson notes that Clay was “elected Speaker six different times, always on the first ballot, he was never really contested, and only handfuls of votes were cast against him…” Merrill D. Peterson. The Great Triumvirate: Webster, Clay, and Calhoun. New York: Oxford University Press (1987), 51. 8 Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, “Henry Clay and the Supreme Court.” Address delivered Frankfort, Kentucky, 4 October 1996. Ashland web site, http://www.henryclay.org/sc.htm. 9 O’Connor. 10 Abraham Lincoln, “In the First Debate with Douglas.” [Ottawa, Illinois, 21 August 1858.] The World’s Famous Orations, Vol. IX America: II (1818–1865), Bryan, William Jennings, ed. 1906 (New York: Funk and Wagnall, 1905). Bartleby Great Books Online: http://www.bartleby.com/268/9/23.html, 2002. 11 During the war Lincoln continued to find inspiration in Clay: “I recognize his voice, speaking as it ever spoke, for the Union, for the Constitution, and the freedom of mankind.” Letter from Abraham Lincoln to John M. Clay, 9 August 1862. Ashland archives. 12 Andrew Jackson, president from 1829 to 1837, as Charles F. Bryan, Jr. writes, “…was the most popular, and perhaps the most unpopular, American. His celebrity rivaled that of George Washington.” “Old Hickory: A Life Sketch of Andrew Jackson.” The Journal of American History, June 1992, 197-199. “…[Clay’s] only equal in popular affection was the picturesque, indomitable, lion-hearted hero of New Orleans [Jackson].” Virgil Chapman, “Henry Clay. Address by Hon. Virgil Chapman of Kentucky.” United States Congressional Record, 19 June 1930. Copy in Ashland archives. “…Jackson and Clay were both brilliant and charismatic personalities…” Harry L. Watson. Andrew Jackson vs. Henry Clay. Democracy and Development in Antebellum America. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1998, 116.
following in the sense that we refer, no parading, shouting, lionizing crowd of partisans…Everywhere [Clay] was acclaimed like a god…It is doubtful if a man in public life ever inspired his following with such devotion, such love, such loyalty. It amounted to worship.13 People thronged Clay in Washington, on his travels, and at Ashland. Clay is not known to have thwarted the public’s access to him, but was instead energized by the adulation, heartily obliging the crowds to stop and speak to them, sign his autograph, touch them, kiss them. The New York Times pointed out that, “At 71 he was still surrounded at public receptions by women who insisted on kissing him…he ‘carried his politeness so far as to yield a lock of hair to the longing scissors of some patriotic matron.’”14 Although Clay’s spirit was buoyed by enthusiastic crowds and receptions, as he wrote, “I was gratified, although often much wearied.”15 For one journey in the summer of 1833, Clay resolved to travel “‘with as much privacy as possible,’” as he said, he sought “‘repose.’” Afterward, he reported that even though his privacy had largely been thwarted, ‘My journey was full of gratification. In spite of my constant protestations that it was undertaken with objects of a private nature exclusively, and my uniformly declining public dinners, the people everywhere, and at most places…took possession of me, and gave enthusiastic demonstrations of respect, attachment, and confidence.
In looking back on the scenes
through which I passed, they seem to me to have resembled those of enchantment more than of real life.’16 The extroverted and politically ambitious Henry Clay did not jealously guard his space or his privacy as other public figures did, but willingly shared them as one who fully understood his status. Even at Ashland where he sought peace and refuge, he remained accessible to those who came to his door. And there were many Americans who trekked to Ashland to meet their idol.
Chesla C. Sherlock, “Homes of Famous Americans.” Fruit, Garden and Home (May 1924), 13. Eunice Fuller Barnard, “To Henry Clay Comes Paradoxical Fame.” New York Times, 10 April 1927, 6. 15 14 January 1843 letter to John Crittenden. Robert V. Remini. Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union. (New York: WW Norton, 1991), 623. 16 From a letter to Francis Brooke. Carl Schurz. Henry Clay. New York: Houghton Mifflin (1899), 25. 14
Figure 7. Idealized view of Henry Clay’s Ashland, 1852. Lithographed by Thomas Sinclair.
Clay’s estate in the western frontier city of Lexington began attracting the public early in the nineteenth century as his celebrity emerged. Ashland was probably as well known as Clay and was soon fixed in the American imagination. During Henry Clay’s lifetime and after, Ashland was a destination of devotion to the Great Compromiser who singularly stood for the antebellum struggle for ‘Union.’ It was said that “Ashland was from the earliest years of the nineteenth century a place of almost pious pilgrimage to visitors from other countries as well as to citizens of the United States.”17 Not only did Henry Clay receive some of the most influential figures of the time under his roof, he opened his house to multitudes of the less influential. Merrill D. Peterson describes a typical Ashland scene: “On some days as many as four or five parties of visitors, often total strangers, often without prior notice, drove out from Lexington and wound their way up the resplendent tree-lined carriage road to Clay’s door.”18 Over the years the number of uninvited visitors to Ashland grew in direct proportion to Clay’s mounting political 17
S. P. Breckinridge, “Southern Pioneers in Social Interpretation: I. Madeline McDowell Breckinridge.” Journal of Social Forces, November 1923, 105-106. 18 Peterson, The Great Triumvirate…, 372.
disappointments. His many devotees could not understand why Americans “refused” to elect him President and they flocked to Ashland in support.19 Visitors came for many reasons, but most came with respect, admiration, and excited anticipation. It was the habit of many patriotic Americans in the nineteenth century to travel to the homes of the living and departed statesmen they admired. Pilgrimages to presidential homes were popular—Mount Vernon most of all—as were journeys to see favorite statesmen such as Henry Clay. These patriotic pilgrims hoped to meet and talk with the famous man or at least expected to gain a glimpse of his estate, his family, his house. Kenneth Walsh explains that “Americans considered their former presidents and Founding Fathers to be public property and they thought nothing of dropping by and expecting to chat, and perhaps stay for a meal.”20 Writing in the 1850s, Mrs. C. M. Kirkland advocated pilgrimages as a patriotic duty for all Americans, but admitted that “to see great men at home is often more pleasant to the visitor than advantageous to the hero.”21 George Washington (1732-1799) was the hero par excellence and he appealed to every American; sites related to his life drew pilgrims of all political views.22 Alan Morinis says that secular places such as Mount Vernon, as well as Monticello, the Hermitage, and Ashland would rightfully be called ‘shrines’ in that leaders of nations were the “contemporary symbols for national ideals” and their home sites repositories for “ideals of national identity.”23 The drawing power of these homes came from the promised physical connection to the hero’s life or the proximity to his mortal remains. The pilgrims to Ashland—as those to other patriotic sites— sought inspiration or transformative experience through contact with Henry Clay and his home. Many believed that Clay’s greatness had sprung from the “ever-glowing altar-fire at Ashland” and they wanted to feel a bit of that.24
John T. Faris, “Henry Clay Took the Keenest Pleasure in His Estate Near Lexington.” c. 1918, Kentucky Explorer, (November 1993), 14. 20 Walsh, Kenneth T. From Mount Vernon to Crawford. A History of the Presidents and Their Retreats. New York: Hyperion (2005), 47-48. 21 Mrs. C. M. Kirkland. “Washington.” Homes of American Statesmen: With Anecdotal, Personal, and Descriptive Sketches by Various Writers. Hartford, CT: O.D. Case and Co., 1855. Also: (New York: Alfred W. Upham, 1862), 3. 22 Smith, 48. 23 Alan Morinis. Introduction to Sacred Journeys. The Anthropology of Pilgrimage. Alan Morinis, ed. Westport, CT: Greenwood (1992), 3-5. 24 “Letters of Henry Clay Reveal His Intense Interest in Ashland.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 14 April c. 1920s, 20.
Lucky Ashland callers would find themselves in the presence of Henry Clay. The naturally sociable Clay was known as an unusually generous and welcoming host, taking particular pleasure in meeting and talking with all of his visitors, often inviting them for more than the expected polite conversation: perhaps dinner with his family, maybe an evening concert, almost always a tour of his farm. It was said that “it was easy for the humblest citizen to approach him.”25 Henry Clay, the consummate politician, was also undoubtedly motivated by his political aspirations, the ongoing need to win over the hearts of as many Americans as possible, shaking hands and signing autographs anytime and anywhere.
Yet he saw more than political
maneuvering in his role as host. American society was undergoing dramatic change in the early decades of the nineteenth century and a democratizing force swept through the country encouraging ordinary citizens to make their voice heard while rewarding such political figures as Andrew Jackson for being a “Great Commoner.” Clay fit easily into this egalitarian picture. In his domestic environment, Clay was able to successfully put forth his image as one of America’s “Great Commoners” – just another farmer opening his door to neighbors. Invited guests in 1843 were impressed by the lack of pretension at Clay’s home: “His manners are as plain and republican as they are gentlemanly and unaffected…His house is plain indeed, and his improvements around it…are in good taste, and in complete keeping with his republican principles and manner of life.”26 At Ashland Henry Clay had consciously created a setting fit for the reception of the public; even Ashland’s floor plan reflected his concern for hospitality. Straight ahead opposite the front door,27 was “that room where for half a century he had received the homage of thousands….’”, the Ashland parlor.28 Sally McMurry says that the parlor served two types of rituals: familial and social/semipublic. As a space for social/semipublic ritual, the parlor was a presentation area where the family’s best objects were shown, guests were presented, and where 25
“Links With History: Grounds of a Kentucky Gold Club Once Henry Clay’s. Ashland’s Great Farm…Interesting Personality of the Great Commoner’s Nephew. Major McDowell’s Generosity.” The Chicago Tribune, 28 January 28, 188?. 26 “Mr. Clay at Home.” Green Mountain Gem; a Monthly Journal of Literature, Science and the Art, 15 July 1843, 1. The article relays the account of a visit to Ashland by the editor of a Cincinnati Methodist Episcopal paper, Western Christian Advocate. 27 Sally McMurry says that the parlor was usually a set-apart space and often “entered only from a hall or vestibule, although occasionally it was connected to a dining room or library.” This was the case at Ashland. Sally McMurry. “City Parlor, Country Sitting Room. Rural Vernacular Design and the American Parlor, 1840-1900.” Winterthur Portfolio 20.4 (Winter 1985), 263. 28 Unnamed source. In “Lucretia Hart Clay. A Portrait by Her Contemporaries.” By Lucretia Clay Erwin. Ashland archives.
parties, courting, music, dancing, and games took place. Clay in his parlor was described by visitors as sitting in his easy chair, taking some snuff, and offering tea and conversation.29 A generation before, hospitality to the public had been similarly practiced by George and Martha Washington at Mount Vernon. Washington was visited by “a galaxy of people from all walks of life.”30
In all the “noise and bustle” and endless influx of visitors, Washington
marveled at an unusual occurrence in June of 1785: on that day he “dined with only Mrs. Washington” which he believed was the first time that had occurred since his retirement from public life years before.31 Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), too, offered hospitality to scores of visitors at Monticello. Clay’s peers, in particular, embodied the new spirit of egalitarianism in their homes. Clay’s rival and great foe, Andrew Jackson, practiced genteel hospitality with a common touch toward his many visitors.32 The Hermitage received dozens of guests daily, “…all made welcome, and all well attended to…”33
Daniel Webster was considered “‘the very
perfection of a host.’” Despite his reputation as “the Great Man,” he shed any pretensions at Marshfield, and was jovial and down-to-earth with his company.34 Ashland’s audience during Henry Clay’s lifetime consisted of many privately invited guests, but more and more became a public audience of uninvited admirers, supporters, and enthusiastic pilgrims.
Ashland as a celebrity’s home evolved from a place of mostly intimate
gatherings with family and friends to an open house for a copious flow of complete strangers. Even at home, Henry Clay increasingly lived his life in the public eye. While Henry Clay’s family and domestic life were not emphasized or even mentioned in the many biographies written of him, Clay in public often and affectionately referred to Ashland, his family, and particular slaves, such as his personal servant, Charles Dupuy. Public image, for Clay at least, was wrapped up inextricably with home life. His domestic identity as farmer and “Sage of Ashland” worked well for his public image as a ‘Great Commoner’ and his down-to-
“Visit to Mr. Clay at Ashland.” C.D.S. Niles National Register, 21 June 1845 (In New York Tribune, 25 May 1845). Peterson, The Great Triumvirate…, 373. 30 “Introduction to the Diaries of George Washington.” George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. Library of Congress web site: http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gwhtml/3gwintro.html. 31 George Washington, 17 June 1785, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. Library of Congress web site. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gwhtml/3gwintro.html 32 Andrew Jackson was a populist hero, the first “commoner” to hold presidential office, elected in part because he personified the young country’s brash, bold spirit, and sense of destiny. 33 Mary French Caldwell. Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. Nashville, TN: Ladies’ Hermitage Association (1933), 67. 34 Peterson, The Great Triumvirate, 387-388.
earth concerns struck a chord with many Americans. Clay publicly identified himself as a man with great love for home. The public man shared his private life and the private man welcomed the public into his home. The public Henry Clay was for all intents and purposes the domestic Henry Clay.
Figure 8. Henry and Lucretia Clay on their 50th wedding anniversary, 1849.
However, the public man of Clay’s era was commonly believed to possess a separate, private personality. In her 1855 essay Kirkland recommended that Americans should “know more” of George Washington by visiting his domestic world at Mount Vernon. She observed that a famous figure’s public and private lives could be so completely different that “if displayed
separately, might never be expected to belong to the same individual.”35 Thus a visit to a great man’s private world should be made to truly know the hero—but with care, “in a home-spirit—a spirit of affection…as friends to love and penetrate the charmed circle within which disguises and defences are not needed…”36
Patriotic pilgrims were to respect the private person “as friends.”
But the accompanying sense of intimate entitlement to access emboldened some…and caused no little discomfort for their hosts. Walsh explains that Washington had his limits: he received all guests who had letters of introduction or were men of a certain stature but complained at times about the strangers who “would drop in with little or no notice simply to meet and greet the ‘father of the United States.’” If Washington “didn’t know visitors well or if they displeased him, he would say only a few words, letting them know he was keeping company with them only out of a sense of courtesy. He would retreat by 9 P.M.”37 Jefferson jealously guarded his privacy.38 The public came in such large numbers after his retirement “to wander the grounds and stare at the ex-president,” that he created a second home ninety miles and a three-day journey away to which he regularly retreated.39 While Henry Clay did not have a second home to retreat to, he was able to get away on vacation, often “taking the waters” for his health. In the 1820s and 30s Clay spent summers at places such as White Sulphur Springs. In the 1840s, he wintered in New Orleans and summered in Newport. The year before he died, he vacationed in Cuba.40 Yet Ashland was above every other place Henry Clay’s private retreat and sanctuary. Elisabeth Donaghy Garrett explains that the “desire for private time, the longing for private space” were conspicuous goals of nineteenthcentury Americans, but there were many “impediments that might foil circumvention, making 35
Mrs. C. M. Kirkland. “Washington.” Homes of American Statesmen: With Anecdotal, Personal, and Descriptive Sketches by Various Writers. Hartford, CT: O.D. Case and Co., 1855. Also: (New York: Alfred W. Upham, 1862), 4. 36 Kirkland, 4. 37 Walsh, 13-14. 38 Merrill D. Peterson, ed. Visitors to Monticello. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press (1989), 3. 39 “Museum…In the Entrance to the House. A Day in the Life of Thomas Jefferson.” Monticello web site. http://www.monticello.org/jefferson/dayinlife/entrance/home.html. He designed Poplar Forest as a “private, enclosed retreat” and an “intimate villa” to which he escaped three or four times a year, staying up to a month at a time. Jane Brown Gillette. “Mr. Jefferson’s Retreat.” Historic Preservation 44:4 (1992): 44-53, 80-81. 40 Remini. Henry Clay, Statesman for the Union, 240, 335, xx-xxii. Summer 1824 - Olympian Springs or Greenville Springs; summer 1828 - White Sulphur Springs; summer 1832 - White Sulphur Springs; winters of 1842-43, 1845-46, 1846-47, 1848-49 - New Orleans; summer 1849 - Saratoga and Newport; summer 1850 – Newport; spring 1851 - Cuba.
privacy something that was often unattainable.”41
This was perhaps doubly true at Clay’s
Ashland. Clay and his wife, children, extended family, employees, and slaves went about their lives at Ashland—while innumerable strangers came to the door. Late in his life, Clay privately admitted of growing weary of the many visitors to Ashland, as Peterson describes: He had sought adulation, and perhaps he should have been gratified by this display of it, but it was sometimes, as he told a friend, ‘excessively oppressive.’ If the hour was right, tea was served to guests in the drawing room. ‘I am obliged to supply, when these strangers come, all the capital of conversation…’ he said. ‘They come to look and to listen…that I could find some obscure and inaccessible hole, in which I could put myself, and enjoy quiet and solitude during the remnant of my days.’42 That the extroverted Clay sought an “inaccessible hole” to put himself proves how desperately he sought peace at Ashland in his later years. For all of his ambition and conviviality, he was also a man who longed to retire permanently from the political limelight. Clay was well aware of other statesmen’s successful retirements to private life; Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson had all successfully retired as private citizens to their estates at the end of their lives. Henry Clay planned to retire permanently in 1842, determined to become a private citizen once more, but as a biographer put it, “his devoted people, inconsiderate in their enthusiasm, would not resign him to the tranquility of private life…”43 Clay felt the public’s claim on his life most keenly at Ashland. Anthony Veerkamp of the National Trust observed that “once someone becomes a public and historical figure, his or her history belongs to all of us.”44 Clay had long accepted the public’s possessiveness, yet the cost to him and his family was not small, as a writer later said of him: “It is one of the penalties of greatness and worldly fame that the possessor of them passes in a great measure out of his own control and comes to belong to the public to such an extent that private life and domestic joys are 41
Elisabeth Donaghy Garrett. At Home: The American Family 1750 – 1870. New York: Harry N. Abrams (1990), 238-239. 42 Peterson, The Great Triumvirate…, 373. 43 Chas W. Coleman, Jr., “Ashland, The Home of Henry Clay,” Century Magazine (December 1886), 167. Yet the brief period of retirement that Clay did achieve in 1842 was not in fact a retreat from “the busy scenes of public life,” as Washington had described it. Instead, as biographer Joseph Rogers explained, “The interim was not one of repose…He was constantly called upon to make tours, or to write letters, or deliver speeches…he was, perhaps, as active as at any other period of his life.” Joseph M. Rogers. The True Henry Clay. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott (1904), 330-331. 44 Christopher Swope. “Family Values, Posterity’s Loss.” Preservation, May/June 2005, 13-14.
almost entirely denied him.”45 The private needs of Clay and his family were often subordinated to those of the public. Clay had long endeavored to reconcile both at Ashland. After all, American statesmen of that time understood that their duty to fellow citizens extended to their homes. But when it grew overwhelming for Washington and Jefferson, they drew the boundary between the public and the private at their homes. But Clay, even when aged, defeated, fatigued, and in need of respite, continued hospitality as the magnanimous celebrity. There is no evidence that he checked the flow of visitors.46 Clay had privately balked, but he continued to respond generously to the public to the end of his life. Clay’s Descendants in the Public Eye While Clay was accustomed to life in the public eye, none of his descendants—even some who became well-known—would experience anything approaching Clay’s fame. Yet those who occupied Ashland nevertheless stepped directly into their famous ancestor’s blinding spotlight.
The immense public audience of Clay’s time did not abate after he was gone.
Compelled to allow the public access to Ashland and to promote Clay’s legacy, each descendant made extraordinary efforts to work out the relationship between their public and private lives at Ashland. And all of the descendants’ efforts were fundamentally made as private decisions. But the public interest would come knocking at Ashland’s door in a way that Henry Clay had never experienced. Public and Private Clash at Ashland The question as to who would decide the fate of the Ashland mansion surfaced soon after Henry Clay’s death. In the final months before he died in June of 1852, his son James B. Clay promised his father that he would assume the responsibility for Ashland, as Clay had desired. James and his family planned to occupy the historic estate, but there was a serious problem: Henry Clay’s nearly fifty-year-old house had been rapidly deteriorating for decades and the structure was by this time dangerously unstable (see Figure 9). Clay had made a critical error in the construction of his house: the brick he had purchased was of inferior quality and its porosity resulted in severely cracked supporting walls. The New Madrid earthquakes and aftershocks of
“A Visit To Ashland…”, Henry Clay’s Famous Home, 100 Years Ago.” c. 1898. The Kentucky Explorer, (October 1998), 31. 46 Two major cholera epidemics that struck Lexington probably stopped the reception of visitors to Ashland: summer of 1833 (about 500 dead) and 1849 (over 300 dead). The Clay family avoided the disease.
1811 and 1812 also likely rendered the structure dangerously unstable.47 Even after repeated efforts at repair, the mansion was in a precarious state and it was thought there was little to be done to stabilize the house.48 James acknowledged that his father had been aware of the problems but that he had chosen not to rectify them in his last years, “Knowing that the house would have to be rebuilt, he often said, when speaking of it, ‘it will last my lifetime.’”49 Years before his death, he had consulted Lexington architect Thomas Lewinski50 to assess the condition of the house, but he inevitably did not act on any major recommendation that Lewinski may have made. Yet Clay continued to keep up appearances at Ashland. While he put most of his energies into improving his farm and the landscaping on the estate, he oversaw interior updating in his home in 1829 and 1845. But the redecoration was only done in the public rooms of the house and repairs were confined to areas seen by guests.51
The New Madrid Earthquake (New Madrid Seismic Zone - New Madrid, Missouri), which occurred in February 1812, was the largest earthquake ever recorded in the contiguous United States. Three other major quakes preceded it: two in December 1811, and one in January 1812 and it is estimated that they had a magnitude of 8.0 on the Richter scale. As a result of the earthquakes and aftershocks, large areas sank into the earth, new lakes were formed, the Mississippi River changed its course and a section of the river briefly ran backwards. Had there been greater settlement at the time, there would have been catastrophic loss of life. 48 Remini. Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union, 74. 49 James B. Clay and George Prentice. “To the Public.” Privately published. July 1855. Henry Clay Family Papers, Henry Clay Family Papers, Collections of the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Copies in Ashland Archives, 4. 50 London-born and of Polish decent, Major Thomas Lewinski came to Lexington in 1842 and was married to one of Henry Clay’s nieces. He was a close friend of the Clay family. Working as an architect for many years, he was considered the best in the state. He had been educated as a Roman Catholic priest, was an artist, well-versed in literature and fluent in French. He fought in the British Army in Spain and South America where he lost one of his eyes. He died in Lexington totally blind in September 1882 at the age of 80. Lexington (Ky.) Press, 20 September 1882. 51 “Ashland. Architectural History of Original Henry Clay House” Undated. Ashland archives.
Figure 9. Only known photograph of original house c. 1853. George Eastman House, Rochester, NY.
Why didn’t Clay act to save his house? It may be conjectured that he was more involved with his farm and livestock and did not place as high a value on the walls surrounding him; it appears that Clay did not value his physical abode as much as his descendants and the public would. While he had one of the best American architects contribute to Ashland’s design, he did not invest in the highest quality materials that would have guaranteed a durable structure. Perhaps Clay did not act to restore his house because he lacked sufficient funds and time toward the end of his life to devote to large-scale repairs or rebuilding. It was suggested later that “…the old man himself, unable to spare the means for its repair, repeatedly said that, as the foundation was insecure, it would have to be rebuilt.”52 Perhaps Clay knew that his descendants—hopefully James—would soon take possession of Ashland and was apt to be in a better position to rescue the dilapidated structure. Henry Clay had been concerned that his home be inhabitable for his family, but had not planned for posterity. He made the necessary repairs to ensure safety, but nothing more. He intended that his mansion be suitably stylish (yet unpretentious) for the public
Dunn, Frank C. “Original Dwelling at Ashland Built in 1789 by Elisha Winters, Merchant.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, c. 1885.
to see, updating the public rooms of the house only. The Ashland mansion during Clay’s life emblematized his success and status. After his death, the house would come to mean much more. During Clay’s final months, when the family realized his death was imminent, James wrote his father to reassure him that he would indeed buy Ashland, promising “…that, if I could help it, Ashland should not, in my lifetime at least, pass into the hands of strangers.”53 James later explained: “For years previous to my father’s death, it was his desire that I should purchase Ashland.” After Henry Clay’s death, Lucretia informed James that she would be selling the estate with the hopes that he would buy it and that it would make her happy if he ensured it would stay in the family.54
In March of 1853, James told his (less well-off) elder brother Thomas of his
intentions: “…my affairs are in such a condition that I am able to buy Ashland, which I intently desire to do. I desire to do so at once that I may gratify the wishes of our mother…”55 James asked architect Lewinski, to ascertain whether the structure was safe for his family to inhabit. The architect “pronounced it unsafe, and, moreover, that it would tumble down of itself, in a very few years.”56 James soon made his decision: “Under these circumstances, I determined to rebuild…”57 The symbolic significance of Henry Clay’s house had grown for his family and for the public after his death, but Clay had unfortunately left behind the seriously dilapidated mansion; his burgeoning legacy was ironically accompanied by a deteriorating house. James wanted to reconcile these opposing realities by building a fresh, improved Ashland in honor of his father while remaining largely faithful to the original.
James intended to present
Ashland as a lasting public memorial to his father.
Clay, James B. and George Prentice. “To the Public.” Privately published. July 1855. Henry Clay Family Papers, Henry Clay Family Papers, Collections of the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Copies in Ashland Archives, 4. “To the Public” contains three letters from James Clay to George Prentice, dated July 14, 20, and 24, 1855; and article from the Louisville Journal dated July 18, 1855. 54 Clay and Prentice, 4. 55 Letter from James B. Clay to Thomas Clay, 16 March 1853. Library of Congress, Collections of the Manuscript Division, Henry Clay Family Papers, Box 42. Ashland archives. 56 Clay and Prentice, 4. 57 Clay and Prentice, 14 July 1855.
Figure 10. Susan (left), James (in hat), and four of their children at front entrance of newly rebuilt Ashland, c. 1857.
The new house was under construction in 1855 when editor of the Louisville Journal and a former friend of Henry Clay’s, George Prentice, began to publicly ridicule James.58 In an editorial he called him, “the young gentleman who tore down the old mansion of his immortal father instead of leaving it to be resorted to and gazed on with emotions of reverential awe by men of future generations…”59 inconceivable.
Prentice found James’s decision to raze his father’s home
James was taken off-guard by this public attack of what he regarded as a private
James’s public stance against Prentice’s political party, the “Know-Nothing” party. Clay and Prentice, George Prentice, from the Louisville Journal, 13 July 1855. 60 When James had endeavored to salvage as much of the original Ashland as possible, selling some of the unusable materials as Henry Clay souvenirs, Prentice accused James of “selling the beams, rafters, posts, etc., of his glorious father’s old dwelling house to be manufactured into walking-sticks, etc… precious relics from the mansion of the most illustrious of American statesmen.” Clay and Prentice, James B. Clay, 14 and 24 July 1855. James defended his attempt to sell “portions of the old material…doors, sash, etc. which were utterly useless to me….” He was fairly unsuccessful in that effort, stating that he would have 59
decision. James asked: “Was not the mansion I tore down my mansion?”61 According to Prentice, the right to private claim could not be justified in this case: “It was his PROPERTY; he owned it; he had a right to do what he pleased with it…and so…he demolished the sacred old edifice without remorse or emotion…and we can tell him that the heart of the country revolted at it.”62 He believed that James had robbed the public of a consecrated place, a site that symbolized Henry Clay for the world. Prentice, ostensibly on behalf of the public, had laid claim to privately owned and occupied Ashland. But it was James’s private decision to rebuild the mansion—made with the public in mind—that inevitably had the last word as the mansion was completed and favorably received by the general public. As master of Ashland James had been eager to retain “the respect of the world and the love of his [father’s] friends,” so he and his wife Susan continued highly visible lives at Ashland.63 They placed themselves in the role of public servants and witnesses to the memory of Henry Clay. They came into the stewardship of Ashland knowing well that their role as hosts would be much like Henry Clay’s with the public descending upon their home. After the rebuilding of the house was complete, hospitality to the public resumed. They were quite open to the public’s visitation, “extending cordial courtesies to almost unnumbered visitors.”64 Ashland, even with the mansion’s new incarnation, remained firmly planted in the public consciousness. The public was especially curious about the new house and flocked to see it and visitors to the new, richly furnished Ashland wrote of the powerful impact it had upon them. Not only were the opulently appointed interiors stunning, but Ashland now—fittingly, many felt—had become a memorial shrine to Henry Clay.
to make a bonfire to unencumber his place of the “old rubbish.” [“The unused timbers were stored in a warehouse on East Short Street which was destroyed by fire, 26 January 1859.” Dunn, “Original Dwelling…”] James described how he had often been asked for pieces of old Ashland, which he never refused, and the occurrence of frequent theft of house relics and of estate plants. He explained his decision to have Ashland souvenirs made from some of the old lumber: Some 140 ‘little boxes’ and 100 canes. At last it occurred to me that I might put some of the old lumber…to a good and worthy use; I determined to have some little articles made, as souvenirs of Ashland…with the understanding…that the proceeds…should be devoted to some public charity.” 61 Clay and Prentice, 14 July 1855. 62 Clay and Prentice, from the Louisville Journal, 18 July 1855. 63 Letter James B. Clay to Mr. Harrison, 19 July 1852. Henry Clay Family Papers, Collections of the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Copies in Ashland archives. James and Susan were both well-suited for public life as neither of them was a stranger to public prominence: James had been appointed Charge’ d’Affaires to Portugal, serving there with Susan, and the highly-educated Susan had served as Henry Clay’s secretary. 64 “Ashland—Jas. B. Clay.” Lexington, KY: Kentucky Statesman, 14 July 1857.
And such a shrine called for pilgrimage. A national popular movement was afoot that coincided with Ashland’s reopening. Patricia West says that by the mid-nineteenth century, a substantial audience existed for house museums and American tourism was thriving. Places with historical associations such as Ashland became destinations for purposeful travel, popularly called pilgrimages.65
One pilgrim described his experience at Ashland: “…although the spirit
with whose memory [the grounds] are associated, has fled, one cannot repel the conviction, that…he is still surrounded by something sublime and great.”66 James and Susan also made a point of inviting journalists to report on the changes to the house, presumably with the expectation that the writers would publicize and cast the new Ashland in a positive light. Two reporters’ visits occurred back-to-back in July of 1857; Susan took one of the men on a tour, James the other.67 The writers were shown the grounds and several rooms in the house. One of the writers described what he felt as “sensations of no ordinary emotion,” while the other described James and Susan’s hospitality as “elegant” and “generous.”68 While Henry Clay gave tours of his farm and gardens, his hospitality to the public likely did not involve house tours. But James and Susan had organized the Ashland house as a memorial and ensuring the public saw it was crucial. The private realm at Ashland was thus more exposed. The outbreak of war, however, interrupted the hospitality at Ashland. As a southern sympathizer in a border state fraught with tension, James could no longer make himself available to the public as his father had.69 During the Civil War, the public did not visit Ashland as freely 65
West, 3-4. “Clay.” c. 1854. In Homes of American Statesmen: With Anecdotal, Personal, and Descriptive Sketches by Various Writers. (New York: Alfred W. Upham, 1862), 393-394. 67 These visits occurred when James was running for the U.S. Congress. The timing of the visits was presumably related to James’s campaign. Both accounts are extremely positive, emphasizing the similarity between the old and the new Ashland, making many pointed references to Henry Clay, and praising the rebuilding by James. This political context must be factored in when evaluating these highly favorable published accounts. 68 “Scenes and Incidents in the Life of Henry Clay.” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, 4 July 1857. “At Ashland, Mr. Clay, with his graceful lady, dispenses an elegant hospitality—extending cordial courtesies to almost unnumbered visitors to the place, and welcoming generous entertainment to their personal acquaintances and friends.” “Ashland—Jas. B. Clay.” 69 His visibility as a politician and as Henry Clay’s most prominent son meant that James’ embrace of the Secessionist cause brought persecution (e.g. he was arrested, jailed, charged with treason). He eventually fled in 1861 to exile in Canada. Susan and the children followed him to Montreal a year later. While James was making his long journey, in October of 1862 Susan and the children faced a frightening event at Ashland: the Civil War skirmish that took place on the grounds within view of the house. 294 Union troops faced John Hunt Morgan’s 1,800 troops on the morning of October 18th, 1862, resulting in four Union deaths, dozens wounded and an unknown number of Confederate casualties. Ashland opened its doors to the public in a way it never had or would again: after the skirmish, the house was used temporarily as a hospital for the wounded. Brooks and Andrew, Lexington, Kentucky, 19 October 2005. 66
as in the past due to the chaos, danger, and general interruption of travel.70 The number of visitors to Ashland greatly diminished, but those who managed to come often did so to seek inspiration from the spirit of Henry Clay in his former surroundings. As the war raged, the public’s interest in Ashland continued because Clay increasingly symbolized the antebellum era of peace and union. The public wanted reassurance that Henry Clay was still “with” them, but the Civil War effectively displaced the family and repelled visitors from Ashland. After the war, the public continued to remember Henry Clay and the old homestead that still symbolized him, even though it was no longer his family’s home and was occupied by Kentucky University, a public institution.71 Thousands continued to travel to Ashland in the 1860s and 1870s to see the famous statesman’s former home.72
Figure 11. Major Henry Clay and Anne Clay McDowell at Ashland, c. 1880s.
When Clay’s granddaughter Anne Clay McDowell and her husband Major Henry Clay McDowell bought the estate back into the family in 1882, there was general thanksgiving in the
With both James and Susan gone by the end of 1863, Ashland was rented and occupied by a sister-inlaw, Marie Mentelle Clay. 71 More on Kentucky University in Chapter Two. 72 After years of bitter sectarian conflict, private Kentucky University split from the public A & M (land grant) college that had been under its jurisdiction. The University relocated to the former Transylvania campus in downtown Lexington and later took back that name. The A & M relocated to the old Lexington fairgrounds and eventually became known as the University of Kentucky.
press and Ashland’s public audience began to swell.73 During the McDowell period Ashland was said to have been “almost as well known as Mount Vernon or Monticello…” and the public flocked there much as they had in Henry Clay’s time.74 The late-nineteenth to early-twentiethcentury coincided with an intensification of veneration for Henry Clay that led to even greater popular interest in Ashland.75 No article about Henry Clay could be written without mentioning his beloved Ashland and no mention of Ashland would be complete without reference to the great statesman.
It was considered “one of the ‘sights’ to be visited by any foreign person of
distinction traveling in the United States…”76 An article published during the McDowells’ first year in residence relayed that “tourists from abroad and visitors from other States to the Bluegrass region rarely leave without paying a visit to Ashland. A few go from curiosity, but the larger number…feel that they are paying a just tribute to the memory of the man…”77 At the end of the nineteenth century, a visit to Ashland was more than ever a patriotic ‘religious’ duty, couched in terms such as “shrine,” “pilgrim” and “worship” as it promised an inspirational experience. The McDowells’ Ashland was part of the larger context of patriotic pilgrimage activity throughout the United States. With the return to normalcy after the Civil War, there was a great surge in patriotic feeling and reverence for the Founding Fathers, enshrining “meccas” where Americans could pay homage.78 The value of national historic places like Ashland greatly increased in the public mind. In the 1890s people were pointedly encouraged by educational foundations and preservation associations to make pilgrimages to historical sites.
Henry Clay McDowell’s father was a friend of Henry Clay’s and named his son after him, never knowing his son would marry Henry Clay’s granddaughter. “SALE OF ASHLAND. The Ashland property, consisting of the home of Henry Clay and 324 acres of land adjoining, was sold on Saturday to Capt. H.C. McDowell, of Frankfort, whose wife is a granddaughter of the Sage of Ashland…The property was sold for $60,000 and the trade is to be ratified by the Curators of Kentucky University; but there will be no trouble about that.” “Sale of Ashland.” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Transcript, 1 May 1882. Amelia Clay Van Meter Rogers says that the McDowells purchased Ashland for $69,000. “Ashland, The Home of Henry Clay.” (MA Thesis, University of Kentucky, 1934), 34. 74 S. Irenaeus Prime, “The Henry Clay Mansion.” Irenaeus Letters: Second Series. In New York Observer, 1885. “The Past Stands Close to Historic Ashland.” Louisville Courier-Journal, 9 July 1949. 75 Visitors to Lexington during this period often made a point of visiting Ashland and/or the Clay cemetery monument, particularly in commemoration of his birthday: “A number of visiting gentlemen yesterday paid a visit to the cemetery. The tomb of the great Commoner was the principal attraction.” Lexington (Ky.) Morning Transcript, 12 April 1883. 76 Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge, Madeline McDowell Breckinridge: A Leader in the New South. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1921), 16. 77 “Henry Clay’s Old House. Ashland the Pride of Kentucky, and Once the Property of Our Greatest Statesman, After Many Ups and Downs, Again Abloom.” Louisville: The Courier-Journal, 25 March 1883. 78 James M. Lindgren, “A Spirit That Fires the Imagination.” Page and Mason, eds. Giving Preservation a History: Histories of Historic Preservation in the United States. New York: Routledge, 2004, 111.
And the McDowells’ Ashland was “kept hospitably open to visitors from all parts of the world…”79 Although the intense scrutiny due to the rebuilding of the mansion that came to James and Susan in the wake of Clay’s death would be absent for the McDowells, they too opened their private home to public view. Their eldest daughter Nannette was known to have given tours to visitors.80 They were proud to take on the role as guardians of Ashland, prepared for the heightened visibility, and would live very closely with the memory of their renowned ancestor and the attention that inevitably came with it. The McDowells knew that they would own a home that Americans cherished and in which they felt a vested interest. Major McDowell told the Chicago Tribune that because Henry Clay had made it “easy for the humblest citizen to approach him,” he, too, would make Ashland “free to all—no admission fee at the gate, no relic sellers along the walks, and no catch-penny affair of any kind on the grounds.”81 The Major specifically intended the perpetuity of family occupancy and ownership—but as a freely accessible public place. But toward the end of Major McDowell’s life, a shift in Ashland hospitality occurred. His ill health caused a curtailment of entertainment.82 When he died in 1899, an era of dazzling Ashland hospitality would come to an end. His eldest daughter (Clay’s great-granddaughter) Nannette, her husband, and son moved into the house in 1903 to help her widowed mother, Anne, maintain Ashland after his death (see Figure 12).83
When Anne Clay McDowell died in 1917,
Nannette was the next descendant to assume the charge of hospitality at Ashland.
Thomas A. Knight and Nancy Lewis Greene. Country Estates of the Blue Grass. Lexington, KY: Thomas A. Knight (1904), 33. 80 Visitors in the late 1880s reported that they “found…Miss Nannette McDowell…at home to do the honors of the mansion…she showed us through the rooms, [and said], ‘you can see how the house was arranged…’” Andrews, Maude. “A Visit To Henry Clay’s Home.” Atlanta Constitution, June, c. 1887. 81 “Links With History...” 82 For daughter Madeline’s wedding to Desha Breckinridge in November 1898—a wedding that ordinarily would have attracted intense regional attention and could have been an even larger event than Nannette’s celebration six years earlier—a small and strictly private celebration was planned with only immediate family members invited. “Olla-Podrida.” Lexington (Ky.) Morning Herald, 16 November 1898. 83 When Anne died in 1917 the Lexington Leader praised her hospitality: “Her home was a mecca for thousands of visitors, to whom she was ever charmingly hospitable.” “Mrs. Henry Clay M’Dowell Dead.” Lexington (Ky.) Leader, 4 February 1917.
Figure 12. Nannette McDowell Bullock and her son Henry Bullock at Ashland, c. 1915.
By the dawn of the twentieth century the number of pilgrims coming to Ashland—and increasingly, tourists—escalated and great-granddaughter Nannette struggled to cope. Especially after World War I, a “hypernationalist movement” caused a tremendous swell of patriotic pilgrimage activity. Elizabeth Vallance explains that the house museum at this time served as an especially “patriotic medium” symbolic of American’s desire to reject European culture and embrace “‘Americana’ which fostered a boom in the creation of historic ‘shrines’…”84 America’s travel habits also changed dramatically during this time. The automobile revolution between 1912 and 1928 bolstered tourism.
Kammen says the growing ease of travel
“nationalized tourism…” which created a “widely shared language of civil religion…” and that within forty years, “places of wonder and memory moved from marginal status to an absolutely
She says that because of the country’s “continuing fascination with a safe, clean, and orderly image of its imagined past,” the following illustrative and influential historic projects date to this period: Henry Ford’s creation of Greenfield Village, Rockefeller’s restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, and the rescue of Monticello. Elizabeth Vallance, “Enshrining Past Lives: House Museums and the Lessons of Objects.” History of Education Quarterly 42.1(2001), 116.
central role in American tourism.”85 Journeys to historic shrines—a great proportion directed at the homes of “great men”—achieved maximum popularity in the 1930s.86 But the nature of American travel was changing. Pilgrims with transcendent aspirations gave way to those simply pursuing an enjoyable pastime: tourists. While pilgrims would not let difficult travel dissuade them from their destination, tourists were more likely to travel to places easily accessible by car. Pilgrimage gave way to mass tourism. With the advent of better roads and routes, the “motoring public” was discovering Kentucky…and Ashland was definitely on the tourist map.87
The McDowell home by the early twentieth century was a tourist magnet (see
Figure 13). By 1939 it was reported that Ashland, “the pride of Kentucky” continued to be “constantly visited by people from all over the nation.”88
Figure 13. 1903 postcard of Ashland with inscription: “Drove through these grounds this afternoon. It is a grand old place. L. Nov. 14-1903.” Lexington History Museum.
Michael Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory. The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (1991), 547-548, 639. 86 Kammen, 487-488. 87 In 1928, the Lexington Board of Congress cheerfully predicted that “motorists by the thousands are planning vacations and trips into this hitherto undiscovered section” of the country would surely discover the region around Lexington with its many places “beautiful and old, yet new and entrancing” for tourists. C. L. Thompson, “Lexington is Hub of Blue Grass Region. Increasing Thousands Visit Metropolis of Eastern and Central Kentucky and Beautiful Surrounding Country.” The Chesapeake and Ohio and Hocking Valley Employees’ Magazine, September 1928. 88 Elizabeth Patterson Thomas, Old Kentucky Homes and Gardens. Louisville, KY: Standard Printing (1939), 85-85.
And it was no surprise because by the twentieth century Ashland was being actively promoted and rather blatantly advertised in tourism literature as a ‘must-see’ site in Kentucky, described as a “permanent tourist magnet,” the most-noted “show place,” and chief point of interest. No other place could surpass its preeminence in the “affection or admiration of tourists, visitors, or prominent guests of our city…”89 While Ashland’s draw as a tourist destination had undeniably benefited the city, the state, and the American traveler, it challenged the occupants of Ashland. For a time, the public good became a private burden at Ashland. Although Nannette was perhaps not as outgoing and sociable as her father, her great uncle James, or her great-grandfather Henry Clay, it was said that Ashland remained available to the public under her “gentle ministrations.”90 But she began to experience many more of the new type of public visitor—the curious tourist—and she found the increasing throngs unmanageable. The burden of opening her home to tourists grew heavier, the crowds at times an unwieldy imposition to her, which was a point of view that had hardly existed at Ashland before. Finally Nannette knew that she had to restrict access to the house. A writer of the time described the situation: “…the family occupying this famous homestead has in a measure lived in seclusion to avoid the demands of the tourists that once flocked to the home, curious to see the home of a great man. So great was this demand that the occupants knew no rest or peace and finally the public was denied admittance…”91 When Nannette began to limit the public’s visits, tourists were truly surprised that they could not gain entry to the mansion. A 1935 article described the disappointment of the “hundreds who want to see the house every week…at all hours of the day…”92 This was the first time in Ashland’s history that an occupant is known to have cut off the public’s access to the house. But the volume of visitors coming to Nannette’s door was unknown to her ancestors. Knowing no “rest or peace,” Nannette and her son Henry Bullock definitively drew the public-private line. Major McDowell had been the magnanimous host, responding to Clay admirers, pilgrims, and tourists from all over the world and, with him, the public and private realms at Ashland existed harmoniously.
But during the twentieth century public and private interests were
increasingly at odds. Instead of continuing the tradition of unrestricted hospitality, Nannette 89
Wilson, “Ashland Leads Man o’ War...” Breckinridge, Madeline McDowell Breckinridge,. 47. 91 Clarence P. Wolfe, “Editorial Comment.” Unidentified newspaper, date unknown (between 1920-1948). Henry Clay Family Papers, Special Collections, University of Kentucky. 92 “The Henry Clay Home.” Editorial. Lexington, KY: Unidentified newspaper, 15 December 1935. Henry Clay Family Papers, Special Collections, University of Kentucky. 90
became Ashland’s guardian, for the first time protecting Ashland from the public…for what she came to believe would be the ultimate good of the public. Public and Private Clash Again The rapid changes of the early twentieth century had thrown Clay’s descendants offbalance and they would eventually threaten Ashland’s existence. Major McDowell had intended that Ashland be perpetually preserved both for his family and for the public. When he died in 1899, Ashland was transferred to his wife and children, with the stipulation that the estate was to be held in trust until the last of his children died.93 The idea—and through the trust, now the means—of preserving Ashland was carried into the twentieth century and the fate of Ashland soon rested in the hands of Clay’s grandchildren, the six McDowell heirs.
considered: would—and could—they preserve Ashland by passing on the estate to their heirs for private occupancy? By the 1920s, this did not appear to be a feasible option for them, the burden too great for any one family. None of the descendants appeared interested in, or capable of, taking on the tremendous amount of care, upkeep, and public attention that the occupancy of Ashland would require of them.94
With the dawn of the twentieth century, residential
development was knocking on Ashland’s door, land values were skyrocketing and the land surrounding Ashland had become “too valuable as residential building sites to retain for pasture and grazing.”95 The cost of maintaining the large estate began to grow burdensome for the family.96 Selling off some of Ashland’s abundant acreage for development was a logical solution to ensure Ashland’s viability. Consequently the subdivision of the estate began in 1908.97 The
Samuel M. Wilson, “Ashland, Center of Henry Clay’s Career.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 15 April 1926. The last living McDowell heir, great-granddaughter Nannette McDowell Bullock, intended under the stipulations of her will that her only son Henry McDowell Bullock would be able to remain at Ashland after her death for as long as he chose. He had never married and suffered from various mental and physical health issues. Nannette probably knew that he would be unable to maintain Ashland on his own, yet wanted to at least provide for his residence there. Hagan-Michel and Brooks, e-mail correspondence 19-20 April 2005. 95 Consequently Thomas McDowell moved Ashland Stud to Woodford County. Meyer, “Henry Clay’s Legacy to Horse Breeding and Racing,” 18. 96 Mary Meehan of the Lexington Herald-Leader explains it this way: “The farm, once well out in the country, was getting new neighbors. Houses were popping up where cows recently roamed. With land prices going up, the family was feeling the financial pressure because there was a fortune to be made and because the grand old house at the center of the land was costly to maintain.” “Growth Squeezed Ashland.” Mary Meehan. Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, 10 September 2007. 97 Lexington had expanded its city limits to include the Ashland estate. Municipal services such as gas, water, and road maintenance set the stage for subdivision. Construction of new homes began by 1920. “A Brief History of the Development of Ashland Park,” from “An Ashland Neighborhood Christmas.” Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, November 2006. Ashland archives. The McDowells contracted with the renowned Olmsted Brothers landscape architecture firm of Massachusetts to design the development called 94
resulting changes in Ashland’s borders and surroundings were a cause of alarm for some. Many worried that the development would ‘steamroll’ over Ashland and the historic estate would be lost forever (see Figure 14). The McDowell siblings began to seriously consider surrendering their ownership in Ashland and they finally decided to put it up for sale in 1922. And it was at this time that Major McDowell’s idea of preserving Ashland for the public re-emerged, but in a new way: without family ownership and occupancy: “It is being urged in many quarters that Ashland be purchased by the State or Nation as a memorial museum.”98 When Ashland still had not sold by 1926, the heirs’ eagerness to sell came to a head because they felt limited in their options and in a hurry to act.
Figure 14. Excerpt of c.1920s newspaper article.
“Ashland Park” and the first lots went up for sale in 1919. Curator Eric Brooks says that by engaging the Olmsted firm, the family was taking control of the development that would surround the house and its twenty remaining acres. Mary Meehan. “Growth Squeezed Ashland Too.” Lexington (Ky.) HeraldLeader, 10 September 2007. The subdivisions were marketed in three stages, each commanding higher prices as the area became highly desirable: after the first in 1919, the second unit came in 1922 and the third by 1927. “Model Home is Open.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 24 April 1927. The 1996 Landscape Master Plan report describes the impact: “The subdivision of 1919 removed the farm as a context for the remaining 20 acres. The loss of that context had two major results for the domestic grounds. The view into the savanna pasture was lost, and the need to maintain outbuildings and drives was gone and they were slowly removed.” Ashland Estate Landscape Master Plan, 60. 98 “Ashland, Henry Clay’s Home, Which May Be Sold Again.”
For a second time—in an echo of the public-private struggles James came up against when he rebuilt the house—the private needs, concerns, and options of the Clay descendants came up against the public’s stake in Ashland. Admittedly, everyone agreed that Ashland was precious and worthy of preservation, and it had seemed up until then that the public and private spheres would not be at cross purposes; there appeared to be plenty of public support, political will, and financial resources both to relieve the family of their burden and to preserve Ashland. But the public will would inevitably not prove powerful enough. Nannette and local historian Judge Samuel Wilson conceived of the idea that the city of Lexington—along with private subscribers—put up the money to purchase Ashland. The idea was that the private sector should not act alone, that the public should have a real stake in Ashland’s survival. Thus in 1926 they founded the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, with its goal to “acquire the home and the grounds for the purpose of making it a public park and an historical shrine.”99 A $200,000 city bond issue was proposed and was to be submitted to voters in the November election.100 Public debate regarding how best to save Ashland heated up in the months before the election.
While there was general consensus that Ashland was worth
preserving, many felt that the asking price was too expensive for the city. For many months citizens wrote impassioned letters to the local papers advocating both sides of the issue. The decision came down to the public vote, as a headline summarized it, “Voters to Decide Fate of Historic Clay Estate.” The choice before Fayette County citizens: “whether Ashland…shall be sacrificed to the expansion of the city or be preserved as a beautiful city park.”101 But the citizens of Lexington had not proven adequately enthusiastic about the bond issue because the widespread concern persisted about the high cost in relationship to perceived value. Thus the bond issue was soundly defeated.102 The local community believed that Ashland was worth saving, but not with their money.
“Will Be Preserved.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 31 July 1926, 11.
100 Rena Niles, “Ashland, Henry Clay’s Famous Home to Become a Public Shrine.” Louisville Courier
Journal Magazine, 9 April 1950, 31. “City Bond Issue Proposed to Purchase ‘Ashland’ for Public Park Purposes.” Lexington (Ky.) unidentified, undated newspaper, c. April 1926. Henry Clay Family Papers, Special Collections, University of Kentucky. “Henry Clay Memorial Foundation Highlights From History.” c. 1995, Ashland archives. 101 “Voters to Decide Fate Of Historic Clay Estate.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 4 September 1926, 1. 102 By a vote of 4800 to 2356. “Fayette Vote By Precincts.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 3 November 1926. Of seventy Fayette County precincts, only three voted for the bond issue. The Lexington Daily Leader provided analysis the following day: “The defeat of the park bond issue in Lexington was foreseen by those who knew somewhat of the temper of the taxpayers… in the minds of many, the price placed upon the Ashland property was too high…By all means the residence at Ashland should be preserved as a memorial and historical museum.” “Election Results.” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Leader, 3 November 1926.
For many years after the bond issue failure, Ashland’s fate remained uncertain. The Foundation was still at work, but without the city’s help the fundraising process was a much slower one. After all the time that had transpired, it was astonishing to many that the nationallyrenowned estate had not already been preserved with public monies. It was only when Nannette McDowell Bullock died in 1948 that the stipulations of her will provided the Foundation the funds to purchase the estate.103 As with son James Clay’s rebuilding of the house, the public made its opinion known regarding the fate of Ashland, and again, it was clear that Henry Clay’s estate remained precious to Americans. And in the 1920s, for the first time in Ashland’s history, the family had been prepared to surrender to the public its private ownership and authority over Ashland, but the public, while in favor of its preservation, would not accept the responsibility. As in the 1850s with James’s private decision to rebuild, it was the private will of a family member—greatgranddaughter Nannette—that would determine Ashland’s ultimate fate. She ensured Ashland’s preservation for the public, but accomplished it through a private foundation.
“…The estate was estimated at $250,000 in real property and $140,000 in personality. Widow of Dr. Thomas S. Bullock, Mrs. Bullock had lived at Ashland since 1903, under authorities of trustees of the estate of her father, Maj. H. C. McDowell. [Nannette’s] estate included only an interest—approximately one-sixth—in Ashland and adjoining property, which is being held in trust under Major McDowells will. In her will, Mrs. Bullock provided that half of her interest in Ashland—or 1/12 of the total Major McDowell estate—would go to the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation. Eventually the foundation, under certain conditions, will receive approximately two-thirds of Mrs. Bullock’s own estate to purchase the remainder of Ashland and to preserve it. Of the 1/12 given to the foundation—which will receive ownership of the principal on termination of Major McDowells trust…” “Clay Memorial May Be Set Up: Mrs. Bullock’s Will Outlines Shrine Plan.” Lexington(Ky.) Herald-Leader, c. July 1948. Henry Clay Family Papers, Special Collections, University of Kentucky.
Figure 15. Lorraine Seay at her entrance hall desk, c. 1950.
Public Institution versus Private Home Through the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, Nannette had arranged the preservation of Ashland as a public museum, but Nannette had also arranged for the continuing accommodation at Ashland of her son, Henry Bullock. Before she died, she had granted him a life estate and provided for his residence at Ashland for as long as he chose to live there.104 So in the 1950s, the mansion, now open for public tours on the first floor, was on its second floor a family member’s private apartment. Many visitors to Ashland during that decade never realized that Ashland continued to be a Clay descendant’s home; this reality was downplayed for nine years.
Ashland’s first director/curator/hostess, Lorraine Seay, found her efforts at public
hospitality complicated by the occupation of Clay’s great-great-grandson. His presence alone might not have been a cause for problems, but Henry’s unspecified psychological maladies and erratic behavior substantially challenged the museum’s operation.105 Operating a successful public museum was not easy with an unruly private resident. Bullock’s unpredictable actions, 104
Eric Brooks, e-mail to author 25 April 2005. Lindsey Apple relays that there are many stories about Henry Bullock: everything from his shooting a gun in the air and shouting from the front balcony at kids on the lawn to greeting a group of ladies “in the buff.” Presentation at Ashland, Lexington, Kentucky, 3 April 2006. During what was called an “erratic spell,” he damaged oil paintings in the house with a sword. Don Edwards, “Ashland Holds 50th Anniversary Tours.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, 9 April 2000. 105
such as giving away furnishings that belonged to the museum’s collection, prompted the president of the Foundation Board more than once to write to Henry: “I feel sure that you will want to cooperate with all the good citizens interested in Ashland in keeping this lovely home intact…in order that visitors may find the same articles of furniture that have taken on such a rich historical interest.”106 Seay had initially allowed Henry to conduct tours, but he preferred to do things his own way. She expressed her frustration to the Board: “… he would not conform to what we thought was best—…we did not want the attic, upstairs, kitchen and basement shown—neither do we want people taken into the rooms where ropes have been placed…”107 This was no longer a situation in which a Clay descendant limited public access, but one in which a descendant enthusiastically—and problematically—provided it. It was possible that the middle-aged Henry was acting the role of proud descendant and imitator of Henry Clay when he conducted ‘unauthorized’ tours of the house after hours. He perhaps saw himself as master of the mansion; he was so enthusiastic about welcoming the public that he requested the Foundation open the house every day and night of the week. He enjoyed allowing the public into his home—but not according to the stipulations of the Foundation. Henry’s unwillingness to comply with the museum’s rules may have arisen from his mental state, but may have been due to the fact that, for most of his life, Ashland had been home. As a direct Clay descendant and the last family occupant of the house, he asserted his will regarding visitors and artifacts in the home and desired some level of control over his private residence.108 Yet his problematic actions inevitably thwarted his freedom. After giving tours during off-hours and in off-limits areas, he was no longer allowed to do so.109 After offering for sale or giving away artifacts, he was closely supervised and restricted by the Board.
November 18, 1952 letter from Joseph C. Graves to Henry Bullock, Ashland archives. December 7, 1952 letter from Lorraine Seay to Clinton Harbison. Ashland archives. 108 Mrs. Seay described one of Henry’s efforts at control: refusing to use the modern gas furnace. He would not turn the upstairs portion on causing the downstairs portion to become “overworked” heating the entire mansion. Letter from Lorraine Seay to Mr. Harbison, 7 December 1952. Ashland archives. Also, apparently during the first three years that Ashland was open to the public, Mrs. Seay and the caretaker had no keys to the mansion and relied on Henry Bullock to open the doors for them each day. But Henry refused to abide by daylight savings time, thus for much of the year his schedule was one hour different which resulted in “a great deal of confusion for Mrs. Seay and the servants who have had difficulty in gaining entry to the house in the mornings.” The Foundation Board voted to give Mrs. Seay and the caretaker their own keys. Letter from Joseph C. Graves to Henry Bullock, 13 May 1953. Ashland archives. 109 In a June 1953 letter from Joseph C. Graves (on behalf of the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation Board) to Henry Bullock, Mr. Graves wrote: “Dear Henry: It has been brought to my attention today that you took some visitors through Ashland last night. As you did not charge them any admission the visitors returned and paid the admission fee, explaining that you had taken them through the mansion when it was closed to 107
The 1950s marks a shift in the public-private relationship at Ashland. The public aspect began to overshadow the private. Public interests, represented by the Foundation and Mrs. Seay, came up against the private interests of resident descendant Henry Bullock. Bullock’s mother’s dual desire to provide the public access to Ashland while providing her son a private home in large part prompted the struggle. With Bullock as Ashland occupant for the museum’s first decade, public desire for access and the museum’s desire to provide it clashed with his need for personal freedom and control. This uncomfortable mix of public and private interests lasted until 1959 when Henry moved into his own home and the Foundation began to renovate the second floor for opening in 1962. In the 1950s, the public and private realms clashed palpably as a family member tried to carve out a private life for himself while thousands of people toured his home. After Henry Bullock moved out, private occupancy of Ashland permanently ceased.110 Although Ashland no longer sheltered a private family, as an institutional museum it continued to be a public-private place.
Formerly private spaces (i.e., bedrooms) were presented as such and the domestic
characteristics of Ashland were particularly emphasized. The institutional museum did all it could to conjure up the feeling of a private family dwelling.
House museums, as Pavoni
observed, are private places made public which are full of personal and private references. The family was no longer physically there, but reminders of their life at Ashland were found throughout the house. The very act of walking into and through the mansion gave visitors a sense of being in a real family home as they were enveloped by the domestic environment. The many rituals of hospitality that the family practiced were repeated by the museum institution, from the welcoming of tour groups at the front door as the Clay family always did, to receptions, concerts, and open houses. Some docents have made a special point of conveying a sense that the family has “just stepped out” and—museum trappings to the contrary—many visitors want to believe it is so.
the public. As you know, Henry, I feel deeply hurt by your violation of our agreement. You will recall that the foundation drew up a number of rules and you agreed to observe these rules faithfully in the future. Because of our long friendship, I felt sure that I could count on your cooperation to see that the property was safeguarded in the proper manner. As you know, we have requested the Fayette County Patrol to patrol Ashland at night because we have been advised that numerous trespassers have gone through the property when the mansion was closed to the public…” 18 June 1953. Ashland archives. 110 Although at various times during Mrs. Seay’s tenure, young men of college age were employed as livein security guards, using the domestic service wing rooms for sleeping quarters.
Ashland’s history as a place of enduring public visitation—patriotic pilgrimage and tourism—adds to its identity as the home site of a significant historical figure. Clay’s private residence was more than a family dwelling in that it has long been a public destination. Along with the personal and private references found at Ashland the house museum are the references to this public figure whose public life extended to his and his descendants’ home.
never simply a private residence. Henry Clay’s very public persona extended to his home life and overflowed later into his descendants’ lives at Ashland. In that Ashland was clearly a private place with a discrete public dimension leads the discussion back to the house museum definition. Does Ashland fulfill this public-private aspect of the house museum definition? It would seem that this dual existence would cause that to be the case because the current definition of the house museum maintains that this public-private amalgam is a necessary component. But upon closer reflection along with the understanding of Ashland’s story, it is obvious that this public-private component of the house museum definition is the component that calls for the greatest clarification. It seems that the issues of public and private are at the root of a definite imprecision in the definition. First, the definition of a house museum as one that allows public access assumes that public access means paid admission, structured open hours, scheduled tours, prescribed routes, and crowd management. This is what typically accompanies the designation of “house museum” and this is what is usually meant by opening to the public.
Public access is narrowly equated
with regulation and structure. Ashland’s history as a place largely open to the public defies this assumption. The early histories of other house museums such as Mount Vernon and Monticello also show that private occupants allowed copious and unstructured public visitation prior to their homes founding as institutional museums. From Ashland’s earliest period as a private home, it is clear: the public was expected. Ashland shows that a private home can allow public access in a way that is not institutional, regulated, and structured. The current definition of the house museum as a public place presumes an institutional setting with structured methods of accommodating the public that is too narrow. Secondly, the definition of the historic house museum assumes a place no longer occupied by private individuals, no longer serving as a residence. With rare exceptions, house museums are vacated and fully given over to museum activity. Becoming a house museum is equated with a lack of occupancy.
Ashland’s long history as a public destination with
museological qualities while privately occupied defies this as well. The public continues to visit
the privately-occupied British stately homes to view collections and learn about history, but such public-private sites are not known as house museums. Ashland and Great Britain’s stately homes show that a living private residence can indeed coexist with museological activity such as the preservation and display of collections, creation of narrative, interpretation, and guided tours. The house museum definition’s presumption of vacancy is, again, too narrow. Finally, the definition of the house museum assumes that the museum is the successor to the private home, that there are two separate entities in time. Becoming a public museum means that the private life of the house came before, that public follows private.
Most discussions of
house museums describe them as museums that were once homes. The private life of the house is past tense. Again, Ashland’s long history as a simultaneous public-private place, and not one after the other, defies this, as well. The British stately homes also demonstrate that the private aspect may continue simultaneously with its public life; there need not always be discontinuation of private occupancy to allow accessibility to the public. The current definition of the house museum as a public place presumes discontinuation of private occupancy before becoming a museum, and, again, proves itself narrow. The current definition of the house museum does not address these public-private issues. Yet they are implicit to the identity of any house museum. The unspoken assumptions—that presumes an institutional setting with structured methods of accommodating the public, that presumes a lack of occupancy, and presumes the discontinuation of private occupancy before becoming a museum—are extraneous to the current definition of the house museum, yet they are significant. Otherwise the application of this aspect of the house museum definition would fit Ashland very well. Yet it is not understood that way. Ashland’s story perhaps offers—or calls for—a more precise definition of the house museum that sets forth how public access is defined and how occupancy fits into the picture. Or perhaps Ashland’s story points to a wider vision of the house museum that allows for more diverse types of public access, occupancy, and publicprivate hybrids.
2) Henry Clay as the Author of Ashland The next aspect of the definition of the house museum is implied authorship. As Stephen Bann proposed, the house museum is characterized by the existence of an original founder whose legacy, intentions, and presence permeate and persist. The creator of the house establishes a way of life, a narrative, a setting, and a collection.
Subsequent house museum occupants and
interpreters must respond to this authorship. Clay “wrote” the beginning of Ashland’s biography and his story provides the thread that extends to the present day. His descendants understood their patrimony and lived in accord with their interpretation of Clay’s intentions. Yet each new interpretation of Henry Clay and his estate has had the capacity to produce tensions, contradictions, and discontinuity. Henry Clay made his home at Ashland for over four decades (from 1809 until his death in 1
Virginia-born Clay had arrived in the burgeoning frontier city of Lexington in 1797 at
the age of twenty.2 Within two years he had established a law practice, married eighteen-year-old Lucretia Hart, daughter of a prominent local merchant, and made his reputation in elite local social circles as an ambitious, articulate, and charismatic young man. Henry and Lucretia’s first home was in downtown Lexington, but his success enabled them to begin purchasing land. As a native Virginian, Clay valued ample land and sought to acquire his own substantial farm. Late in 1804, Clay purchased 125 acres on the outskirts of Lexington; it was the first parcel of what would eventually grow into the over 600-acre Ashland estate. Although not nearly as large as typical Bluegrass farms of the time, which consisted of thousands of acres, Ashland was considered particularly superb. It was fertile, remarkable in its diversity, and named for the lush ash forest that grew upon it. Henry Clay would occupy and cherish his estate for the rest of his life. As Richard Troutman in his study of southern plantation life observed, “It is doubtful…that any estate, regardless of size, brought as much enjoyment to its owner as Ashland did to Henry Clay.”3 “The Sage of Ashland,” as Clay became known, always considered himself “H. Clay of Ashland”—never of Lexington.
Not only did Ashland symbolize his “wealth, station, and
aspirations,”4 his love for his estate was one of the strongest affections of his life.5 He viewed
The exact date that Henry Clay and his family began living at Ashland is difficult to ascertain, 1806 is a reasonable estimate since he contracted for the brick to build Ashland in 1805, but it is known that he occupied the estate by 1809. 2 Lexington, “The Athens of the West,” was a center of culture on the western frontier for decades. 3 Troutman, “Plantation Life”, 104. 4 Peterson, The Great Triumvirate, 12. 5 “A Visit To Ashland…”, 31.
Ashland as the “supreme embodiment of earthly joys,”6 exclaiming, “‘I love old Ashland, and all these acres with their trees and flowers and growing grain allure me in a way that ambition never can.’”7 Early in 1805 Clay contracted with local builder John Fisher for the construction of a mansion at Ashland. When the two-story Federal style house was complete, Clay and his family settled there for the remainder of his life.8 While the house was of a relatively simple Federal design, it was more spacious and substantial than most Kentucky homes of the period. Architectural historians Patrick Snadon and Michael Fazio state that as “a spreading, multi-part country house,” Ashland was “unusual for [its] time and place.”9 Most Kentucky homes of that time were plain, dark, and dirty; a house like Clay’s stood in striking contrast: refined, smooth, gracious, and comparatively fashionable.10
The Ashland mansion, like many large-scale
American homes of the time, was designed to accommodate a large family and graciously receive numerous guests.11
Figure 16. Ashland front façade as completed by c. 1815-16. Michael Fazio and Patrick Snadon.
Wilson, “Ashland, Center of Henry Clay’s Career.” Alice Molloy. “Home of Henry Clay.” Unidentified newspaper, c. 1900. Henry Clay Family Papers, Special Collections, University of Kentucky. 8 The Clays took up residence in Washington at different times early in Clay’s career and rented Ashland out during those periods. Lucretia moved out of the Ashland mansion after Henry’s death. 9 Michael W. Fazio and Patrick A. Snadon, The Domestic Architecture of Benjamin Henry Latrobe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006, 665. 10 Richard L. Bushman, The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992, xii, 248. 11 Wilhelmine Franke, “Henry Clay’s Interest Centered on Home and Farming.” Louisville CourierJournal, 12 May 1935. 7
Although Henry Clay’s house would be popularly perceived as humble but handsome, unostentatious but elegant, it is undeniable that Clay cared a great deal about owning an appropriately stylish house. George Washington, who was also said to have possessed a plain “republican style of living,” and who lived in “noble simplicity” at his “modest” Mount Vernon, was actually keenly aware of how architecture proclaimed status. He planned Mount Vernon to reflect his aristocratic standing.12 Much like Washington, Clay clearly desired his house to announce his nascent status both as a national statesman and a man of the people. As Clay carefully shaped his public image, he deliberately crafted a house to complement that persona. The fact that Clay attached public significance to his private home was an idea that had long been developing in America. Richard Bushman explains that the “refinement of America” commenced in the late seventeenth century when the gentry began living in style, adopting amenities associated with genteel living. Americans began to consider how they looked in the eyes of others and subsequently sought to make everything in their homes and on their estates beautiful. Henry Clay’s social and economic status was on the rise, and outer appearances mattered to him. A home in particular could express his ideals of “wealth, achievements, and cultural aspirations…”13 The compulsion to build ever-larger homes began in the eighteenth century and continued into the nineteenth when Clay built his mansion. Bushman explains that, “the great house was the most forthright statement of a person’s cultural condition.”14
Henry Wiencek. The Smithsonian Guides to Historic America. Virginia and the Capital Region. Roger G. Kennedy, ed. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1998, 125. West, 16. 13 Bushman, xii, 242. 14 Bushman, 239.
Figure 17. Original Ashland floor plan (first floor) as conceived by architectural historian Clay Lancaster. Central block (before the two wings were added) indicated by dashed-line. Contrary to this plan’s labels, it is believed that the ‘drawing room’ was known as Clay’s parlor, that the ‘dining room’ was a second parlor, the ‘parlor’ was probably a study, and the ‘cabinet’ was Clay’s library.
Clay’s ideas about home design and function were attuned to his time. As Americans of the period sought to live this more aristocratically-inspired life, their homes needed to exude a certain charm. As guests entered the front door, they were to immediately sense a peaceful ambience and refinement in the entrance hall which flowed to the parlor, the porch, and out into the yard.15 The interiors of homes were divided into distinct work areas and ‘refined’ public zones and the public was only allowed to view these zones of refinement. The parlor, especially, was to remain absolutely oblivious to work and business. Ashland’s interior layout bore this out (see Figure 17).
In Clay’s original two-story center block, a spacious octagonal hall with
thirteen-and-a-half foot ceilings and extra tall doorways was the first thing that visitors saw and formed the nucleus of the public zone of the house. Straight ahead was the formal parlor, where Henry Clay received all of his guests. To the right of the formal parlor, a second parlor opened off the entrance hall. The staircase hall, to the immediate right of the entrance, contained an elliptical staircase. To the immediate left off the entrance was a small room that Clay used as an office. These rooms that radiated from the entrance hall comprised Ashland’s public zone in which many visitors would have been welcome. 15
But Ashland’s wings served as a threshold between public and private in that they contained semi-public spaces such as guest rooms, a family breakfast room, and domestic service spaces. Upstairs was the most private zone: a spacious central landing with large Palladian windows that opened to a master bedroom, an adjoining nursery, and two smaller bedchambers. The third floor, a half-story, likely was used for storage and occasional sleeping quarters for domestic help.16 This original structure, the central block, was home to Henry, Lucretia, and six of their children for about seven years until Clay began expanding the house to include a library, additional bedchambers, and a domestic service area (see Figure 17). The addition of two wings presumably allowed for guest rooms and space for four more children to come.17 Clay began construction c. 1811-1418 of the two single-story, “L”-shaped wings that projected to the front. The wings were designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820), the British-born American architect best known for his work with Thomas Jefferson and his design of the United States Capitol.19 The timing of Clay’s additions to Ashland, Snadon and Fazio state, “would have corresponded both with Clay’s increased status on the national political scene and with his and Latrobe’s collaboration at the Capitol.”20 Despite Clay’s implementation of designs by the most progressive professional architect in America, Clay’s “handsome and substantial edifice” was popularly perceived as unpretentious and dignified as its owner.21 A contemporary observed: “The mansion itself is a plain two story brick building with wings, without the appearance of parade or pretension…for all the world,
Besides Henry Clay’s domestic slaves, he employed a housekeeper and tutors for his children. The north “Chambers and Nursery” wing, as Fazio and Snadon explain, was built first (late summer into autumn 1813), while the south “Kitchen wing,” was built either before Clay’s trip to Ghent, Belgium or afterward (early 1814 or late 1815). Fazio and Snadon, 664. 18 This date range includes the design and implementation periods. 19 In The Domestic Architecture of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Fazio and Snadon theorize: “It has long been known that Latrobe designed the wings around 1813-1814, but a thorough review of the documentation suggests that he may have designed the central block also.” Fazio and Snadon, 655. Amelia Clay Van Meter Rogers in her 1934 thesis cites a 12 August 1813 Latrobe letter stating that Latrobe designed Ashland, in Domestic Architecture of the American Colonies and the Early Republic by Sidney Fiske Kimball. New York: Scribners (1922), 274. Rogers also cites: Latrobe Journal (1905), page 31, as stating that he designed the residence of Henry Clay. A.C.V.M. Rogers. “Ashland, The Home of Henry Clay.” 20 Clay may have met Latrobe as early as 1806-07 during his first Senate term, but their acquaintance was first documented in 1811 when Clay (then Speaker of the House) worked directly with Latrobe to “refit the House of Representatives chamber and improve its acoustics,” and the Latrobes and Clays subsequently became close friends. Fazio and Snadon, 656, 658. 21 “Henry Clay’s Farm.” Niles National Register, 11 October 1845; also: Lexington (Ky.) Observer & Reporter, 18 October 1845; “Clay.” c. 1854. In Homes of American Statesmen: With Anecdotal, Personal, and Descriptive Sketches by Various Writers. (New York: Alfred W. Upham, 1862), 393. 17
without knowing its occupant or owner, it is just the spot one would take for the home of an intelligent and thriving farmer.”22 But Latrobe’s plans for the wings of Ashland were anything but plain and uncomplicated. While his style was unornamented and deceptively simple, it was based on complex concepts.
He had brought sophisticated European ideas as well as his
extensive experience as an architect and engineer to bear on his American designs. Henry Clay wanted to exploit these in the creation of his home. But Clay and his local builder apparently strayed from Latrobe’s designs upon implementation. Snadon and Fazio theorize that Clay’s gift for compromise affected the ultimate design of the house: “Henry Clay was notable for his skill in crafting political compromises; the design process for Ashland seems consistent with these proclivities.
The final Ashland,
representing the combined efforts of Latrobe, the Clays, and their builder, had a sophisticated and almost palatial plan but old-fashioned, almost Georgian elevations.”23 So while Latrobe’s designs were avant-garde and formed the basis for the sophistication of the mansion’s design, the compromised end result with its old-fashioned charm and lack of pretension actually worked well for Clay’s public image—the great statesman also known as “The Great Commoner.” Fazio and Snadon relay that Clay tellingly made one major adaptation to Latrobe’s design, a change that may show how Clay desired to communicate a hospitable appearance and invitation to Ashland guests: Latrobe had originally designed “four, giant three-part ‘Venetian’ windows” for the rear façade of the house which faced the pleasure lawn, with “small single windows and loggia-like arcades” on the entrance façade. As Fazio and Snadon speculate, Latrobe probably believed a “more closed character” was appropriate for the front as larger windows were for the “‘garden front.’” But Henry Clay wanted to reverse that, instead locating the four giant windows on the front façade and the smaller openings to the back.24 Henry Clay oriented his house—its public face—to the outside by situating the largest windows in front. Even Ashland’s front elevation proclaimed this openness. Clay’s home was, in more ways than one, oriented toward the public.
“Ashland and Its Occupant.” Lexington (Ky.) Observer & Reporter, 31 October 1846. Fazio and Snadon, 664-665. 24 Fazio and Snadon, 664. 23
Figure 18. A stylized rendering of Ashland from frontispiece of a contemporary biography.
The Author’s Legacy After the death of Ashland’s author and creator, it remained in family hands for most of the next hundred years. Clay’s legacy was perpetuated and his creation sustained at Ashland through the occupation and preservation by his descendants. Excluding the postbellum Kentucky University interval, Ashland was family owned and occupied for four generations. In the 1920s it was observed that, “Ashland is not only the most famous of the many old Kentucky homes, but it is practically the only one that remains in the hands of the original owners.”25 Unlike Clay’s descendants at Ashland, descendants of other American statesmen experienced greater obstacles to family ownership and occupancy after the death of the creator. The burden of owning, occupying and maintaining a famous estate was clearly a heavy one for many. After George Washington’s death in 1799 and Martha’s in 1802, their descendants grew more and more overwhelmed by the lack of privacy due to the flood of visitors and the cost of maintaining the plantation, so they attempted to sell in 1848.26 After Andrew Jackson died in 1845, ownership of
“Ashland, Henry Clay’s Home, Which May Be Sold Again.” The Louisville Courier-Journal, 30 April 1922. 26 As Mount Vernon director James Rees explains: “The Washington family had attempted to sell Washington’s estate, first to the Federal Government and then to the Commonwealth of Virginia. With the Civil War rapidly approaching, and Mount Vernon on the borderline between North and South, neither
the Hermitage fell to Andrew, Jr. In 1856, deeply in debt, Andrew, Jr. sold the property to the State of Tennessee.27 James Madison’s Montpelier remained occupied by his widow Dolley for one year after his death in 1836, but when she decided to move back to Washington, she entrusted the estate to her son, John Payne Todd, whose mounting gambling debts forced Dolley to sell the estate by 1844.28 Thomas Jefferson’s family inherited Monticello, but were unable to afford its upkeep. They sold Jefferson’s belongings (including 130 slaves) at auction in 1827 and moved out in 1828.29 Rather than the private efforts of descendants, it was Americans’ desire to see these homes preserved for public visitation that, in the end, resulted in their salvation and conversion to house museums. But Clay’s descendants would successfully carry on at Ashland for most of a century after his death. Ashland had been Henry Clay’s home for over 45 years and stood as a symbol of the great statesman. The first descendants to pick up that legacy and perpetuate Clay’s creation would be his son, James B. Clay and wife Susan Jacob Clay. They took seriously the call to preserve Clay’s legacy and they were uniquely positioned to do so. While James worked to save his father’s home, Susan worked to preserve his reputation and legacy.
As Henry Clay’s
amanuensis and devoted daughter-in-law, Susan took on the role of family historian and guardian.30 Lindsey Apple says that Susan was a strong matriarchical figure who smoothed Henry Clay’s reputation to the point of ‘remaking’ him in her own image as a saintly, principled
Congress nor Virginia’s governor chose to spend $200,000 on a dilapidated house, despite the prestige of its owner.” “Forever the Same, Forever Changing: The Dilemma Facing Historic Houses.” Presented at An Athenaeum of Philadelphia Symposium, 4-5 December 1998. 27
Andrew, Jr., moved his family to Mississippi, but returned on the eve of the Civil War to manage the Hermitage as tenant of the state. The property deteriorated during the war, and shortly after war’s end Andrew, Jr. died. The state allowed his wife, Sarah, to live out her life at the Hermitage. After her death in 1887, the legislature transferred the title of the farm to the Ladies Hermitage Association, the group that continues to manage the estate.
Montpelier web site. http://www.montpelier.org/history/dolley.cfm After a Charlottesville druggist purchased it and found that he could not sustain it, he put the estate on the market again in 1833. Uriah Philips Levy bought the run-down Monticello in 1836 which was later occupied by his nephew Jefferson Levy until it was purchased by the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation in the 1920s. Uriah Philips Levy left the estate when he died in 1862 to the “People of the United States” for use as an agricultural school for Navy orphans. A drawn-out battle ensued between the Congress, which had decided to accept the bequest, and the Levy family, who were contesting the will. But during the Civil War, Confederates confiscated Monticello and sold everything off. One of Levy’s heirs, Jefferson Levy, slowly bought out the other heirs until he was able to purchase Monticello in 1879 and take sole ownership in 1881. Between the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the public began agitating for the government’s purchase of Monticello, which never occurred. The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation was finally formed in 1923, uniting all the different factions working for the cause of Monticello, and at last succeeded in purchasing the estate. 30 It is believed that Susan burned letters that would have embarrassed the family or tarnished Henry Clay’s legacy. 29
gentleman.31 James also embellished the once-humble mansion with ornate details and the richest materials. Indeed, it was James and Susan who first ‘packaged’ the legacy of Henry Clay for public consumption. There was no need to promote the legendary Clay or his mythic Ashland, but they fiercely guarded both. Taking on the stewardship of Ashland moved James and Susan into a new type of existence. As Henry Clay had shaped his own identity and communicated it through his home, Clay’s descendants would continue to shape Clay’s legacy at Ashland. James and Susan would be the first to do so and would serve primarily as memorializers. James was especially cognizant of wearing his father’s mantle—he became politically active and publicly outspoken, he served as a U.S. congressman and participated in the national peace commission on the brink of the Civil War. And James, in his desire to honor and memorialize his father, was further emboldened to take the dramatic step of replacing his father’s house. The period after Henry Clay’s death is one of the most crucial and defining moments in Ashland’s history. James and his wife Susan’s decisions about what to do with Ashland would determine its path ever after.
They without a doubt aimed to preserve Clay’s estate and
perpetuate his legacy, but there were undoubtedly many courses from which to choose, including forsaking the crumbling mansion altogether, rebuilding it but reverting to the appearance of Henry Clay’s period, or creating something entirely new and distinct from Clay’s original house. James also could have been outbid for Ashland resulting in its immediate forfeiture; it was not a foregone conclusion that he would be the highest bidder. Horace Greeley quoted a newspaper of the time: “‘We were afraid the children of Henry Clay would allow classic Ashland to pass into other and alien hands. But our fears are to gladness changed; and Ashland is still the dwelling place of the Clays.’”32 Despite the continuing family ownership and occupancy, this is the moment when Ashland first represents itself: it is no longer the original Ashland, it represents Henry Clay’s Ashland. Rosanna Pavoni describes the process whereby a home becomes a museum—which accurately sums up what James was to do: 31
Susan was perhaps motivated to provide the image of a strong father figure for her sons, who would soon lose their own father. Susan’s daughter, Lucretia -“TeTe”- continued writing about Henry Clay in the tradition established by her mother. Apple, Lindsey, presentation at Ashland, Lexington, Kentucky, 3 April 2006. 32 c. 1854 newspaper article as quoted in “Clay.” By Horace Greeley. Homes of American Statesmen: With Anecdotal, Personal, and Descriptive Sketches by Various Writers. Hartford, CT: O.D. Case and Co., 1855. 371-394. Also: (New York: Alfred W. Upham, 1862), 390.
…make public and preserve for the future this intimate, subjective, and exclusive dream…the house [as] the historical interpretation of the person who wanted, constructed, furnished, and lived in it…to transform what is by definition private into a common patrimony which is readily shared and understood…33 James and Susan were the ones, more than any of the other family members after Clay’s death, to interpret and share Henry Clay and his Ashland as common patrimony. Pavoni asserts that the “tangible patrimony” may not be as important as the “inhabitability of the house.”34 This is precisely what James and Susan came to believe. The primary patrimony was the perpetuation of Ashland as a livable home and the living site of memorialization of Henry Clay, more than a matter of Clay’s physical relics. To them, preserving Ashland did not mean vacating and freezing it in time—converting Ashland into what Mount Vernon was soon to become—but instead meant their active ownership and living presence while allowing for public access. They perpetuated Henry Clay’s life and attitudes more than his tangible environment. James would pay tribute to his father, the great statesman, while downplaying the homeowner who had let his house fall into ruin. By not slavishly reproducing the old Federalstyle house, he would create a new home in a style “suitable to my own taste, and not wholly unworthy of my father.”35 He and Susan envisioned Ashland as a beautiful and habitable home for themselves and a world-class memorial to Henry Clay. They would build a handsome, up-todate dwelling, embellishing what was once plain with ornate details and the richest materials. Updating the house signaled tribute more clearly than preserving the original would have. Americans at this time began to freeze Clay’s home in some mythic past, but they sought something that had never truly existed. The public thought it wanted the “real” Ashland, but in truth wanted a glorified version, an idealized Ashland that went hand-in-hand with the increasingly idealized Henry Clay.
The physical walls became important to people—more
important than they had even been to Clay—because they existed as tangible ‘containers’ of the memory of the man. Michael Kammen says that societies “reconstruct their pasts rather than
Pavoni. “Visiting a Historic House Museum.” Rosanna Pavoni. “Order Out of Chaos: The Historic House Museums Categorization Project. Historic House Museums Speak To The Public: Spectacular Exhibits Versus A Philological Interpretation of History.” Acts of the Annual DEMHIST Conference, Genoa, Italy, 1-4 November 2000. Rosanna Pavoni, ed. International Council of Museums, DEMHIST (Demeures Historiques-Musées), 66. 35 Clay and Prentice, James B. Clay, 14 July 1855. 34
faithfully record them” and that they manipulate the past “in order to mold the present.”36 This was part of James’s motivation to rebuild. Would the public actually want a decrepit house by which to remember Henry Clay? James molded the present by recreating the Ashland mansion as a fully functioning family home and a fitting memorial to Henry Clay, instead of painstakingly documenting the mansion’s past manifestation.
Enlisting architect Lewinski, James opted to
create an idealized Ashland that the public seemed to want, a mansion that would retain key architectural features of his father’s mansion while adding tasteful embellishments and improvements. James took liberties with the physical and literal realities of his father’s house. With James’s rebuilding, the truth of Ashland’s former condition—the dilapidated structure in perpetual need of repair—would quickly fade from the collective consciousness. James gave public notice in July of 1854 of his plan to raze the old mansion that summer.37 By early 1857 the new Ashland was complete.38 James replicated the original house by building upon the original foundation with the original floor plan and utilizing original materials. It retained the original Federal-style arrangement of space. The original proportions of the house were maintained with the thirteen-and-a half foot ceilings, the extra tall doorways and the graceful elliptical staircase in a central stairwell, crowned by an oval-shaped skylight. The magnificent Latrobe-designed library with the vaulted ceiling and skylights was rebuilt.39 Robert
Kammen, 3. James’s ad stated that there would be offered for sale “a large quantity of the old material” and that “any one wanting such material could get a bargain by applying on the premises.” Clay and Prentice, George Prentice, from the Louisville Journal, 21 July 1855. James and/or part of his family may have stayed in the two-story cottage while the house was being rebuilt. A. C. V. M. Rogers, 39. He and his family had lived in the decaying structure for a time until his mother was able to move out into her new home in 1854. Son John M. Clay built a home for himself and his mother on the adjoining property, Ashland-on-Tates-Creek, where Lucretia lived until her death in 1866. 38 James’s rebuilding was finished at the latest by July 1857 before James held his August campaign rally. Lexington (Ky) Observer and Reporter, 1 July 1857, [from: J. Winston Coleman, Jr. “Early Lexington Architects and Their Work.” The Filson Club History Quarterly (vol 42, 1968), 231]. But in early 1855, James was advertising for stud service by his great trotter, Membrino Chief, “making his second season at Ashland, commencing the 1st of March and ending the 4th of July…” which means that the family was at least keeping trotters at Ashland in the spring of 1855. “Membrino Chief.” Lexington (Ky.) Observer & Reporter, 24 January 1855 [repeated through the summer of 1855]. Amelia Clay Van Meter Rogers quotes Clay great-granddaughter Nannette McDowell Bullock as saying that the Clay-era keeper’s cottage was used by James during the rebuilding and later as servants’ quarters. 39 Architectural historian and Latrobe expert Patrick Snadon wrote to Ashland in 1998: “The current library…is a fine 1850s, mid-Victorian library and in no way reflects Latrobe’s work or style. A Latrobe room would have been of plaster, most likely with smooth plaster dome on wood lath—unlike the almost Gothic Revival ribbed structure of the present library ceiling.” He thinks the current library is Lewinski’s design, loosely inspired by Latrobe. 12 January 1998. Ashland archive. 37
Spiotta says that James, “working a little like a modern preservationist” salvaged as much of the old house as he could “both in style and materials” for reuse in the new structure.40
Figure 19. First and second Ashland façades c. 1815-1816 and c. 1857.
Yet James adapted the new Ashland’s design to his time and its aesthetic (see Figure 19). Lewinski managed a complex architectural feat by integrating the Federal style with the newer Italianate and Greek Revival characteristics, combining the basic design of the old house with the fresh characteristics of an Italian villa.41 The entire effect of the combination Federal-Italianate architecture was said to have been “odd, but not unpleasant.”42
While Ashland’s symmetrical
Federal floor plan remained at the heart of the structure, and the rooms assigned for uses corresponded to those in Clay’s original house, now the interiors were much more lavishly 40
Spiotta, 36. For more on an architectural comparison between the old and new mansions, see: Spiotta, 43 and Clay Lancaster, Vestiges of the Venerable City: A Chronicle of Lexington, Kentucky, Its Architectural Development and Survey of Its Early Streets and Antiquities. Lexington, KY: Lexington-Fayette County Historic Commission, 1978, 112. 42 A. C. V. M. Rogers, 36. 41
adorned (see Figure 20).43 James left the literal Ashland behind for one that he envisioned as noble and world-class, a home that paid tribute in the most distinguished way possible. Ashland was effectively transformed as a public monument through its style. James spared no expense to create a modern, luxuriously furnished mansion. While Henry Clay, too, had furnished his Ashland with items from France and England as well as fine American-made goods, James’s taste for the most opulent foreign furnishings reveals that the new Ashland was a very different place. Henry Clay’s straightforward Federal sensibility gave way to his son’s rich Victorian aesthetic, the proof of impeccable taste in the 1850s.44 The house now served as a Henry Clay memorial museum and the beautiful interiors were specifically meant as a backdrop for the display and interpretation of Clay artifacts.
Figure 20. James and Susan Clay-era drawing room furnishings. Left: carved Italian marble mantel purchased in New York City. Right: ornate plaster work on ceiling as seen in gilt mirror (also purchased in New York).
By the mid-1800s, Ashland’s original unembellished Federal design with whitewashed facade was of an outmoded architectural style which was unsuitable for such a nationally
Some of the original ash woodwork was polished and refashioned into innovative pocket window shutters throughout the house. Also added were deeply carved plaster medallions around the bases of the chandeliers and elaborate plaster cornices decorating the edges of the ceilings. Clay Lancaster. Antebellum Houses of the Bluegrass. The Development of Residential Architecture in Fayette County, Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press (1961), 301. Fashionable Greek Revival wood trim with Sheffield silver hardware and particularly fine marble and stone mantelpieces brought the house new elegance. James then furnished the interiors with the best that money could buy. For more on the Ashland furnishings that James chose in New York City in 1855, see Spiotta 61, 49, 65, 102, 92. 44 James’s desire to update Ashland with modern architecture and furnishings likely caused him to go into deep debt. Brooks and Andrew, Lexington, Kentucky, 19 October 2005.
significant home. If James had wanted to reproduce his father’s mansion perfectly, he would have had to remain unfashionably plain in his plans, but more importantly: the house would not have honored his father’s memory as the new and beautiful structure would. While Henry Clay’s house itself had not been what impressed his visitors, James’s Ashland mansion would indeed impress by its magnificent opulence. It was as if with Henry Clay gone, his spirit would be manifested in a tangible manner with the same capability to awe. Clay’s original mansion was gone, but his spirit lived on. As Bann refers to it, the “implied authorship” of the creator remained at the heart of Ashland. The new Ashland was well received.45 A journalist who visited the completed mansion in July 1857 gave a positive review of James’s rebuilding, proclaiming the new Ashland even “more elegant” than the original and that it was “one of the most bijou retreats, independent of its hallowed associations, which I have ever entered.”46 The opulent, sophisticated Ashland was a memorial to Henry Clay as it was studded with his artifacts and largely open for public viewing. Ashland was home as well to James and his family for approximately a six-year period. Then events surrounding the Civil War put an end to their life there.47 James was a Confederate sympathizer and fled south only to be captured by Union forces.48 A scathing New York Times announcement of his arrest exclaimed that the Unionists “took a traitor worth having” and that as owner of Ashland James had profaned the soil of Henry Clay’s patriotism. Here again, public opinion against private and family interests arose. The paper asked: “Would it not be a fit deed to confiscate that honored spot and dedicate it to the American people, as at once a monument of the nation’s love for the sire and scorn for the son?”49 45
Spiotta, 40. “Scenes and Incidents in the Life of Henry Clay.” 47 They moved to Ashland sometime in 1857, James fled to Canada late 1862, Susan and the children followed late 1863, James died early 1864 and Susan sold Ashland in 1866. As Civil War began, James had sided with the South. Lindsey Apple explains that James’s sympathies always ran toward the Confederate cause, but he had never wanted bloodshed. Presentation at Ashland, Lexington, Kentucky, 3 April 2006. 48 While Kentucky was home to both Union and Confederate forces, a strong Unionist sympathy ran through the governing bodies and much of the populace. While Kentucky was declared ‘strictly neutral’ in May 1861, the majority of the legislature supported the Union cause, yet Kentuckians continued to flock to both armies. Neutrality ended in August with the state election: Southerners boycotted the election and the Unionist candidates won a sweeping victory. By late summer 1861, realizing that there was no protection in the state for a man of Secessionist sympathies, and possibly to join Confederate forces, he fled south, but was soon captured by Union home guards. He was charged with treason, later dismissed for lack of evidence, and returned in chains to Ashland. Jeff Meyer, “Research on James and Susan Clay, Their Life at Ashland and the Events Following James’s Exile to Canada,” 1. 49 “Arrest of James B. Clay.” New York Times, 28 September 1861. It is unknown whether James was actually traveling to join the Confederate forces. 13 December 2006, Andrew, Ashland, Lexington, KY. 46
This was not merely judgment heaped upon James’s head, but a call for the confiscation of Ashland. And though in such a negative context, this may be the first call for Ashland’s preservation as a national public monument. It was plain: Henry Clay and his home no longer belonged to his descendants alone, but to a wider public family. Ashland was destined to exist as a public memorial to Henry Clay no matter how his family behaved. Although Ashland had survived its first transfer of ownership, remaining in family hands, after the Civil War it would not. Due to James’s death in 1864, the financial hardship after the war, and complex dealings with settling the Ashland estate, James’s widow Susan was forced to sell Ashland in February of 1866. The buyer was John Bryan Bowman, founder and regent of Kentucky University.50 Bowman possessed a lofty vision for higher education in Kentucky and the new Kentucky University grew quickly in the mid-1860s with the establishment of its Agricultural and Mechanical College and a merger with Transylvania University.51 Bowman had searched to find a farm in or near Lexington with appropriate buildings to establish a University campus and launch the A & M College. He considered many “desirable locations which were offered,” but “in harmony with the wishes” of many of the Fayette County donors, he purchased Ashland.52 A Lexington paper fully approved, saying that the University “will do credit to our State, and serve as a monument to the memory of Mr. Clay.”53 Beyond the historical significance of Ashland, the rich and handsome land of Henry Clay’s farm was praiseworthy; it was doubted at the time that any other newly-founded agricultural college in the country could boast such a desirable location. Fourteen years after his death, Henry Clay’s homestead in 1866 continued to sustain the many improvements he had made. The estate was ideally located a short distance from town on a main 50
Apparently, transactions required to settle the estate fully forced the sale of Ashland. The sale of Ashland was probably to ensure that all of Susan and James’s heirs and Henry and Lucretia’s heirs would receive their rightful due. But unfortunately, settling these transactions caused the loss of Ashland. Ashland was sold for $85,000 and $5,000 in University tuition stock.. A. C. V. M. Rogers, 97-100 (Fayette County Deed Book 37, p 396 and 39, p 167). 51 For more on Kentucky University, see: John D. Wright Jr. Transylvania: Tutor to the West. Lexington, KY: Transylvania University, 1975, 198; Henry Milton Pyles, “The Life and Work of John Bryan Bowman.” (Diss., University of Kentucky, 1944), 25, 36-37, 52. Carl B. Cone, The University of Kentucky: A Pictorial History. (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1989), 3; James F. Hopkins, The University of Kentucky: Origins and Early Years. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1951; Linda Raney Kiesel. “Kentucky’s Land-Grant Legacy: An Analysis of the Administrations of John Bryan Bowman and James Kennedy Patterson, 1865-1890.” Diss., University of Kentucky, 2003. 52 Pyles 65. In February of 1866 Bowman purchased both the Ashland estate for $90,000 and the adjoining Woodlands estate (the Woodlands had belonged to Henry Clay’s daughter and son-in-law, Anne Brown Clay and James Erwin) for the Kentucky University A & M campus for $40,000, a total of 433 acres for $130,000. Hopkins, 67. Kiesel, 106. 53 Lexington (Ky.) Observer & Reporter, January 17, 1866.
thoroughfare and virtually all knew how to find Ashland. It would have been impossible to produce such a fine physical setting for the University campus elsewhere.54 In Ashland’s history, the Kentucky University period is an anomaly. The Clay family was no longer involved in the status and fate of Ashland. It was now an institutional property, interpreted and preserved by non-family members. In the absence of the living memorial that his family and artifacts represented, the connection to Henry Clay was now less tangible. Yet Henry Clay was undeniably important to Kentucky University.
Bowman knew that the historical
significance of Ashland lent dignity and gravity to his cause: “The associations which cluster around it as the homestead of the great Commoner and friend of Agriculture, the inspiration which will be caught by the student…, the advertisement which it will give the Institution…all give it a value above money, and make it eminently fitting that it should be held sacred and dedicated to a great and permanent work such as ours…”55
Ashland after the Civil War
continued to symbolize the greatness of Henry Clay and his home state, serving as something of a spiritual capital for Kentuckians. In this period of healing and optimism, a time of rebuilding and investing in young people, Clay was a fitting beacon of conciliation and progress. The Great Compromiser’s efforts had not prevented Civil War, but his major role in forestalling it cast him as an even larger hero in its aftermath. His former home was tangible proof to Americans that there had been such a great man who had walked among them and manifested the highest ideals. People from all around the country continued to journey to Ashland which remained the public destination it had long been. University students were known to have given visitors tours of the historic grounds.56 Bowman commented on how the lasting memory of Henry Clay at Ashland drew “the thousands of his admirers who visit it from year to year.”57 Lexington in 1874 was described as a “quiet town,” which also happened to be “the Mecca of thousands of pilgrims, because it contains the old residence and the grave of Henry Clay...”58
The adjacent Woodlands estate and the original Transylvania downtown campus also comprised the campus. 55 Pyles 65-66. From “Annual Report of the Regent.” The Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Kentucky University for the Academical Year 1865-66. Lexington, KY: Gazette Printing (1866), 55. 56 One visitor described how he was shown around by students who pointed out “as a relic of the hallowed past” the bath-house where “the statesman courted health, and philosophized, like Diogenes, in his tub.” c. 1870s, unidentified newspaper column by “H.B.” Ashland archives. 57 Pyles, 55. 58 “The Great South.” Scribner's Monthly 9.2 (1870-1881); Dec 1874; APS Online, 129.
Figure 21. Ashland during Kentucky University’s tenure (1866-1882).
As much as Henry Clay was revered by the University, its students, and the community, he represented Ashland’s past, while the University pointed to the estate’s future. Thus the preservation of Ashland was about keeping the essence—the cachet—of the historic estate while making it workable for the nascent University. Bowman did not contemplate any particular form of historic preservation of the mansion or other Clay-era outbuildings because he believed that the University was to be permanently located at Ashland.
He freely razed, built, and altered
buildings for University use.59 Bowman and his wife lived in part of the Ashland mansion while part was given over to University administration and to the housing of the University’s Natural History Museum.60 Bowman had devised a program for beautification of the campus, and though his plans ultimately never progressed far, substantial changes occurred to the farm, the grounds, and the buildings. There was no inkling that Ashland would return to the private ownership of a Henry Clay heir nor that it would eventually serve as a public memorial to Clay.61
Kentucky University benefited from Henry Clay’s creation, they did not consider as priorities the preservation of his home or the continuation of his legacy. But Henry Clay’s authorial imprint on Ashland could not be easily erased.
It is probable that some of Henry Clay’s original outbuildings were lost during the Kentucky A & M years. The mansion itself was presented as a residence (and University headquarters) to Bowman and his wife by the University Board since Bowman refused monetary compensation. Bowman erected a large barn and stables on the grounds and farming operations were successfully established on the A & M campus based at Ashland. In 1868 Bowman constructed a large, two-story brick building, the “Ashland Mechanical Works” which featured a distinctive three-story tower and was equipped for the manufacture of agricultural implements. A Pennsylvania inventor, G.W.N. Yost, looking to test his new mowing machine at Kentucky A & M, donated $25,000 to the College, which Bowman used to construct the building. 60 For more on the Kentucky University Natural History Museum, see Images of America: Ashland the Henry Clay Estate by Eric Brooks. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2007. 61 Hopkins, 91-92.
Bowman had planned for the University’s perpetual stay at Ashland and envisioned elaborate changes to the estate, but Kentucky University’s internal and external woes resulted in its splitting and moving away.62 When the University put Ashland up for sale in 1882, the McDowells were ready to bring the estate back into the family.63 Major McDowell told Bowman that he wanted to buy Ashland for his wife’s sake.64 The Lexington Daily Transcript celebrated their arrival in Lexington saying that it gave “universal satisfaction in this community where Maj. McDowell and his accomplished wife will be warmly welcomed by all.”65
Anne was an
especially direct link to Henry Clay: born in 1837, she had known her grandfather, spent many of her formative years at Ashland after both her parents had died, and was fifteen years old when Henry Clay died.66 It was said that Anne “whose affection for the place has continued from the many happy summers which she spent at it in childhood” was uniquely qualified to preserve and care for Ashland.67 In 1917, her obituary aptly summed up her unique relationship to Ashland:
For more about Kentucky University’s dissolution, see: John D. Wright Jr. Transylvania: Tutor to the West. Lexington, KY: Transylvania University, 1975; Henry Milton Pyles, “The Life and Work of John Bryan Bowman.” (Diss., University of Kentucky, 1944); Carl B. Cone, The University of Kentucky: A Pictorial History. (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press), 1989; James F. Hopkins, The University of Kentucky: Origins and Early Years. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1951; Linda Raney Kiesel. “Kentucky’s Land-Grant Legacy: An Analysis of the Administrations of John Bryan Bowman and James Kennedy Patterson, 1865-1890.” Diss., University of Kentucky, 2003. 63 Apple says that in 1882 when Ashland was up for sale, Major McDowell offered James’s widow, Susan Jacob Clay, the opportunity to buy it, but she and her family were unable to do so. Presentation at Ashland, Lexington, Kentucky, 3 April 2006. 64 In April of 1882 Major McDowell and John Bowman corresponded about the sale price for Ashland. The Major said that if Bowman was not going to accept his $60,000 offer, it was off. But Major McDowell was successful – Bowman accepted his offer. Letters from Henry Clay McDowell to John B. Bowman, 2627 April 1882. University of Kentucky Special Collections, McDowell Family Papers. “SALE OF ASHLAND. The Ashland property, consisting of the home of Henry Clay and 324 acres of land adjoining, was sold on Saturday to Capt. H.C. McDowell, of Frankfort, whose wife is a granddaughter of the Sage of Ashland…The property was sold for $60,000 and the trade is to be ratified by the Curators of Kentucky University; but there will be no trouble about that. The property thus again goes to the ownership of the Clay family, where it should always have been, and where we trust it will ever remain.” “Sale of Ashland.” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Transcript, 1 May 1882. Amelia Clay Van Meter Rogers says that the McDowells purchased Ashland for $69,000. “Ashland, The Home of Henry Clay.” (MA Thesis, University of Kentucky, 1934), 34. 65 “Sale of Ashland Confirmed.” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Transcript, 7 June 1882, 4. 66 Further, she was the daughter of Henry Clay, Jr., the Mexican-American War hero who had been born at Ashland. She would have remembered what life at Ashland was like when Henry Clay was alive and again when her uncle James occupied it. Anne understood Ashland’s significance to the family and to the public. It was said that she bore “…with filial pride the homage paid to the grandsire she more than idolizes. She is a thorough Clay, with all the marked features…of her grandfather softened and refined into elegant womanhood.” Col. A. K. McClure, “Lexington.” The Philadelphia Times, excerpted in the Lexington (Ky.) Weekly Press, 17 October 1883. 67 Goode, D. “Interesting History Found on a Mail Route: Distinguished Men Have Made the District Rich in Lore – Homes of Statesmen and Warriors – Facts About Early Families and Incidents of Fayette County.” Lexington, KY: Morning Herald, 1 September 1901.
“Anne Clay McDowell died at her home, famous because it was the residence of her grandfather, the birthplace of her father, the home of her husband and her home.”68 With the McDowells’ purchase of Ashland, Henry Clay’s descendants would again be intimately involved with every aspect of the historic estate. The Henry Clay memories, artifacts, farm, and hospitality would all return to Ashland. The McDowells firmly believed that Ashland was a memorial to Henry Clay, thus their decisions were intended to honor his memory with dignity and beauty. Major McDowell was seen as the fitting successor to Henry Clay: “Major McDowell was a gentleman…peculiarly fitted because of his attainments to be the successor of the first owner of Ashland. He purchased the noted piece of property…and found no excuse for lethargy in the historic traditions and inspiring memories that hover around the farm…”69 The McDowells provided Ashland its new public face. They, like the press and the public at this time, in many ways believed the 1880s Ashland was still Henry Clay’s home. Yet there was no question that it also served as the McDowell family home as they modernized and remodeled to suit themselves. Like James and Susan, the McDowells considered it crucial to bring the mansion up-to-date in order to make it suitable for entertaining, comfortable for their family—and worthy of Clay’s memory and image in the world.70 The McDowells without question sought to memorialize Clay at Ashland, and this, to them, meant modernization. They boldly made decisions that affected the permanent structure of the mansion.71 During James and Susan’s time, the house at Ashland had been the focus of controversy, but the McDowells’ sweeping 1880s remodeling was greeted with nothing but praise.72 As historic interior design
“To Know Her Was to Love Her.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 4 February 1917. Hughes, R. E. and C. C. Ousley. Kentucky the Beautiful. Louisville and Nashville Railroad, c. 1900. Kentuckiana Digital Library: http://kdl.kyvl.org, 50. 70 There are no known images of Henry Clay’s or James’s interiors, but there are a large number of interior photographs of the McDowells’ rooms. 71 A possible attempt at continuity from James and Susan’s Ashland was seen in the McDowells’ consultation with James’s family. According to the Chicago Tribune, they enlisted the help of James and Susan’s son, Henry (Harry Independence) Clay, then in his early 30s, to supervise the restoration. What type of supervisory role the young Henry Clay played in their remodeling is unknown. “Links With History: Grounds of a Kentucky Golf Club Once Henry Clay’s...” 72 The renovation of the mansion occurred within the first few years of their ownership. There is some question about precisely when the remodeling took place. Records so far have produced no conclusive evidence. The family purchased Ashland in May 1882, but moved into the house in early January 1883. A February 1883 receipt for wood purchased for the drawing room and hall floors and the bathroom wainscoting suggests that renovation was underway at that time or earlier. By May of 1883 we know that the conservatory had been built on the back of the house and the gas lights had been installed, as a guest described the conservatory “filled with palms and rare plants” and the interiors as “brilliantly lighted” with gas lights and “elegantly furnished.” (Lexington (Ky.) Weekly Press, 16 May 1883). Some work was being done on the estate in early 1883 according to newspaper blurbs (“Major H. C. McDowell is making 69
specialist Gail Caskey Winkler observed, the “son built,” but the “granddaughter modernized.”73 What they preserved and what they altered demonstrates their understanding of the meaning of Ashland and of memorializing and honoring the legacy of Henry Clay. The McDowells would leave a profound and permanent mark on Ashland as they were the ultimate definers of the mansion’s overall structure and appearance. They had numerous motivations for the changes they made.
Figure 22. Dinner in the McDowell dining room c. 1880s. Anne Clay McDowell is seated at the left end of the table and Major McDowell is seated at the right end.
The well-connected McDowells, now as stewards of Ashland, were preparing for frequent and often large-scale hospitality. The house had to do what it had done for Henry Clay and James and Susan before them: provide a gracious destination for their many guests—but now
improvements at Ashland.” The Daily Lexington (Ky.) Press, 3 March 1883), but the McDowells were entertaining in March, e.g. the Lexington (Ky.) Press reported that on 24 March 1883 Anne McDowell hosted Bishop Dudley at Ashland who was in town the Sunday after Easter for confirmation. It is possible that major work, such as replacement of the staircase and installation of gas lighting and indoor plumbing, was done late in 1882 before the family moved in. 73 Gail Caskey Winkler, PhD, ASID, LCA Associates Report, 23 April 1992, to Joe Graves of Henry Clay Memorial Foundation. She worked on Ashland’s 1991-92 restoration. Ashland archives.
on a grander scale. They were also preparing for the presence of their children and grandchildren and all of the accompanying needs and desires of young people.
Additionally, they were
preparing for life at Ashland with paid servants as opposed to slaves. It is very possible that the McDowells were the ones to raze the extant domestic slaves’ quarters, not only to modernize their property, but to erase from view the uncomfortable reality of slavery at Clay’s Ashland. This would be the first time in Ashland’s history that free and paid staff would provide the cleaning, cooking, childcare, and other domestic service—and this would require changes in household arrangement.
Figure 23. McDowell-era floor plan with current (c.2008) museum room labels.
The McDowells were among the wealthier families in Kentucky and desired to live in a gracious and cultivated style. They envisioned Ashland as a modern place of beauty, both of form and function. Their sophisticated ideas of beauty, function, and appropriateness would dictate their choices. Many of those ideas manifested in such impermanent things as furnishings and wall treatments, but also in dramatic and more permanent structural changes such as the removal of walls, replacement and addition of staircases, and the construction of a conservatory onto the back of the mansion. The McDowells were clearly unafraid to modify Ashland, even to the point of slightly altering Clay’s Federal floor plan that James had been so careful to preserve (see Figure 23).
They were interested in modernizing through the creation of a sense of
spaciousness. ‘Open planning’ was a significant architectural innovation during the 1870s and 1880s and the McDowells utilized this concept to enhance Ashland’s interior spaces.74 They had not wanted to drastically change Ashland’s floor plan, but they maximized the existing spaces for a modern effect. The entrance hall, drawing room, and dining room were united—all doors open wide—as one expansive public space for entertaining.75
Previously less-public rooms, such as
those in the library wing, were now open wide to visitors. Replacing the central staircase dramatically opened up the entrance area of the house as well (see Figure 24). Smaller, less invasive changes were made, too, such as the addition of a full-length mirror in the entrance hall that reflected light and gave the illusion of a larger space.
McMurry, 280, footnote 48. See Vincent Scully, The Shingle Style: Architectural Theory and Design from Richardson to the Origins of Wright (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1955), 88, 73. 75 Caskey Winkler. LCA Associates Report.
Figure 24. The McDowell-era Eastlake central staircase, c. 1880s.
Figure 25. McDowell-era Ashland entrance hall, c. 1907.
The McDowells made Ashland as elegant as possible, transforming the mansion into a fin de siècle showcase of sophistication as they embraced a mix of decorative styles: the lateVictorian and Eastlake styles, but particularly the Aesthetic Style that was popular at the end of the nineteenth century (see Figure 25). Oriental carpets, “Japanesque” patterned anaglypta, potted palms, art pottery, portières, richly colored wall finishes and thinly slatted hardwood floors76 comprised this look—and found their places at Ashland.77 A further catalyst for change in the 1880s was the availability of new technology. While James had added such upgrades as coal-burning fireplaces and probably an updated indoor kitchen, the McDowells would dramatically usher Ashland into the twentieth century. Many modern upgrades were regarded as necessary in late nineteenth-century upper-class homes. Privies, outdoor kitchens, and oil lamp lighting may have been perfectly respectable in Henry Clay’s period, but would be looked upon as woefully primitive by the end of the century. The McDowells possessed the means to modernize the house and to do it with style. Modern innovations allowed them to make Ashland a much more habitable place than it had ever been with the addition of indoor plumbing, central heating, gas (and later, electric) lighting, and telephone service.78 Because the estate was too distantly located for municipal gas service, the McDowells introduced gas lighting to Ashland with the innovative Springfield “gas works” Machine system buried in the front yard which supplied vaporized gas to all the light fixtures in the home. They replaced virtually all of the light fixtures in the house with elegant gas lamps and chandeliers of European stained and beveled glass, brass and silver plate, and elaborate globes. From the dramatic vaulted ceiling in the library, they installed an exotic serpent-shaped gasolier fixture (see Figure 26).79
A 15 February 1883 receipt from J. V. E. Scott & Sons in Louisville shows that the McDowells had ordered cherry “wood carpet” for the drawing room, oak “wood carpet” for the hall, and walnut wainscoting for the “Bath Room and Lavatory.” Ashland archives. 77 Caskey Winkler. LCA Associates Report. 78 A week after the McDowells moved to Ashland, a local paper reported: “Major McDowell will have a telephone line run out to Ashland.” Daily Lexington (Ky.) Transcript, 19 January 1883. 79 For more on the Springfield Gas Machine, see: University of Kentucky Program for Archeological Research web site: www.uky.edu/AS/Anthropology/PAR/ashland.htm. “Investigations at the Gas Works, Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate” (Excerpted from “A Brilliant and Pleasant Light”: Investigating The Springfield Gas Machine System at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate, Lexington, Kentucky" by Donald W. Linebaugh, Nancy O'Malley, and Jeanie Duwan, Historical Archaeology, 2000, 34(4):82-100).
Figure 26. McDowell-era Ashland library c. 1880s. The gasolier visible in left photograph hung down from a metal serpent fixture, right (current day photograph).
The new McDowell Ashland, while not as sumptuously Victorian as James and Susan’s, was, all the same, much more dazzling than Henry Clay’s original. An 1883 guest described the net effect of their changes: Ashland is a beautifully planned house for entertaining—five rooms ‘en suite.’ Friday night it presented a most magnificent appearance. The whole house thrown open, brilliantly lighted, elegantly furnished, and filled with rare and beautiful gems, and decorated with the greatest profusion of exquisite flowers and blooming plants. The drawing room opens into a conservatory filled with palms and rare plants of every variety, and lighted with gas lights…80
“The ‘Whist Club’ at Ashland.” Lexington (Ky.) Weekly Press, 16 May 1883.
Figure 27. McDowell-era conservatory.
Ashland at the end of the nineteenth century was quite a different place from the first half of the century, yet the perception that the McDowells’ Ashland was the authentic Henry Clay environment was stubbornly held by many.
After all of these changes to the house, the
McDowells’ substantial departure from Ashland’s original appearance did not create any discernible opposition in the press or community; the remodeling was applauded. A typical response was the impression of an 1883 visitor: “…the new Ashland mansion is the exact counterpart of the original, in both architecture and material.”81 The similitude to Henry Clay’s original home was frequently and overtly stressed. An 1889 article declared: “It seems but a step back from the present to the past, the lofty rooms preserved in their antique style…”82 Once the McDowells settled in, the public largely believed that Ashland had been fully restored to its Henry Clay-era glory and many were convinced that the McDowells’ Ashland was an exact replica of Henry Clay’s house. The Chicago Tribune reported that “Major McDowell’s home is…built so as to faithfully conform to the lines of the old house. It is in reality the old house restored…And the older citizens who visited Henry Clay in his old home say the present house is an exact duplicate of the old one.”83
The public’s desire to believe that the 1880s Ashland had
remained precisely the same as Henry Clay’s original, caused them to accept that James’s 81
McClure. Washington, D.C., The Morning ___ , unidentified newspaper, “Clay’s Descendents: Most of Them Brilliant But Short-Lived,” 16 February 1889. 83 “Links With History: Grounds of a Kentucky Gold Club Once Henry Clay’s…” 82
Italianate/Greek Revival/Victorian house coupled with the McDowells’ fin de siècle décor closely mirrored that of Henry Clay’s era.
As late as 1941, when the Louisville Courier-Journal
published the “first ever” interior photographs of Ashland, the accompanying article stated, “In general, Ashland of today is much as it was in the time of Henry Clay’s ….”84 This desire for Henry Clay’s original Ashland caused the public to suspend any disbelief and discard any evidence to the contrary. And the McDowells seemed to uphold that common public perception. Henry Clay created Ashland and, to their minds, they were preserving and perpetuating it—while appropriately dignifying it. Ashland symbolized Henry Clay and always would, no matter what its manifestation.
For all the public knew—and what they surely wanted to believe—this
McDowell version of Ashland was authentically his. When the Author’s Descendants Vacate Clay family occupancy guaranteed authenticity to the public mind. Even when Henry Clay’s descendants diverged dramatically from his original physical Ashland, their presence ensured fidelity to Clay’s spirit and intentions.
But once the family was gone (by 1959),
authenticity would become a central concern. Whether something was a ‘real’ presentation of Clay and his life at Ashland would consistently be an issue for the institutional museum. No longer basing Ashland’s interpretation on family memories, Ashland’s history would become a professional endeavor. Clay would no longer be the remembered ancestor, but a historical figure to study and analyze from afar. Now, interpreting his home for the public was out of family hands and would become the work of museum professionals. Without the family’s proximity and personal memories, efforts by the museum to reconstruct the ‘authentic’ Clay and his home began in earnest. But this was 1950s America: historic house museums were seen as a nationalistic medium in the post-World War II world, meant to inspire patriotism and wholesomeness. Americans took to celebrating and sanitizing the past in the houses left behind.
agrees with the critics who say that historic house museum interpretations often make everything “heartwarming and happily resolved.”85 Kirshenblatt-Gimblett discusses a common twentiethcentury museum tendency to trivialize or sanitize history by “‘Disney’-fying’” it. Disney “is about history as it should have happened,” she says, “the best, only the best, nothing but the 84
“Ashland, Bluegrass Home of Henry Clay, Is Mellow with Age and Traditions.” Louisville CourierJournal, 20 July 1941, Society and Women’s News. 85 Linda Young. “A Woman’s Place is in the House…Museum: Interpreting Women’s Histories in House Museums.” Open Museum [online] Journal, 5: Interpreting Historic House Museums (July 2002), 20. Charlotte Smith and Andrea Witcomb, eds. Australian Museums and Galleries Online. http://archive.amol.org.au/omj/volume5/volume5_index.asp.
best…the most attractive images possible…the perfect world…”86
Indeed, the approach at
Ashland was to glorify the “Great Man.” Although Clay’s descendants had long ago expunged the record of many of Clay’s less than virtuous words and deeds, and would surely not have discussed his human failings with the public, the twentieth-century museum idealized and idolized him like never before. By creating a “master narrative” of perfection (e.g., the sacrificial public servant, the benevolent slave owner, the upright family man, etc.), Henry Clay was apotheosized as a shining example of patriotism and wholesomeness. It was as if he was made presentable for ‘company.’ While most nineteenth-century Americans would not have found Clay’s actual behaviors problematic or offensive because much of what he did was expected of men of his era and stature, the sanitized interpretation at mid-twentieth century Ashland found no place for any perceived immoral or contradictory aspects of Clay’s life: slaveholding, drinking, gambling, swearing, lack of church membership, nor for the complex realities of his political career and thought. Clay would not have been considered the most “wholesome” figure by sterilized mid-twentieth century American standards, yet he was idealized and interpreted as such at Ashland—in the same way that radical Thomas Jefferson was made over in the twentieth century as a mainstream Democrat and the children he fathered with a female slave were concealed, and George Washington’s slave holding was strictly out of sight for much of Mount Vernon’s history. For more than a century, Washington’s Mount Vernon had been the model and epitome of a ‘Great Man’ museum, the type of house museum Ashland aspired to be. The apotheosis of the Great Man paralleled the concern to make his home a worthy vehicle for the transmission of his legacy—and that meant historical accuracy down to the smallest details. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association endeavored to carefully reproduce Washington’s home environment of the last years of his life; only items Washington had owned or used could be exhibited. This meant, for example, that a multitude of Washington portraits could not hang in the house museum because they had never hung there originally.87 Ashland did not have the ‘luxury’ of reproducing Clay’s original environment, as the MVLA did Washington’s, because the house had been rebuilt and remodeled and many of its original furnishings were gone. Clay’s home had long been evolving in its depiction of and
Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. “A Second Life as Heritage.” Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press (1998), 173, 175. 87 Gerald W. Johnson, Mount Vernon: The Story of a Shrine. New York: Random House (1953), 48.
tribute to Clay. William Seale says that, “old houses are in a sense always new, in that they have ongoing lives.”88 Clay’s descendants, as early as the 1850s, began altering the mansion as they saw fit and filling it with commemorative items. And these items were not restricted to objects that Clay had used or items that had once been at Ashland. Displayed at Ashland were many portraits of Clay and a large number of items related to his life and career, many of which had never been there previously. For Clay’s descendants, the re-creation and presentation of Clay and his legacy were more important than struggling after visual and decorative authenticity in every detail. At Ashland they were, in effect, interpreting and editing his life. By the time Ashland opened fully to the public in 1950, it reflected the interpretations of a century of descendants. Despite the absence of Henry Clay’s original house, efforts to make Ashland seem like Clay’s actual home environment began the day it opened to the public as an institutional museum. Clay descendants dressed up in historic clothing from Ashland’s collection and acted as family “hosts and hostesses” for the reception held in the mansion (see Figure 28).89 The museum’s goal was to evoke Clay’s home with a conspicuous attempt to make it seem as if his family still lived there. Ashland was no longer a real home, but the enduring efforts to make it seem so had begun. Freeman Tilden, author of the seminal 1957 guide to interpretation, Interpreting Our Heritage, strongly advocated making a historic house feel ‘real’ to visitors. He insisted that “…ideal interpretation implies: re-creation of the past, and kinship with it.”90
William Seale. Of Houses & Time: Personal Histories of America’s National Trust Properties. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1992, 17. 89 Joe Lehman, “Barkley To Speak At Opening Of Henry Clay Home April 12.” Lexington (Ky.) HeraldLeader, 2 April 1950. 90 Freeman Tilden. Interpreting Our Heritage. 3rd ed. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press (1977), 70.
Figure 28. “Henry and Lucretia Clay” in the drawing room as portrayed by descendants William Clay Goodloe McDowell and Mary Stucky Platt. 12 April 1950.
This was the ultimate goal of Lorraine Cloyd Seay who was hostess and main tour guide at Ashland for over three decades. After the first three years open to the public, it was reported that she had guided most of Ashland’s 40,000 visitors through the house, and she personally took great pride in the fact that people felt as if they were visiting a ‘real home.’91 Mrs. Seay believed that she was perpetuating Clay’s family life at Ashland. Her roles were many: not only hostess, but curator, “executive secretary” and “administrator of the home.”92 She took her hostess role exceptionally seriously, in a way believing that she was inviting people into her own home.93 People saw her as the lady of the house and she did not challenge that perception. When she died in 1998, her former assistant said that some people called her Mrs. “C” or ‘Mrs. Clay’ and that 91
Andrew Eckdahl, “Most U.S. Citizens Are Well Informed About Henry Clay: 40,000 Persons Visit Kentuckian’s Home Since Opening April 12, 1950.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, 11 January 1953. 92 Ashland. Home of Henry Clay brochure. The Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, c. 1960s. Ashland Archives. 93 She said that her most important memories from her years at Ashland “were the wonderful people I have met from all over the world,” remembering especially when Pat Nixon visited in the 1950s. Sue Wahlgren. “Henry Clay Foundation Has New Director.” Lexington (Ky.)Herald-Leader, 11 March 1986.
her tours made visitors feel they were in “a real home, not sightseers in a museum…” The highest compliment for Mrs. Seay came from visitors who said, “‘I feel as if the family has just stepped out for the afternoon, and we’ve come in and just missed them.’”94
Figure 29. Lorraine Seay setting Ashland’s dining room table, c.1951.
Mrs. Seay took special delight in acting as a surrogate family member.95 Once the last private occupant, great-great-grandson Henry Bullock, had gone in 1959, there would be no more private realm at Ashland. Ashland’s ‘occupants’ became its staff and volunteers, the non-family members who stood in as “family,” acting as hosts, tour guides, interpreters, and teachers (see Figure 30). Tilden said that tour guides must strive to “people” the house to keep the architecture and furnishings from seeming “frozen at a moment of time when nobody was at home.”96 The Ashland staff followed suit.
Jennifer Hewlett, “Lorraine Seay Dies; Ex-Ashland Curator.” Lexington (Ky.)Herald-Leader, 12 November 1998. 95 But she ironically did not care for children, according to Bettie Kerr. While children had historically been especially welcomed at Ashland, Mrs. Seay wasn’t as comfortable and always enlisted extra guides to help her manage them. “School children present many problems…,” she said. Eckdahl. 96 Tilden, 69.
Figure 30. Mrs. Seay (right) in drawing room conducting a tour, 1957.
Yet, these new non-family hosts were not actually perpetuating Henry Clay-style hospitality to the public as his descendants had endeavored to do. The chasm between the private and authentic and the public and ideal began to widen. Lorraine Seay was the embodiment of the Kentucky hospitality culture of the time.97 Ashland’s intention under Mrs. Seay was to evoke an era of gentility—the “southern dream” of days before the Civil War.98 Kentucky’s renowned hospitality had found a perfect venue at Ashland with Mrs. Seay its most ardent practitioner; she was known to have been particularly “charming.”99 It was southern tradition and the expectation of the time that women fill the role of domestic hostesses at house museums.100 Lawrence Coleman in 1933 explicitly recommended female tour guides for house museums because “[i]n 97
Seay is pronounced “see” as in “Mrs. C” (…as in “Mrs. Clay,” as she came to be known). Eric Brooks, interview with author, Lexington, Kentucky, 8 April 2005. 99 Bettie Kerr says that she and many others found Mrs. Seay “charming.” Bettie Kerr, 27 June 2005. 100 The first men to act as guides at Ashland came along decades later. 98
general, a man does not fit well into the role, partly, no doubt, because most historic houses are domestic in character and one naturally expects to find women in them.”101 Female-dominated hospitality may have been the norm in America’s past, but it had not been so at Ashland. The historic truth was that hospitality had rarely been practiced solely by the women at Ashland. Along with Henry Clay (the ebullient master of Ashland), his son James (the proud heir escorting guests through the rebuilt mansion), and Major McDowell (the celebrated host), Ashland had experienced a very democratic—and conspicuously male—style of hospitality all along. Mrs. Seay’s Ashland instead took its cues from society, popular opinion, and advice such as Coleman’s, rather than paying heed to Ashland’s own historical record.
Despite efforts at
authenticity, Ashland’s hospitality as practiced was not entirely faithful to the historic record. In this regard Ashland was fairly typical. Professional museum standards and tools for historic research were yet on the horizon and hospitality took priority over empirical accuracy. Patricia West says that the early house museums were very much “preserved ‘homes,’ and the early house museum movement was dominated by women enmeshed in the ‘cult of domesticity.’”102 In 1951 Monticello replaced its male African-American tour guides with local white “lady hostesses,” providing what they called a “hostess training program.”103 Mrs. Seay and her guides were peers of the Monticello hostesses and the Mount Vernon “lady guides.” Former Ashland director Bettie Kerr agrees: “There were all these ladies’ organizations…and it was a hobby kind of thing and they meant terribly well but they didn’t understand what we do now. They ran it like their homes. They dusted the furniture and did all the proper things.”104 Seay wanted to present the house at its best to her guests, as Kerr describes: “They were invited in to this place where the silver was polished…there were beautiful flowers…” and guests left having had a “lovely visit.”105 graciousness…”
Kerr says that Mrs. Seay “had invested in all the
By the 1990s, the museum had trained its first male docents and men have
since taken their place alongside women as hosts and interpreters of Ashland. While the Ashland institutional house museum with its stanchions and other museum trappings would no longer appear as it ever had as a home, the sense of ‘real home’ continues to be a palpable feature to visitors and docents alike, and for many this is one of the most attractive 101
Coleman, 88, footnote. West, 1. 103 Smith, 124. 104 Bettie Kerr, interview with author, Lexington, Kentucky, 27 June 2005. 105 ibid. 106 ibid. 102
aspects of Ashland. Executive Director Ann Hagan-Michel says that by promoting the home image we are in a way perpetuating Ashland’s hospitality: “We’re doing in many ways what the family would want us to still be doing…continuing what they always did—providing a beautiful, clean, polished environment for the guests…We really want people to see it as a home...”107 While Henry Clay’s style of receiving the public was clearly not accurately recreated during the third quarter of the twentieth century, the portrayal of gracious domestic hospitality at Ashland remained a priority and is still considered one of its major assets. Thus the idea of docents functioning primarily as hosts—rather than historic interpreters—is still embraced by some at Ashland, the main goal being to provide visitors with a “lovely visit.” It is as if Henry Clay is almost incidental to this idea of home. Ashland docents have even in recent years been instructed that it is “as much the warmth and hospitality displayed by the guide…as the House itself that a tourist is likely to remember!”108 But the generic approach to southern gentility and lack of attention to history came under scrutiny in the 1980s. As Bettie Kerr observes, untrained or amateur museum workers tended to see their work as a hobby, an adjunct to a main career, while museum professionals view their work as a career. Richard Longstreth says that in the early days of American historic preservation, “efforts were largely avocational, the pursuit of buffs and dowagers. Things are different now. Preservation has come of age.”109 After Lorraine Seay’s tenure, the Foundation hired its first trained museum professional. Bettie Kerr became Ashland’s director in the mid-1980s and initiated more exacting standards. “I guess I was trying to dust off the past,” she explains, “literally and figuratively, and turn it into a museum.” But Kerr says of the metamorphosis that occurred in the 1980s, “My time period brings in just a whole ton of changes. It just couldn’t have been otherwise…”110 Curator Eric Brooks says that the 1970s and ’80s was the first period of a push for historical accuracy, educational connection, and thematic understanding. By the early ’90s many historic house museums looked at themselves and realized they had to catch up with the wider museum field.111 Though the early decades of Ashland’s life as an institutional museum were very much about creating the “Great Man” museum within an environment that communicated “real Clay family” to visitors, emerging professional standards raised the bar of authenticity. The intimacy 107
Ann Hagan-Michel, interview with author, Lexington, Kentucky, 2 March 2006. Tour scripts in Ashland archives. 109 Richard Longstreth. “Taste Versus History.” Forum Journal Online 8:3 (May/June 1994). http://forum.nationaltrust.org. 110 Kerr. 111 Brooks. 108
of the family’s interpretation had given way to an inaccurate assumption of intimacy during the 1950s-80s. But professionalization from the 1980s on would create both a detached distance and an opportunity to get at an accurate interpretation of the Clay legacy.
This detached and
methodical approach meant that Ashland was now more of an institutional museum than ever before. As mentioned, a continuous interpretive aim at Ashland has been toward authenticity. At Ashland, the evidence of the author’s—Clay’s—presence is what guarantees interpretive validity. ‘Real’ has mattered at all times in the museum’s history, especially in regards to conveying a sense of Henry Clay and his estate, but one question that has mattered more than any other is this: is the Ashland mansion ‘really’ Henry Clay’s? There is an undeniable disappointment felt by many visitors upon first hearing that Clay’s original house is gone. How the rebuilding has been interpreted at Ashland since James rebuilt is an illuminating study of the meaning of authenticity in a historic house museum. Authenticity meant something different to James and Susan Clay and to the McDowells than it would mean later to the institutional museum.
To Clay’s descendants, a generally
evocative sense of their ancestor was enough. To create an atmosphere that honored his memory and intentions was their goal. But Mrs. Seay and early generations of museum interpreters believed that glossing over James’s reconstruction ensured an authentic Henry Clay experience for guests. The absence of Clay’s house signaled a lack of the author’s presence. They chose to insinuate that the house was indeed Clay’s, not mentioning James’s complete razing of the original, or perhaps referring to it as “remodeling.” Rob Magrish, who worked at Ashland in the early 1990s, noted that Mrs. Seay would “wrestle you to the ground” if you claimed it wasn’t Clay’s original house.112 The idea from the 1950s on was that if the house was not Clay’s original structure, Ashland would lose its credibility and fascination for visitors. The authenticity of Clay’s house that was implied in the 1950s-1980s would give way to a scholarly and professional interpretation that wanted to speak the ‘truth’ about the Ashland house. Authenticity from the late-1980s meant an empirically-derived representation. Thus, the fact that Clay’s house was rebuilt began to be openly discussed. In fact, seemingly to correct the past omission of this truth, the loss of Clay’s original house became particularly stressed. Disregarding James’s motivations for rebuilding Ashland as a tribute and memorial to his father (as Spiotta argued in 1990), the more important interpretive point became that the current Ashland was absolutely not
Rob Magrish, interview with author, Lexington, Kentucky, 10 July 2006.
Henry Clay’s house. The issue arose most emphatically when Ashland went through a major restoration in the early 1990s. Magrish, managing curatorial and interpretive decisions at the time, agreed with interior design expert Winkler when she encouraged him to develop the interpretation with the following in mind: “…the visitors must understand that Ashland is not the house in which Henry Clay lived and died…”113
Magrish concurred and built the new
interpretation upon his conviction that Clay “never stepped foot in this house.”114 Yet the potentially thorny issue of the authenticity of the house and James’s 1850s reconstruction had already—and much earlier—come to the fore—during the McDowell era. The public at that time wanted explanation for the long-ago replacement of the original house. And the McDowells approached it very differently than their later institutional counterparts. Instead of insisting “Henry Clay never set foot in this house,” they saw the continuity between the incarnations of Ashland—based on a dynamic view of Clay’s intentions and the family’s consistent interpretation of his legacy—and used that to reassure the public that the Ashland ‘shrine’ was authentic. James’s motivations to tear down his father’s house were by the early twentieth century cast in the pure light of filial love.115 But his love for his father was only part of the explanation: the decrepit state of the earlier house was overtly emphasized as just cause for the reconstruction. Within only months of the McDowells’ occupation, a visiting journalist offered explanation, “The mansion had been rebuilt by James to arrest decay, and the new Ashland mansion is the exact counterpart of the original, in both architecture and material, lacking only the sanctity of age.”116 Over many decades, it is striking that each explanation in the press repeated the same rationale and the same points—even using similar wording—as though the McDowells had made this the “official” statement for public consumption. Most explanations of James’s rebuilding read something like this one from 1886: “…it became necessary to tear it down on account of some defect in the masonry…It was immediately rebuilt on the same plan, the old material being again utilized for the purpose as far as practicable; so the more recent mansion stands an almost exact counterpart of the original.”117 And it is important to note that this explanation caused no discernible feelings of betrayal and loss on the part of the many visitors to Ashland; people wanted to believe that the current Ashland was Henry Clay’s. Once they heard the (official?) story, they were satisfied that Clay’s authentic Ashland remained with 113
Letter from Caskey Winkler to Magrish. 13 January 1992. Ashland archives. Henry Clay had not died in the original house either, but died in Washington DC. 114 Magrish. 115 Wilson, “Ashland, Center of Henry Clay’s Career.. 116 McClure. 117 Chas W. Coleman, Jr.
them.118 But in the last half of the twentieth century, this explanation had not proven satisfactory for Ashland’s interpreters. Interpreting Ashland’s author and his intentions has further been complicated by the fact that five generations of his family and much of the remaining evidence of those generations remains at Ashland.
Seale speaks accurately of Ashland when he says that historic house
museums “are not always frozen as their last occupants left them. Their long histories have shown that to be impossible.”119 Ashland reflects no particular era fully, not even the McDowell era that it visually most closely matches. Rosanna Pavoni observes that historic house museums are “family homes reflecting the passage of time and the sedimentation of the history of generations…”120
Indeed, while Henry Clay is the focus at Ashland, restoring the house
completely to his time has never been feasible because of the generational ‘layers’ of James’s rebuilding and the McDowells’ remodeling. Despite the descendants’ many changes, Ashland was nevertheless interpreted strictly as Henry Clay’s house from 1950’s opening day. Because of the messy generational reality, the temptation for the institutional museum has long been to simplify Ashland’s story and to interpret it very narrowly. In the 1950s when the Foundation wanted to emphasize that Ashland was the ‘real’ Henry Clay house, the solution was to gloss over (the many) non-Henry Clay realities. They were endeavoring to make Ashland the author and creator’s home, but the accurate interpretation of the complexity that is Ashland’s reality was far less important than the midcentury ideal of the ‘Great Man’s’ well-appointed house.
Although Mrs. Seay and her colleagues must have
recognized the impossibility of manifesting Clay’s early nineteenth-century environment, the Foundation hired Richard S. Hagen, a historical consultant recommended by the National Trust, to conduct a survey of Ashland.
He was to provide recommendations for a period-proper
An apocryphal story emerged designed to prove the acceptability of the rebuilding: “The residence was erected in 1854, and is an exact reproduction of the mansion occupied by Mr. Clay which was burned...” “Masons Seek to Have Clay Home Made a Shrine.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, undated article, c. 1926. The origin of the fire rumors appears to be James’s burning of unusable material at Ashland. A 1960 book about Kentucky Architecture states: “The present Ashland erected about the middle of the last century to replace the earlier house by Latrobe (c. 1813) which was burned, was of similar lineage.” Rexford Newcomb. Old Kentucky Architecture: Colonial, Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic, and Other Types Erected Prior to the War Between the States. New York: Bonanza Books (1960). This rumor appears to continue to be repeated in the 21st-century. 119 Seale, 225. 120 Rosanna Pavoni. “The Second Phase of the Categorization Project: Sub-Categories.” New Forms of Management for Historic House Museums? Acts of the Annual DEMIST Conference, Barcelona, Spain, 25 July 2001. Rosanna Pavoni, ed. International Council of Museums, DEMHIST (Demeures HistoriquesMusées), 52.
restoration in preparation for Henry Bullock’s departure in 1959.
recommendations were adamantly in favor of returning the house to its pre-1850s, Henry Clayera, state.
He could not countenance including any of Clay’s descendants in Ashland’s
interpretation. Hagen unmitigatedly rejected what he understood of James’s structural changes.121 And faced with a house full of post-1850s furnishings, Hagen made some radical suggestions, such as the removal of most of the McDowell-era furniture, fixtures and wall-coverings and replacement with purchased, non-family antiques. Addressing the second floor of the mansion in particular, he said “The present atmosphere of Ashland is that of a ‘reconciliation’ restoration…the home is presented as one in which the Clay family continued to live after the statesman’s death…An attempt should be made to return the second floor to its possible Henry Clay period appearance and the impression of later occupants minimized…certainly he and not his descendants are being memorialized there.”122 Hagen felt very strongly that all things postClay were a major flaw in interpretation that must be corrected.
While Clay’s descendants
would have agreed with Hagen that Henry Clay was the one to memorialize, they had long been happy to do so in a multi-generational environment. Most of Hagen’s recommendations were not adopted by the Foundation; lack of funding was the probable reason since restoring as he prescribed would have been wildly expensive. While funding likely drove ideology in this case, perhaps the Foundation in some way wanted to maintain the multi-era interpretation.123
By 1961 and the execution of the second-floor
restoration, Hagen resigned himself to the “compromised” interpretation: “…presentation of the house as representing many generations of the Clay family will continue…”124 But in the 1991-92 restoration thirty years later, Hagen’s brand of narrow vision for Ashland’s interpretation was repeated, but with one difference: to fully and purely interpret—not 121
For instance, Hagen found the façade cast iron balconies, which he erroneously described as late nineteenth-century additions, “poorly integrated with the façade.” Hagen obviously did not realize that Thomas Lewinski had designed the balconies as an integral part of the second Ashland with its Italianate and other mid-nineteenth-century details. 122 Richard S. Hagen. “Report of Survey and Recommendations for Restoration of Ashland, Home of Henry Clay, Lexington, KY.” Division of Parks and Memorials, State of Illinois. 19 May 1958. Ashland Archives. 123 One possible reason for the Foundation’s hesitation: Hagen had carelessly decried the efforts and priorities of the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation. For example, the Foundation had set up one room in the house as the “Nannette McDowell Bullock Room” in honor of the woman who succeeded in preserving Ashland. The room was atrocious to Hagen because of its overly-fancy Victorian furniture. “This room is very much an intrusion upon the restoration of the house. The furniture is too late to very suitable…As a memorial room it has no function.” He suggested retaining its name, installing a token portrait of her, and restoring it as an “authentic” bedroom. 124 Letter to Lorraine Seay from Richard S. Hagen. December 12, 1961. Ashland Archives.
Henry Clay’s era—but the McDowell era. Perhaps it was the absence of the Clay’s original house and environment that led to the author’s presence being subdued at this time.
Foundation was serious about painstakingly copying the McDowells’ 1880s interiors as seen in photographs. Consultant Winkler called for the procurement of specific items with which to “complete” the authentic look for each room, even if the items were not family artifacts. She not only encouraged the purchase of period furniture—as Hagen had done—so that everything looked “authentic,” she astonishingly recommended the relocation of a paramount Henry Clay artifact simply because it had not hung in the house during the McDowell period. Winkler viewed as discordant the large-scale Washington Family painting, one of Clay’s and his descendants’ most cherished possessions. Having long hung in the drawing room in the same spot prior to the McDowell period, and, most significantly, in the same spot where it was known to have hung in Henry Clay’s home, it was now deemed decoratively inaccurate. Realizing that the painting was in the end not going to be moved, Winkler complained, “I still wish the Washington portrait were elsewhere, but the piano in front of it helps a great deal.”125 It is clear that for Hagen and Winkler, authenticity at Ashland was about accurately appointed period rooms more than authentic artifacts and the depiction of the complex reality of multiple generations. The early-1990s restoration was a major turning point in Ashland’s history. Not only was the house repaired and renovated, but its interpretation was thoroughly examined, questioned, and redone.
The restoration project became an opportunity to consider the
interpretation “from scratch,” curator Eric Brooks explains. For the first time people asked how the structure and furnishings could work for the interpretation of the house, instead of treating all Ashland’s artifacts as permanently located and bending the interpretation around them.126 Interpretive choices could be made tabula rasa. Now it became possible to actively plan the interpretation, room by room, era by era, and to place artifacts and furnishings in the most appropriate places. Suddenly there was something of a master plan to interpret Ashland along with solid research to back it up.127 Before the restoration, the decision had to be made as to what period to restore. The Foundation and Mrs. Seay had for decades opted to emphasize Henry Clay even though the house and much of what filled it were not his. It was the consensus that restoring to the first half of the nineteenth century would be impractical, too expensive, with too little extant visual evidence to 125
Letter from Caskey Winkler to Magrish. Ashland archives. Brooks. 127 Brooks. 126
facilitate the process. The rebuilt house and remodeled interior were simply too far removed from Clay’s era. The Foundation looked to professionals to guide them in this decision. The architects for Ashland’s restoration made their recommendation: because of the substantial changes that the McDowells had made in the 1880s, they said, “it would be most appropriate to interpret both the interior and the exterior…to the mid-1880s period.”128 The rediscovery of the McDowells’ photo albums, as director Colleen Holwerk explained, also led to the new approach. The restoration and new interpretation were artifact-driven when the Foundation realized they “owned nearly everything in those pictures” and the objects and pictures became the visual basis for how the house was reinterpreted. As Holwerk claimed, it was just as “Mrs. McDowell” had it. “It’s very charming in a way,” she said, “It’s four generations of Clays’ life at Ashland...”129 A great deal of study and consultation with experts resulted in a close imitation of the McDowellera Ashland (see Figure 31).130
“The Preservation and Renewal of Ashland, The Estate of Henry Clay.” Tim Mullin and Bruce Goetzman, architects. c. 1991. Ashland archives. 129 Laurie Cubbison, “Ashland Worth a Second Trip After Remodeling Project.” Winchester (Ky.) Sun, 27 April 1993. 130 Frank S. Welsh, a historical paint expert who had also worked on Monticello, the Lincoln home, and Independence Hall, conducted extensive tests of the various wall finishes at Ashland and his findings dictated the choice of paint colors. Gail Caskey Winkler, PhD, ASID, an expert on historic interiors, was brought in to advise on interior decoration and furnishings.
Figure 31. McDowell-era style as seen in entrance hall, post-restoration, early 1990s.
For the first time in Ashland’s history, Clay’s creation and his legacy were no longer its central focus; the creator’s voice had been muffled.
After the restoration, the museum’s
interpretation took a decided detour away from Henry Clay. As had occurred under the genteel hospitality mindset, he had again become almost incidental to the display of a beautiful house. The McDowell family emphasis was considered fresh and exciting. A 1992 Lexington HeraldLeader feature declared: “Ashland isn’t just Henry Clay’s home place anymore. Warmer, more inviting…It’s a place where families laughed and cried, lived and died...”131 Historian and Board member Thomas D. Clark said of the restoration, “‘I think they’ve done a lot to enliven it…The
Nancy Farmer. “A New Page In Ashland’s History.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, 28 October 1992.
place has been enlivened so much that Henry Clay would not recognize it, but his granddaughter would feel right at home…’”132 Ashland Director of Volunteers, Mary Ellen Carmichael, recalls that the post-restoration tours concentrated largely on the decorative arts and unique features of the house. A few designated spots on the tour were dedicated to Clay’s life and career, but the McDowells were emphasized because the rooms reflected their time.133 The interpretation was driven by what was in front of everyone’s eyes: rooms furnished to the 1880s. Henry Clay’s full significance was obscured in the enthusiasm for the McDowell family interiors and furnishings.
National Trust conducted a facilities survey at Ashland in 2000, their strongest recommendation was to return to Henry Clay: “Henry Clay is Ashland’s raison d’être” they insisted, “both historically and at present.
He is the site’s founder and primary draw.”134
acknowledged that Ashland’s interpretation presented a distinct challenge and pinpointed the central challenge of Ashland’s interpretation: Henry Clay “out of context.” Indeed Clay was, since his death and the razing of his original house, and always will be, “out of context.” But the Trust advised that Ashland nevertheless concentrate on Clay because he could “still be appreciated and understood out of context, but to do so requires more attention on the man and his work and less on the trappings of the given context: the main house, the McDowells, and the decorative arts…The McDowells will get their due, but not until Clay gets his and the visitor is clear on the distinction between the two eras.”135 Previous efforts to make the house completely Henry Clay-era—and in the 1990s to make it fully McDowell-centered—had always proven inadequate. concentrate
multigenerational environment, would prove most appropriate.
But the suggestion to creator—within
The vision for Ashland’s
interpretation had expanded and was no longer forced to fit into neat little boxes of time. McDowell interiors remain, but the attention to them has lessened.
The acquisition of a
substantial number of Henry Clay artifacts since the early 1990s has also measurably enabled a Clay-centered interpretation. McDowell interiors provide a rich background for the many Henry
Andy Mead, “Revisiting the Past: Ashland Reopens After $1.4 Million Restoration.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, 5 September 1992. 133 Mary Ellen Carmichael, interview with author, Lexington, Kentucky, 10 June 2005. 134 “National Trust for Historic Preservation Recommendations to the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation for a Space Allocation and Use Study for Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate, July 2000.” Ashland Archives. 135 “National Trust for Historic Preservation Recommendations...”
Clay artifacts now on display in most rooms at Ashland.
The museum now attempts to
contextualize the various generations in relationship to Ashland’s creator. Living Legacy It is doubtful that there are many author-creators of significant homes that have placed such an unmistakable mark on their creations as Henry Clay did on Ashland. His love for and care of his estate for over forty years left a distinctive and powerful legacy. His personal identification with his homestead made a strong impression in the nation’s collective memory and it was only natural that Ashland would come to symbolize and memorialize him ever after. For most of the century after his death his descendants at Ashland lived with that legacy and all that it meant. As Ashland had become sacred ground for Americans, it was also a very personal memorial shrine for his family. Henry Clay took great pride in his creation. He developed an impressive farm and beautiful estate and crowned it with a mansion—all of which proclaimed his status. His house was the perfect combination of grand and unpretentious, impressive and comfortable—an image that closely mirrored his public persona as a great statesman and the Great Commoner. Henry Clay in particular created a home that was open and welcoming to the countless visitors, invited and uninvited, who came to his front door. Clay’s descendants believed it their sacred duty to perpetuate his creation. But for James and Susan Clay and for the McDowells, perpetuating the author’s legacy was not about replication or mimicry.
They apotheosized Clay by making Ashland awe-inspiring, but
accessible, much as he had. The new house and the new interiors served as genuine homage. Clay’s descendants memorialized him and paid tribute to his legacy by honoring his way of life at Ashland, keeping the place open and welcoming for the public, and keeping him before the public eye. As they made their way through their own life’s journeys, they lived side-by-side with Henry Clay’s presence. Ashland would always be his home. The institutional museum experienced a much more challenging task in discerning the author’s legacy. Mrs. Seay and her colleagues had to deal with both too much and too little: too much in that the family had been interpreting Henry Clay at Ashland for the past century and everything they did in his memory, as well as the many signs of their own lives, remained in the museum; and too little in that they were impelled to interpret the creator, but found that they had
not been left with adequate evidence of his presence. To get at the real Henry Clay, various approaches were tried in the 1950s through the 1980s: to focus myopically on Henry Clay and his time, playing up any possible Clay connections while downplaying everything that was not Henry Clay; to simply give Ashland an irresistible air of southern gentility and gracious hospitality; to create a grand and sanitized narrative of the Great Man. The museum without question had to deal with daunting challenges in both the overabundance of generational detritus and the absence of the original house. But in the 1990s the museum took a different tack: with the original house gone and the beautiful abundance of artifacts and evidence from the McDowell period, why not focus on Ashland’s extant assets? The impetus to interpret Henry Clay was overlooked and his story thread detoured for a time, but his perpetual imprint on Ashland could not be erased, and the museum’s interpretation returned to its creator focus. In that Ashland was and continues to be an authorial creation, it fits this aspect of the house museum definition.
As Bann had observed, there is no other type of museum that
“manifests the disseminated presence of the author.”136 The founder’s legacy remains dominant. This could also be considered a characteristic of a (non-house museum) multi-generational home with an influential ancestor, but house museums by and large tend to celebrate the famous person—who often is also the founder and author. And it is that person’s life, work, and possessions that will naturally be interpreted and featured in the house museum. The person’s fame as well as his or her creative imprint on the home cause the house museum to manifest this authorial characteristic more commonly and distinctly than the multi-generational homes of the less famous. Ashland clearly bears the stamp of its author, founder, and creator and in this it amply manifests one of the defining characteristics of the house museum.
Stephen Bann. “A Way of Life: Thoughts on the Identity of a House Museum.” Paper presented at the Annual DEMHIST (Comité international pour les Demeures Historiques-Musées) Conference, Genoa, Italy (1-4 November 2000), International Conference of Museums, DEMHIST (Demeures Historiques-Musées), 20, 23.
3) Ashland as Historical Document Historic house museums serve as historical documents in that they represent history and their own past domestic life (thus all house museums can be assumed to be historic). The portrayal of the past for a public audience in a domestic setting is another of the characteristics of the house museum. Henry Clay initiated a particular manner of presenting the past in his home. One of the primary features of Clay’s hospitality was his exhibition of historic artifacts. Through several meaningful objects he invoked the memory of George Washington with the goal of inspiring national unity. Clay had publicly appealed for remembering Washington as the nation’s original unifier—and brought his cause home to Ashland. The collection he formed at Ashland was based on this foundation of the collective national memory. For Clay, the objects he collected and displayed were not merely those involving personal and familial memories, but those reflecting American history and identity. These historic objects on display at Ashland were intended for a national audience. Because Ashland was a public destination, this collection was viewed by the thousands of Americans who visited Henry Clay over the years. The flow of visitors gave him an opportunity to expound on his passionate purpose of unifying the country. The evidence is fragmentary, but from the extant accounts of visits to Ashland it is clear that Clay had many awe-inspiring objects on display which he shared with his guests. These artifacts seem to have been concentrated in his receiving parlor and the adjoining second parlor. Guests were treated to Clay’s interpretation, and evidence from his letters and public speeches indicate how movingly he would have spoken of these objects. Historic artifacts were certainly important to Henry Clay and, increasingly, to nineteenthcentury Americans. Clay became an outspoken advocate for preserving national history in large part because it fit his passionate purpose: preserving the Union. He recognized that history was an essential ingredient in defining national, group, and personal identity.
America’s history was a relatively new concept in the United States. François Furstenberg notes that “…once there was a time when the Declaration of Independence was not considered sacred and when the founding fathers were viewed simply as men, rather than as gods to be worshipped…”2 Henry Shapiro says that the nineteenth-century’s consciousness toward the past
Kammen, 10. François Furstenberg, “Spinning the Revolution.” New York Times, 4 July 2006.
was one of acknowledgement and respect, but also disregard and dispensation.3 The United States of Clay’s lifetime was not as enthusiastically patriotic as might be expected. Kammen explains that while antebellum and Civil War America was seeking unity and increasingly appealing to the memory of the Founding Fathers, its orientation was predominantly one of present-mindedness and future orientation (e.g., Manifest Destiny).4 The prevailing mindset was: “if society wishes to improve, the new must replace the old.”5 Dolley Madison’s dramatic rescue of the George Washington portrait during the War of 1812 notwithstanding, there was widespread disregard for historic objects and properties: Benjamin Franklin’s home was destroyed in 1812, George Washington’s presidential mansion razed in 1832, a newspaper of the time called for the razing of Independence Hall, and by the middle of the century both Mount Vernon and Monticello were in dilapidated condition. Kammen quotes John Quincy Adams articulating the widespread national feeling that memorials which were intended to elevate heroes were “antithetical to popular sovereignty.”6
Adams believed that the religious imagery of the
“canonization” of Washington was misleading and unrealistic.7 He said: “‘Democracy has no monuments. It strikes no medals. It bears the head of no man on a coin.’”8 The Saturday Evening Post agreed in 1859 regarding the preservation of Mount Vernon, reasoning “that George Washington really needed no monument.”9 Yet, Kammen says, at this time “American history, sanctified as memory and moralized in the person of George Washington, appeared to some people to possess adhesive value.”10 Henry Clay was foremost among this group. In January of 1850 Henry Clay presented two petitions to the Senate that argued for the United States government’s purchase of both Mount Vernon and the manuscript copy of Washington’s Farewell Address in order to preserve both for the public and the future.11 The original handwritten Address had been put up for sale by 3
Henry D. Shapiro “Putting the Past Under Glass: Preservation and the Idea of History in the MidNineteenth Century.” Prospects 10 (1985), 247. 4 Kammen, 27, 52. 5 Kammen, 53. 6 Kammen, 19. 7 Pauline Maier, “Declaring Independence.” Booknotes. Stories From American History. Brain Lamb, compiler. New York: Penguin (2001), 13. 8 Ann Steuart, “Remembering the Sacrifice: Ensuring Washington’s Legacy.” Sweet Land of Liberty: Images of America in the Arts of the New Republic. Catalogue of Fifty-first Washington Antiques Show, (January 5-8, 2006), 86. 9 Charles B. Hosmer, Presence of the Past: A History of the Preservation Movement in the United States Before Williamsburg. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons (1965), 51. 10 Kammen, 71. 11 General Washington had chosen the first successful daily newspaper in the U.S., The Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser, to publish his address on 19 September 1799. The editor was allowed to keep the original document which was now going up for sale. Fearing that it might be sold outside the
the newspaper that had published it and Mount Vernon was just beginning to be publicly recognized as worthy of preservation.
Clay was an early historic preservation advocate,
recognizing the value of historic objects and places like Mount Vernon.12 Yet most Americans believed that the government bore virtually no responsibility for the nation’s political memory or tradition. Clay’s petitions advocated that both Washington relics be in national, rather than private, possession so that they would be accessible to all Americans. Clay asked: “Who is there that would not find refreshment and delight behind the Farewell Address of Washington?... Who is there that would not trace the paternal and patriotic advice which was written in his own hand—that hand which, after having grasped the sword that achieved the liberties of our country, traced with the instrument of peace the document which then gave us that advice, so necessary to preserve and transmit to posterity the treasure he had bestowed on us?”13 Henry Clay was convinced that anything related to Washington promised to unite Americans in a shared heritage, therefore mollifying the nation’s bitter divisions, as he himself had long endeavored to do. Stephen Oates relates that, at one point in Clay’s pivotal Compromise of 1850 speech, he invoked Washington in his call for unity by mentioning a “‘precious relic’” he possessed, a fragment from Washington’s coffin. Holding it up in the air, Clay tongue-in-cheek proclaimed that the “‘venerated’ father of the country was warning Congress from Mount Vernon not to destroy his handiwork.”14 Henry Clay emphasized the importance of artifacts to the young nation because, he argued, while historic accounts are undeniably important, tangible objects that may be seen and touched speak directly to people’s hearts. To prove this point, he cited an especially treasured artifact in his collection at Ashland: …although we may derive great pleasure from tracing the narratives of the glory of our ancestors…yet some physical memorial of them, some
country and become an “ornament of the parlor” of some distinguished European, Clay believed that it should be preserved in the national library. 12 He and Daniel Webster recognized the value in historic documents, such as James Madison’s papers, and convinced the government to purchase them for $25,000. This was also a means of helping Madison’s widow Dolley. Although $25,000 was the same as the annual salary of the president, the Madison family believed the papers were worth more. Seale, 101. 13 Melba Porter Hay, ed. “Comment to the Senate, 31 March 1848.” In The Papers of Henry Clay. Volume 10: Candidate, Compromiser, Elder Statesman (January 1, 1844—June 29, 1852). Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1991. 14 Stephen B. Oates, “Harry of the West. Henry Clay.” Timeline (October/November 1991), 18.
tangible, palpable object, always addresses itself to our hearts and to our feelings…Sir, in my own humble parlor at Ashland, I have at this moment a broken goblet which was used by General Washington, during almost the whole of the revolutionary war [see Figure 32]…there is nothing in that parlor so much revered, or which is an object of greater admiration to the stranger who comes to see me. This feeling of attachment to these objects, associated with the memory of those we venerate…is not merely a private feeling of attachment; it is a broader, more comprehensive, and national feeling…these are feelings which are worthy of being countenanced and cherished by public authority.15
Figure 32. The Washington goblet. Once owned by George Washington and used by him during the Revolution; later owned by Henry Clay and displayed in the parlor at Ashland.
Clay derived personal delight from his historic artifacts, but he stressed that such objects were intended to reach the nation, to touch the public. Ashland’s display of artifacts became a means to document and preserve American history. Memorializing Washington was the special focus for Clay and his visitors at Ashland. While Clay proudly exhibited such objects as a miniature ‘Liberty Bell’ made from shavings of the original and presented to Clay by the city of Philadelphia, his most treasured artifacts honored and recalled George Washington who perfectly symbolized national union.16 The Washington goblet was undoubtedly the most awe-inspiring artifact at Ashland.
This artifact, which Washington’s hand had touched, was a precious
memorial of the Founding Father’s achievements. Henry Clay was described as bringing out this
Hay, ed. “Comment to the Senate, 31 March 1848.” Ibid.
“‘greatest treasure’” for an 1847 visitor.17 From the above-mentioned speech it is known that he also owned a fragment of Washington’s coffin. And another Washington-related highlight for visitors was the frequently mentioned painting of The Washington Family which dominated the parlor (see Figure 33).18 Nearly every visitor recalled the huge picture and gazed upon it “with renewed respect and well nigh reverence.”19
Figure 33. Henry Inman’s The Washington Family (after Edward Savage, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.) which was featured in Henry Clay’s parlor at Ashland.
Over the years Henry Clay had amassed an impressive assortment of patriotic artifacts, portraits, and gifts of all kinds.20 The varied visitors’ accounts taken together provide a fuller 17
Lida Mayo. “Henry Clay, Kentuckian.” The Filson Club Quarterly 32 (1958), 173. The original painting, now hanging in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Edward Savage’s Washington’s Family was painted between 1789 and 1796 and became a national icon. It depicts Martha’s grandson George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington, Martha’s granddaughter Eleanor Parke Custis, Martha, and an enslaved servant, probably William Lee. (84 x 111”) The Washington Family, Henry Inman’s copy of the original, was commissioned by James C. Johnston in 1844 and presented to Henry Clay for Mrs. Clay. The portrait remained in the Clay family—but not at Ashland after the Civil War—until 1958 when it was donated to Ashland. 19 “Scenes and Incidents in the Life of Henry Clay.” 20 Clay’s collection of portraits echoed the collections of early history museums. Edward Alexander asserts that the earliest history museums emerged from the idea of collecting portraiture. He says that while seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European museums tended to be private collections of curious or beautiful objects, the first history museums were actually portrait galleries. 18
glimpse of what was on display. Upon one thing all agreed: there was an extraordinary number of objects. The day before Henry Clay’s funeral, visitors to the mansion marveled at the many gifts Clay had received: “countless tokens of affection and regard showered upon him by his loving countrymen. There were…the antiques, the costly, the curious and the grotesque, enough for an entire community…”21 This large collection on display caused some visitors to claim that Ashland seemed like “a veritable museum of gifts.”22 And according to one visitor, all of these items were very carefully arranged: “the thousand other presents that are daily poured into Ashland—each filling its appropriate place as indicated by Mr. Clay.
Nothing was out of
place.”23 Without detailed descriptions of where and how these items were displayed, it is still possible to conclude two things: many objects were exhibited in the public rooms of the house, and they appear to have been presented in an orderly way. By Clay’s intentional ordering and exhibition of these objects for the visiting public, he had essentially created a museum-like display at Ashland. As G. Thomas Tanselle notes, “all accumulations are actually selections, and therefore imbued with meaning through that selectivity.”24 Although many of these items were gifts that Clay had not personally selected, Clay used them to full advantage by assembling them meaningfully in his home. Was an intentionally arranged museological-style of display within the home—especially the home of a celebrity statesman—so unusual? Rosanna Pavoni observes that the nineteenthcentury passion for collecting historic relics and “using them for personal reconstruction of history” resulted in a “museumization” of the home.25 But she is referring to the common practice of collecting family memorabilia and heirlooms and displaying them with pride en masse in the Victorian home, for the enjoyment of the family and private guests. Clay’s peers’ homes bear this out. John C. Calhoun at Fort Hill was said to have filled his home with lovely furniture and family pictures.26 Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage likewise featured fine furnishings and family mementos, “huge horsehair-stuffed mahogany sofas, exquisite table settings, …and numerous portraits of family members…”27 The walls at Daniel Webster’s Marshfield were said to have displayed “no costly paintings, but…interesting from the association they recall, or as mementos 21
Unnamed source. In “Lucretia Hart Clay. A Portrait by Her Contemporaries.” By Lucretia Clay Erwin. Ashland archives. 22 “Ashland The Home of Henry Clay, The Great Kentucky Commoner: It Is At Present the Residence of Colonel McDowell.” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, 1 December 1901.” 23 “Visit to Ashland.” Lexington (Ky.) Observer and Reporter, 8, September 1847. 24 G. Thomas Tanselle, “A Rationale of Collecting.” Raritan: A Quarterly Review (Summer 1999), 25. 25 Pavoni, “Towards a Definition…”, 16. 26 Peterson, The Great Triumvirate…, 402-403. 27 Milton Bagby, “Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage. A Home For Old Hickory.” Historic Traveler web site. http://historictraveler.away.com/primedia/pol_soc/hermitage.adp.
from friends or tributes from artists,” and in Webster’s library a visitor described what caught his eye: “a small and unpretending silhouette, with the inscription, ‘my excellent mother,’” in Webster’s handwriting.28 Ashland was certainly a home with personal meaning and family heirlooms on display; several portraits of family members were known to have hung on Clay’s parlor walls.29 But Henry Clay went beyond the usual display of family portraits and fine furnishings: he initiated the less common practice of filling Ashland’s parlors with historic, memorializing, and inspirational objects with the express purpose of interpreting them for the visiting public. He designed a particular experience for his visitors and he was known to have spoken mesmerizingly about the nation’s history. A friend observed that while reading history could be “cold and stale,” Henry Clay made it come alive through the “eloquence of language…enforced by eloquence of the soulspeaking eye and persuasive voice.”30 He had not set out to create a museum-like display, but the many gifts he collected became meaningful as arranged and interpreted because he placed them in the context of national heritage and the struggle for Union. Clay’s home museum had one parallel in Thomas Jefferson’s renowned collection at Monticello. Jefferson’s Entrance Hall, the only room every visitor was sure to see, was filled with many natural, artistic, and historic items and was the first of its kind museum-in-a-home. Visitors perceived it, as one 1816 visitor saw it, as a room of “curious assemblages of artificial or natural objects forming quite a museum.”31 Jefferson owned an extensive map collection and many natural specimens gathered on the Lewis and Clark expedition. He exhibited artifacts that illustrated the development of the nation, such as an engraving of The Signing of the Declaration of Independence, as well as a bust of his foe, Hamilton, facing a bust of himself.32 Busts of French thinkers Voltaire and Turgot, who had influenced his ideas about democracy, were on display as well. Jefferson, the scientific renaissance man, was eager to educate the public when
Henry C. Deming. “Webster.” Homes of American Statesmen: With Anecdotal, Personal, and Descriptive Sketches by Various Writers. Hartford, CT: O.D. Case and Co., 1855. 473. Also: (New York: Alfred W. Upham, 1862), 479, 483-484. 29 As the visitors the day before the funeral saw: “‘There were portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Clay, of their children, and of her father and mother…Beneath the portrait of Colonel Clay, son of Henry Clay, hung his sword worn in the fatal field of Buena Vista.’” (Obsequies of Henry Clay.) Unnamed source. In “Lucretia Hart Clay. A Portrait by Her Contemporaries.” By Lucretia Clay Erwin. Ashland archives. 30 Remini. Henry Clay Statesman for the Union, 525. 31 Peterson, ed. Visitors to Monticello, 62, 72. 32 With the idea that the two would be “opposed in death as in life.”
they visited Monticello.33
Although Clay’s interests ran less toward the scientific and
philosophical, he shared Jefferson’s passionate patriotism in the form of meaningful exhibition. Clay expected the public to visit him at home as Jefferson did, so the displays were clearly targeted to the public to reinforce American pride and to promote democracy. Clay’s development of his in-house history museum took place during a time when many museums were being founded in the United States. The museum movement emerged from an “intrigue with the material world” and the penchant for acquisitiveness that characterized mid- to late-nineteenth century culture, as well as the Victorian conviction that progress increased with knowledge, and the more artifacts exhibited, the more knowledge gained.34 American museums of the time were no longer reserved for the elite, but increasingly accessible to common folk, reflecting the cultural shift from Jeffersonian republicanism to Jacksonian democracy during the century.35 Charles Willson Peale’s Philadelphia Museum, which opened to the public in 1786, not only set the stage for many natural history museums to follow, but James Smithson’s 1836 bequest and the decision of Congress to create the Smithsonian Institution—which was composed of a group of museums—added to the midcentury museum momentum.36 But Clay’s was not a natural history museum like so many American museums being founded at that time. By the creation of his national history collection, Clay created his museum at Ashland. Henry Clay put the past on display for the public and provided a witness to American history. Clay gave the public a view of the past that was key to his work in the present. As Mieke Bal asserts, collecting is essentially a narrative, and Clay’s patriotic collection formed a highly relevant narrative of national unity and heritage during perilous times.37 Clay is the author and creator of the Ashland collection and established a type of purpose-driven domestic museological display that his descendants would perpetuate. His relics and his legacy would form the basis of the museological collection that would be displayed at Ashland to the present day.
33 “Museum…In the Entrance to the House. A Day in the Life of Thomas Jefferson.” Monticello web site. http://www.monticello.org/jefferson/dayinlife/entrance/home.html. 34 Yanni, 153. Conn, 13. 35 Harris 33. 36 Kimerly Rorschach. “Why Do Universities Have Museums?” Talk given at Nasher Museum of Art, 10 November 2004. Duke University web site: <www.dukenews.duke.edu> 37 Mieke Bal. “Telling Objects: A Narrative Perspective on Collecting.” The Cultures of Collecting, J. Elsner and R. Cardinal, eds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (1994), 97-106.
Henry Clay Tribute Museum at Ashland After Clay’s death, his national historic-themed display evolved into son James’s Henry Clay tribute display. Ashland as a historic document went from a broad and general presentation of America’s past to a focused and specific look at Henry Clay. James and Susan continued the practice of displaying artifacts within the mansion for public viewing, but now the collection centered on those related to Clay’s life. They honored the creator’s collection by repeating and embellishing it with more of his own possessions. When Clay died, his possessions had been distributed among family and friends, the majority among his sons, and much of his history museum was dispersed.38 While most of his belongings would be kept in the private homes of his descendants, James and Susan followed Clay’s lead and encouraged public viewing of the artifacts they had inherited.39 Virtually every Henry Clay artifact that they owned was carefully and proudly exhibited in the public rooms at Ashland.40 Like Clay, they provided a view of the past—which was now Henry Clay in the context of America’s history—to the public. This exhibition, then, separated their collection from other Clay family members’ domestic displays, and caused Ashland to function as a public museum once again. Yet the Ashland house itself—newly rebuilt—was the most precious Henry Clay artifact James and Susan possessed. Even in its new incarnation, it more than anything else symbolized Henry Clay and it served to envelop all the other artifacts. Susan defended the rebuilding of the mansion specifically because of its function as a worthy container of Clay artifacts, claiming that the association of Ashland and Henry Clay would be better made for pilgrims to this “shrine” through the creation of a fitting edifice to “enclose the interesting memorials of the Patriot.”41 The new Ashland mansion now represented and paid tribute to the old Ashland and was itself a display item. James and Susan’s house not only enclosed a museum, it was a crucial element of that museum.
“Scenes and Incidents in the Life of Henry Clay.” Susan’s will later contained a clause stating that all Henry Clay artifacts were to be retained in the family through all successive generations. Nothing was to be sold or given away. Brooks says that her son Charles Donald’s descendants inherited most of the artifacts, many of which have returned to Ashland. 40 Apple says that Susan Jacob Clay’s late-nineteenth-century home at Balgowan (on Versailles Road in Lexington) similarly “became a lovely museum of Old Kentucky and a memorial to Clay service to state and nation,”…portraits, letters, lots of artifacts “furniture saved from Ashland…filled the rooms. The family crafted a story about each item that emphasized Henry Clay’s service and his popularity…,” and that to enter Balgowan “was to step back into history. The portraits hung around the walls and gifts to Henry Clay displayed throughout the house spoke clearly to his national importance.” Lindsey Apple. Cautious Rebel. A Biography of Susan Clay Sawitzky. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press (1997), 21, 48-49. 41 “Scenes and Incidents in the Life of Henry Clay.” 39
James and Susan recognized that Ashland’s significance went beyond themselves. What had once belonged to a small family group now became the shared possession of all. In order for a private dwelling to become a public museum, there must be significance attached to it that goes beyond a private residence and it must document the past in some way. Magaly Cabral says “the process of transforming an object into a document—the essence of museums—introduces references to other spaces, times and significance…”42 Ashland, still a private home, now served to signify, document, and point to Henry Clay and his legacy.
Figure 34. On display in James and Susan’s Ashland: Clay’s Treaty of Ghent jacket, as seen (right) on Clay in William Welsh’s c. 1964 painting (Transylvania University).
As Clay had believed in the power of objects to inspire patriotism, so James and Susan did when they reopened Ashland, filled with artifacts “with which the rooms…abound…”43 James’s inherited artifacts included the large painting of The Washington Family, re-installed in its original parlor location.44 But not only did they exhibit many of the items Clay himself had displayed, now the objects that he had personally used came before the public and became just as 42
Cabral, 37. Ibid. 44 After James died and Susan sold Ashland, The Washington Family went with Susan to her new home, Balgowan. Later William Monroe Wright bought Balgowan and the painting remained with the home, later owned by Warren Wright. The painting hung for a time in the Lexington Public Library before being inherited by three descendants: Col. Robert Clay, Elizabeth Clay Blanford, and Susan Clay Sawitsky, who placed it in the Knoedler Gallery in New York City for sale. The painting was on loan to Ashland upon its opening as a museum in 1950 until William J. Alford purchased it at a New York auction and donated it to Ashland in 1958. “Ashland To Be On Garden Club Tour.” Lexington (Ky.) Leader, 27 April 1951 and Brooks. 43
highly revered. James and Susan obviously agreed with Henry Clay’s sentiment that tangible objects—those actually touched by the person—were especially powerful.
possessions, especially those related to the great accomplishment that was the 1814 Treaty of Ghent, were now well represented; his ceremonial Ghent jacket and other items from his European trip symbolized his work as a peace commissioner and the larger idea of world peace (see Figure 34). Guided by Susan through the public rooms of the house, an impressed 1857 visitor described these and other items: I entered the study—HENRY CLAY’S library, studded with memorials of him—with feelings almost of awe. I sat on the old, well preserved, oldfashioned chair, sat in oft by him…examined his writing and dressing case, inscribed ‘H. Clay, American Minister, Ghent,’ lifted his ink-stand, so long the fountain into which his pen was dipped when conducting his correspondence and compositions…Here are old tables and sofas as they were used by the Ashland sage…A tortoise case containing his gold spectacles…A circular gold snuff box containing a lock of Henry Clay’s hair and a lock of Mrs. Clay’s…A diamond ring of great brilliance, on his finger when he died…45 In the new Ashland, Henry Clay’s biography was put in the context of the larger American story. His relics placed alongside George Washington’s sent a clear message about Clay’s importance and place in the national drama. In the anxiety-fraught final years before the war, James and Susan in essence, through Clay’s legacy, continued his efforts to save the Union. Antebellum Americans considered Henry Clay the Great Compromiser, the one who for so long preserved the Union, thus it was probably with urgent and passionate purpose that James and Susan created a tribute to Henry Clay that served to make his name and cause immortal. The elegant rebuilt house and luxurious interiors as backdrop for Clay relics underscored Clay’s eminence with particular dignity. James and Susan’s home would not simply be a family home with personal memorabilia; this was a public museum, patriotic shrine, and site of apotheosis and inspiration. When James and Susan left Ashland during the War, they placed their precious Clay objects safely in family hands. Their family line would retain a large portion of Clay artifacts, many of which eventually found their way back to Ashland after 1950. But following the post45
“Scenes and Incidents in the Life of Henry Clay.”
bellum Kentucky University period, another line of the family came to Ashland with their own family’s collection of Clay relics, which again took its place at Ashland.46 Major and Anne McDowell resumed the display of artifacts in the house for the public to admire, eventually filling much of the house with them. The McDowells were highly motivated to memorialize their great ancestor, determined that their revitalized Ashland resurrect the spirit of Henry Clay. They also understood the public’s ongoing attraction to Clay artifacts on display within his former home. As a visitor described it: “Soon we...stood in the presence of many mementos of America’s great statesman…There are many pictures hanging on the walls and there are numerous articles that were a part of Henry Clay’s life.”47 Even more than James and Susan had done, Henry Clay’s personal, and sometimes quite mundane, belongings—such as his “quaint washstand”—were now objects of reverence at Ashland.48 One aspect of the McDowells’ interiors that never failed to impress was the great number of portraits of Henry Clay that they had collected. They plainly memorialized Clay through the display of his image which visitors described seeing all over the house.49 The well-known c.1818 Matthew Jouett portrait of Clay as a young man hung in the entrance hall, while a copy of Joel T. Hart’s impressive 1847 marble bust was displayed in the library (see Figure 35).50 And the McDowells had spread their collection of artifacts throughout the house, not confining them to the two or three public rooms as Henry Clay and James and Susan had done.
While the Clay artifacts continued to be scattered among the family, the McDowells apparently had inherited a sizeable number. Now that Ashland was ‘reborn,’ the McDowells wanted to present a full picture of Henry Clay’s life to the visitors, but many choice artifacts (e.g. his bed, The Washington Family, the Ghent jacket, the Washington goblet) were not there. The McDowells were able to augment their collection by the purchase of artifacts (e.g. the Joel T. Hart marble bust). They borrowed from other family members in order to impress the public when a big push was made to save Ashland in 1926, including the Washington goblet: “Here is the wine glass that was George Washington’s…” Lorine L. Butler, “Clay’s Old Home Proposed for a Museum.” New York Times, 14 November 1926, 7. Brooks explains the goblet’s provenance: Henry Clay to John Clay to Josephine Clay’s daughter (Lucy?) to Henry Clay Simpson to his wife to Ashland. The goblet likely appeared at Ashland in 1926 because the family was eager to save Ashland and lent artifacts to the McDowells for show. 47 Clarence P. Wolfe, “Editorial Comment.” Unidentified newspaper, date unknown (between 1920-1948). Henry Clay Family Papers, Special Collections, University of Kentucky. 48 A. C. V. M. Rogers, 41. 49 As visitors noticed, these portraits were scattered throughout the house: “In the library, halls and diningroom are various portraits of the great man, and at the turn of the stairs is a fine heroic bust, in bronze, of that lean face and form.” Hubbard. Another bronze stood on a pedestal in the corner of the drawing room. Andrews. 50 C. W. Coleman, 169.
Figure 35. The McDowells’ bust of Henry Clay by Joel T. Hart.
The many portraits in the McDowells’ handsome interiors undoubtedly gave Ashland the appearance of a fine art museum. But the McDowells also created a type of exhibit at Ashland that furthered the ‘museum feel’ even more. They evidently dedicated two rooms specifically to Henry Clay’s memory: the study and the library and when they entertained, guests had free access to these rooms. Clay’s former study, off the entrance hall, was a natural choice for homage as he spent much time in the room (see Figure 36). They went beyond a simple assemblage of his belongings there: “The room formerly used by Clay as an office was restored in the minutest detail,”51 and “was very carefully modeled after the original…”52 If any room at Ashland was ‘frozen in time,’ this was it: “The office he used is still just as he left it for the last time, giving one the impression that he may return at any moment…”53 Henry Clay’s study was preserved and presented almost as a ‘period room,’ but one in which the lingering presence of its occupant was palpable. The McDowells endeavored to perpetuate Clay’s legacy at Ashland through a
C. W. Coleman, 169. Hodges, 214. 53 “A Visit To Ashland…”, 31. 52
dynamic reenactment of his life there (e.g., hospitality, farming), but also through an evocative portrayal of how he lived, worked, and used particular parts of the house.
Figure 36. A glimpse of the McDowell-era Henry Clay study as seen from the entrance hall, c. 1890s.
The octagonal library also naturally lent itself to his memory. As James and Susan had done, the McDowells utilized this unusual room as a showplace of Henry Clay artifacts. But unlike the study, this was not a re-creation of the Henry Clay library. From photographic evidence of the McDowell era, it is clear that the family used the library for contemporary needs, as well, at one time creating a family sitting room. But some illusory impression of Clay’s time must have remained, as one visitor during Nannette’s period was fully convinced that he was in Henry Clay’s actual library.54
The numerous Clay artifacts on display included private
possessions such as his pistols, spurs, saddle, and memorandum-books, letters “faded and yellow, dusted with black powder on ink that has been dry a hundred years,” a manuscript copy of one of his speeches, and his mahogany table and inkstand “in which he dipped his pen to make his name
Chesla C. Sherlock, 1924. “Homes of Famous Americans.” Fruit, Garden and Home, May 1924, 13.
immortal…”55 James and Susan had emphasized Henry Clay the international statesman, but the McDowells portrayed him as a more accessible figure through the personal objects on display. While Henry Clay’s collection at Ashland had provided a national historical record, and James and Susan’s collection served as an immortalizing homage, the McDowells’ collection at Ashland was something of a humanizing document. After the McDowells died, great-granddaughter Nannette seems to have frozen Ashland in time; photographic evidence suggests that no more significant changes were made to the house and the McDowell-era collection remained in situ. Upon her death in 1948 when Nannette bequeathed Ashland to the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, she stipulated that the contents of the house be included.
Thus the McDowell artifacts formed the basis for the institutional
museum’s collection. Professional Presentation of the Past Naturally, Henry Clay artifacts were to be the focus of the Foundation’s acquisitions. In the days leading up to the April 12, 1950 opening day dedication, Lexington newspapers gave many glimpses through pictures and descriptions of what the public was soon to see. The Lexington Leader reported that “fifty groups” of Henry Clay items had been collected and placed at Ashland “to furnish authentic atmosphere of the time of Henry Clay.”56 The Sunday HeraldLeader relayed that “[r]ooms have been completely furnished in the spirit of Clay’s time…”57 It is significant that what was promised was the “atmosphere” or “spirit” of Henry Clay’s time. Ashland upon opening appeared well furnished, but the actual proportion of Henry Clay objects to total objects was relatively low. Many superb furnishings that had belonged to the McDowells, while not necessarily identified as such to the public, were exploited to give the impression of a (curiously sophisticated and late-period) Henry Clay domestic environment. The institutional museum experienced some challenges regarding Ashland’s collection that the family had never known. Without family occupants naturally lending legitimacy, the 55
Elbert Hubbard, Little Journeys to the Homes of American Statesmen, Volume 3. (New York: G. P. Putnam, 1898/1916). Published online: Project Gutenberg, http://www.gutenberg.org/files/13911/13911h/13911-h.htm#HENRY_CLAY. Hubbard wrote about Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, Webster, Lincoln and more, but it appears that he didn’t concentrate on any of the men’s homes as intensely as he did Clay’s; Maude Andrews, “A Visit To Henry Clay’s Home.” Atlanta Constitution, June, c. 1887. 56 Lexington (Ky.) Leader, 10 April 1950. 57 “Henry Clay Band Will Lead Parade For Ashland Dedication Wednesday.” Lexington (Ky.) Sunday Herald-Leader, 9 April 1950.
onus of establishing authenticity belonged to the museum. The desire to make Ashland appear to be a functioning family home was paramount, but it was coupled with the drive to secure authentic Henry Clay artifacts. As Clay’s reputation began to fade in the collective memory, it was Ashland’s mission to make him known. But it would face the fundamental contradiction of the house museum: the more Clay artifacts to display, the more the house looked like a museum and the less it looked like a ‘real’ home. The more it was made to look like an authentic living space, the less of Henry Clay could be shown. The private function of a home came up against the didactic obligation of the museum. Yet Henry Clay was Ashland’s star attraction and the museum’s compromise solution was to give a general impression that Ashland was indeed the real Henry Clay family home filled with Clay memorabilia. The presence of the great array of items unrelated to him—not to mention the rebuilt house—had to be downplayed or simply ignored. Donations of items with dubious or confused provenance were even sometimes accepted by the museum, and any possible link to Clay was claimed.
Mrs. Seay in published interviews increasingly exaggerated the
provenance of Ashland’s artifacts, as she knew that possessing Clay items added to Ashland’s appeal: “Ashland’s charm,” she told Southern Living in 1967, “is partly derived from the large number of furnishings which were actually used by Henry Clay and his family in the first half of the nineteenth century…”58 By 1973, she asserted that “everything” on display at Ashland belonged to the Clay family, and much of it to Henry Clay. In 1974 she went so far as to claim that Ashland’s collection was fairly complete: “The house was so completely furnished with family items when we opened it to the public that there are not that many family possessions which are not already here.”59 While it is true that the initial Ashland collection was relatively substantial and the house appeared adequately furnished from the start, Mrs. Seay had no inkling of the scores of highly significant artifacts that would come to Ashland in the decades ahead. Mrs. Seay was the creator and shaper of the Ashland interpretation from the 1950s through the 1980s. Without the professional tools or training that would arrive after her time, she endeavored to craft a suitably Clay-centered and crowd-pleasing narrative from history books, family accounts, and local recollections.
This approach resulted in some erroneous
interpretations, such as her exaggeration of the authenticity of Ashland’s appearance in 1975 when describing the family’s preservation of artifacts: “The reason Ashland’s twenty rooms are 58
“At Ashland—You Can See How Henry Clay Lived.” Southern Living (April 1967), 18. Carolyn Gatz, “Two of Clay’s Descendants Contribute Five New Items.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 15 May 1974.
today so little changed from Henry Clay’s Ashland is that all the Clay generations succeeding him fortunately had the habit of storing currently unused furnishings in the attic.”60 She clearly wanted to give the impression that the Henry Clay collection had always been located at Ashland, though, in fact, much of the collection had come from elsewhere …and, in fact, had never been stored in Ashland’s attic. But Mrs. Seay admittedly faced a difficult interpretive task. Not only were there five generations’ objects to manage, but the original house was gone. Ashland nonetheless had to single-mindedly promote Henry Clay and attract visitors in order to remain a viable institution. While Clay’s family had lived comfortably with many of these same Ashland objects that represented their own and prior generations, the need to teach visitors about Henry Clay had been nearly non-existent for them: nineteenth-century Americans did not need to be told who he was and what he had done; significant artifacts required no explanation. But the mid-twentiethcentury interpretation needed to explain Henry Clay to an ever greater numbers of visitors who were ignorant of him and his historic role. Seay and her colleagues had to explain Clay in a complex and potentially confusing environment. Mrs. Seay and the Foundation worked to interpret Henry Clay at Ashland, yet the desire to communicate the charm of the domestic environment was strong. Mrs. Seay accomplished this by highlighting particularly attractive furnishings such as draperies, wall-coverings, china, and silver, insinuating that these very contents once comprised Henry Clay’s very homey but impressively stylish abode. Personal items like beds, washstands, chamber pots, and grooming items were now out in public view and delighted visitors, as did the Ashland kitchen which was presented as a crowd-pleasing Colonial kitchen (see Figure 37).
Ramona W. Marsh, “Atmosphere of Days Gone By Captured in Henry Clay’s Home.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, 19 April 1975.
Figure 37. Ashland kitchen as interpreted c. 1960s-80s.
Considering the appeal and popularity of recreated, accurately-furnished rooms, it is not surprising that interpretive tension ensued when the museum needed to include out-of-context Henry Clay artifacts. Ashland possessed a growing collection of Clay artifacts, many important illustrative items that would not normally have been on display in a home. The need to provide accurate historic interpretation—of Henry Clay most of all—was weighed against the presentation of an idealized domestic vision. As much as Ashland wanted to be the charming, old-fashioned home, Henry Clay artifacts took precedence. Telling the Henry Clay story through these items, however unrealistic their display in a room, was one of Ashland’s early interpretive approaches. The conflict between the appearance of a home and the educational obligation of the museum was seen in such things as the display of a large Henry Clay campaign banner in the drawing room—a very out-of-context display (see Figure 38). It was an important pedagogic piece, but anomalous in a domestic setting, thus consultant Richard Hagen recommended its removal. A glass display case in the Henry Clay bedroom featured the Ghent jacket and a ruby red dress, thought to have belonged to Lucretia Clay (see Figure 39). These fragile items were adequately protected and on display for visitors, but consequently the bedroom no longer looked like a ‘real’ bedroom.
Hagen in 1958 thought these overt museum displays were highly
inappropriate in that they destroyed the desired effect of the domestic environment.
recommended a separate museum room set aside for “museum pieces” to be properly displayed
and in which all “museum materials” and “activities” could be confined (see Figure 40).61 Hagen must have been familiar with Coleman’s 1933 recommendations that advised historic house museums to keep supplementary collections (papers, personal effects, clothing, and other collections) away from the properly restored period rooms: “The right place…is not in a historic house at all but in a supplementary building…”62 Hagen, like Coleman, believed that historic house museum restoration was about “making a house what it once was” and that meant being restored “realistically” to a particular period. Thus, Coleman said, things that would “contribute to the illusion of a living house are much to be desired. Clocks that run, wall hangings, table coverings, cushions, and rugs are among the accessories that give feeling.”63
Figure 38. A Henry Clay campaign banner hanging in the drawing room, c. 1950s.
Hagen. “Report of Survey and Recommendations...” Coleman, 73. 63 Coleman, 67. 62
Figure 39. Clothing on display in the c. 1950s Henry Clay bedroom (current Ash bedroom).
Figure 40. “Museum Room” at Ashland (current study), c. 1950-1980s.
Along these lines, Stephen Bann discusses museum installations and the choices involved in representing the past. Should a house museum room be a “display room”—as in a period
room—or an “enhanced space” which does not mask its museum function and is marked by carefully placed objects in historical terms?64 The Hagen and Coleman-endorsed recreated period room has been the preference at Ashland at times, for example when the early-1990s restoration took its cues from McDowell-era photographs, thereby effectively creating period-accurate “display rooms.” But the current curator’s direction is toward an “enhanced space” where the museum function is not hidden and objects are placed thematically, “in historical terms” for greater interpretive meaning (see Figure 41). As of early 2006, Ashland artifacts have been arranged in sets that define a new representation of the past. Illustrative artifacts—not necessarily appropriate decoratively placed furnishings—are found throughout the house, arranged specifically for thematic interpretation.
Figure 41. An “enhanced space” – thematic arrangement of artifacts in entrance hall, c. 2007.
While the domestic atmosphere cannot be denied and house museums like Ashland continue to evoke ‘real’ home for visitors, museum displays continually challenge that perception. Display boxes, labels, and ‘unrealistic’ placement reveal artifice. And the efforts to 64
Stephen Bann. “‘Views of the Past’: Reflections on the Treatment of Historical Objects and Museums of History.” The Inventions of History. Essays on the Representation of the Past. New York: Manchester University Press, 1990, 143.
depict a functioning home will always be thwarted by the reality of the museum operation: paid admission, scheduled and guided tours, passive viewing and lack of participation, physical barriers, etc. (see Figure 42). Magaly Cabral at DEMHIST said that house museums, while representing a domestic environment, nevertheless stimulate the visitor “into an awareness of the artificiality of the representation in the museum.”65 The truth cannot be avoided when one realizes that all objects on display are out of use and out of context. The visitor cannot help but know by the presence of stanchions and strategic lighting and the absence of odors, music, and fires in hearths, that this is not a viable home.
Figure 42. Stanchions in Ashland’s library.
Yet, unlike many house museums, the public display of Ashland’s collection got its start in the domestic realm of the founder’s—Henry Clay’s—home. The coexistence of house and museum together at Ashland actually has a long history; exhibiting and interpreting artifacts for the public has been occurring at Ashland for almost two centuries. Ashland manifested the house 65
Magaly Cabral. “Exhibiting and Communicating History and Society in Historic House Museums.” Paper presented at the Annual DemHist (Comité international pour les Demeures Historiques-Musées) Conference, Genoa, Italy, 1-4 November 2000. International Conference of Museums, DemHist (Demeures Historiques-Musées), 45.
museum dichotomy as early as Henry Clay’s time, and it continued through four more generations. Clay interpreted America’s history while his descendants interpreted Clay’s life within the context of that history. With the departure of the family and the entrance of museum professionals, the interpretation of Ashland shifted. No longer based on personal memory and familial traditions, professional interpretation entails empirical evidence and a dispassionate view. In order to provide the public with the most accurate information, the professional museum’s task is to ensure the authenticity of Ashland’s collection and interpretation. As Clay and his family worked to assimilate a museum display function into the context of their private home, the institutional museum must decide how best to create a historically accurate museum interpretation within a domestic environment. The History of the Historic Document Henry Clay as Ashland’s founder initiated a particular way of doing things at Ashland: a public display within his private home. As discussed, house museums are creations composed of the indissoluble union of house, contents, and original function. Clay established this bond early on. As author of Ashland’s narrative, he laid down the first part of the historic document. As Cabral observed, “the process of transforming an object into a document—the essence of museums—introduces references to other spaces, times and significance…”66 Because of Clay’s concern for Union and the place of artifacts in the national memory, Ashland has been a site of interpretation of a larger history. The material culture and accompanying narrative of the past— whether the nation’s or Henry Clay’s—has made Ashland from its early years a historic document. His interpretive beliefs have remained at the heart of the Ashland document: artifacts are important, preserving meaningful tangible objects is important, that history—especially collective memory—is important, that looking to historic figures for inspiration is important. Clay’s descendants perpetuated his idea of expository display at Ashland; they continued composing the historic document. Ashland has clearly and consistently been more than a private family residence and more than a container for a family’s memories and heritage. Ashland today in many ways encompasses all of the family’s previous museums. Clay’s family took his initial idea of the museum-in-the-house and expanded it: through the artifacts they displayed throughout their home, they placed Clay in the big picture of national history and they put the some of the personal Clay on public display.
Later, the institutional museum began to do what museums do best: collecting, displaying, and interpreting artifacts. And the museum was now able to use the entire house to do so. Although Ashland had a long history of artifact display and historic presentation, the museum faced—and continues to face—the ongoing challenge of reconciling the opposing realities of the house museum: the personal connotations of the home up against the pedagogic responsibilities of the museum. Displays that communicate a ‘real’ domestic environment cannot comfortably share space with the display of out-of-context, non-domestic artifacts. No longer a private residence, the museum must still contend with the private and domestic concerns of the house museum. Ashland’s history as a historic document adds to its identity as a house museum. In that it has long represented history in its domestic environment and in that it has represented its own domestic past (since James and Susan’s tenure), it fits this aspect of the house museum definition quite well. In Henry Clay’s initiation of the display of historic artifacts for the public, especially, it is possible to see each of the characteristics of the house museum come together: the authorship, the public and private hybrid, and the representation of the past.
Conclusion In the preceding discussion three aspects of the current understanding of the house museum have been considered in an effort to discern precisely what constitutes a house museum. The discussion has also endeavored to answer this question: is it possible to classify Ashland as a house museum before 1950? From the evidence put forth here, it is clear that Ashland does fit into the definition of the house museum, but it does not fit neatly. Before returning to the current house museum definition, a brief look at the development of the definition will be helpful. As discussed, the house museum genre took form in the United States in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Due to nationalistic feeling (civil religion), a sense rootlessness (the loss of the last Founding Fathers), and the exaltation of the home (“cult of domesticity”), house museums began to be established. Henry Clay was in the thick of these phenomena. Not only was he a man who very publicly valued home and hearth, he was a leading voice in the movement to preserve America’s history. While George Washington was emerging in the collective consciousness as the first and peerless American hero, Henry Clay was appealing to his memory as a symbol of unity and source of inspiration. As Washington sites began to be recognized as worthy of preservation, there was Henry Clay: personally collecting and exhibiting Washington artifacts, holding them up (physically and rhetorically) before Congress, and advocating the government’s purchase of the Farewell Address and Mount Vernon. Henry Clay’s national history museum at Ashland paralleled the national preservation movement.
exaltation of George Washington corresponded closely with the American mood. As Patricia West has observed, a significant factor in the proliferation of house museums in the mid-nineteenth century was Americans’ search for beauty and inspiration, which often found them at historic places. Pilgrimage to the homes of the Founding Fathers, presidents, and statesmen “was an implicitly accepted activity of patriotic Americans.”1
Ashland at that time
was one of the premier destinations. Not only was Henry Clay a draw for patriotic citizens, but his estate was regarded as one of the most beautiful in the country. The thousands who visited Ashland were rewarded with a double-dose of inspiration. When in the 1930s Coleman created the label of ‘historic house museum,’ preservation of pre-industrial-age America was a high priority.
And Coleman’s understanding of house
museums—as sites celebrating great men and events in structurally or aesthetically significant 1
buildings specifically intended for the education and inspiration of the public—aptly described Ashland. Since Henry Clay’s death, and before it became an official museum, Ashland had been a place of public celebration of his legacy, with the explicit goal of educating and inspiring the public, and the Ashland mansion was, at the very least, significant for the stylistic fusion of its architecture. Ashland’s identity and function squared with Coleman’s ideas. When Montgomery took a stab at the house museum definition in the 1950s, Ashland again could be placed suitably within the parameters he set out. He described the historic house as a place with authentic and stylistic unity and the interrelatedness of structure, contents, and original function. While Ashland probably had never been stylistically period-perfect, it had long contained a genuine assemblage of Clay family artifacts within a structure in which they had originally been located, in a place with domestic (and museological) function—thereby creating an undeniable and united authenticity. Particularly prior to 1950 when the family had occupied Ashland, this authenticity was present. His explanation of the house museum as a memorial exhibit and pedagogic vehicle with out-of-context artifacts against the backdrop of the house, likewise describes Ashland. Indeed, Henry Clay memorialized Washington and interpreted outof-context artifacts at Ashland and Clay’s descendants prior to 1950 memorialized Clay via the display of artifacts against the backdrop of their home. Both of Montgomery’s midcentury conceptions of the historic house and house museum harmonize with the identity and function of Ashland. This evidence shows that Ashland prior to its institutional existence fit comfortably into the developing definition of the house museum.
But what of today’s definition?
international museum community has done much to focus and refine the concept of the house museum.
As discussed, the first two DEMHIST conferences in the late 1990s produced this
preliminary definition of the historic house museum as, Museum-homes which are open to the public as such, that is, with their furnishings and collections…and which have never been used to display collections of a different provenance, constitute a museographical category in every particular, and one that varies widely in typological respects. Briefly, the specific character of this type of building is the indissoluble
link between container and contained, between palace/house/apartment and permanent collections/furnishings/ornamental fixtures.2 Pavoni added functionality to the definition when she described the complex relationship between a house museum’s structure, contents, and original function.3 Functionality refers to the house museum as a “hybridization of two civic institutions”—home and museum—“with diametrically opposed objectives”—private life and public life—which “captures the conservational and educational qualities of museums” as well as “the communicative, cognitive and emotional connotations of the house…”4 Stephen Bann contributed to the definition with the two additional refinements: “implied authorship” and “representation.”
He described the home’s original founder whose legacy
remains dominant as the author of the house museum.5 And he described the house museum as a representation of itself and a way of life in that it is a historic document that represents its own past life as a house and also a larger history.6 How does pre-1950 Ashland fit into the current interpretation of the house museum genre? Historic Document The historic house museum, via its collection and interpretation, is a place of portrayal of the past. Most house museums become historical documents once they are no longer occupied and they begin to represent the domesticity of their former private life. By the arrangement of their contents and the narrative attached to them, the past as lived in the house is portrayed and interpreted for the public. Ashland as early as Henry Clay’s time began to be a place of the depiction of the past; Clay was particularly interested in evoking America’s founding through his collection of historic objects and his interpretation of them for the public. Clay’s descendants also portrayed the past—Henry Clay’s legacy and his life at Ashland—within their home for a
Pavoni, “Towards a Definition…”, 17. Pavoni, “Visiting a Historic House Museum. 4 Pavoni, “Towards a Definition…”, 16. 5 Stephen Bann. “A Way of Life: Thoughts on the Identity of a House Museum.” Paper presented at the Annual DEMHIST (Comité international pour les Demeures Historiques-Musées) Conference, Genoa, Italy (1-4 November 2000), International Conference of Museums, DEMHIST (Demeures Historiques-Musées), 20, 23. 6 Bann, “A Way of Life…”, 20. 3
public audience. Ashland, particularly after Clay’s death, became a historical document that represented the Clay’s original Ashland. But Ashland continued to be occupied while it depicted its past. Because the house remained a family home, it doesn’t seem to fit squarely with an assumption of the definition: the implicit supposition that the house museum refers back to its former domestic life and therefore cannot be currently functioning as a residence. This requirement or presumption of vacancy is not spelled out in the current definition of the house museum, but it is implied. Instead, the presumption is that the opening of the house museum necessitates cessation of its private, domestic function. And, it seems, only then can the house museum become a historic document representing the past. This points to a gap in the current definition of the house museum. Must a house museum be vacated before it can be considered a house museum? The example of the British stately homes—although not called house museums, they are technically considered so—shows that private occupancy and public visitation and museological activity (representation of the past) can coexist. Ashland’s example clearly shows that historic representation and private occupancy have coexisted, and therefore Ashland could in this regard be considered a house museum. The definition of the house museum, then, should address this issue of occupancy and clarify whether this is a definitive issue. Authorial Creation As Bann has proposed, the house museum is a museological type in which the original founder’s unmistakable stamp remains on the place and its life thereafter. Most house museums honor and focus on the founder’s life and vision. Henry Clay clearly conceived Ashland as the setting for his life and status, as an 1847 visitor to Ashland perceived, “…his genius and spirit were there, impressed upon everything we saw…the creator’s touch infused everything …[with] the interest with which everything of his is invested, that one is involuntarily led to feel that this is his home.”7 Clay’s descendants endeavored to perpetuate his legacy at Ashland through their interpretation of the house and the adoption of Clay-style hospitality, accessibility, and generosity. They lived their lives amidst Henry Clay’s life at Ashland. Honoring the founder’s intentions did not mean mimicking rituals or replicating the Ashland of Clay’s time. Occupying the historic home meant dynamic development as the place accommodated several generations of 7
“Visit to Ashland.” Lexington (Ky.) Observer and Reporter, 8, September 1847.
a family. Clay’s descendants did not find progress and change incompatible with fidelity to his legacy. In that Ashland has been an authorial creation in which the presence of its founder is disseminated and the his vision is preeminent, Ashland fits comfortably into this characteristic of the house museum. The definition is adequately clear on this point. Public-Private Hybrid The historic house museum is one in which the private functions of the home come up against the public functions of the museum, as Pavoni had described: private/home life with its “communicative, cognitive and emotional connotations” versus public/museum life with its “conservational and educational qualities.”8 In the case of most house museums, the private and domestic life of the house is implied and represented to the public, but there are no more private residents. Yet at Ashland, private and domestic life was lived in an environment that attracted and welcomed a public audience. By Henry Clay’s integrated public and private personae, his home early on adopted a hybrid character of private home and public destination.
descendants at Ashland then perpetuated his public hospitality in the context of their private family home. The Problem of the Definition Revisited In that Ashland was obviously a private place with a discrete public dimension leads the discussion back to the house museum definition. Does pre-1950 Ashland fulfill this publicprivate aspect of the house museum definition? It would seem that its dual identity would easily indicate that the answer is yes, because the current definition of the house museum maintains that this public-private amalgam is a necessary component.
But upon closer reflection of the
definition and consideration of Ashland’s story, it is obvious that this public-private component of the house museum definition is the component that calls for the greatest clarification. As with the issue of occupancy/vacancy in relation to a house museum’s capacity to represent the past, it seems that the issue of the coexistence of public and private are at the root of a gaping imprecision in the house museum definition. The supposition that a house museum must be a public place that has ceased to be a private home is implicit, yet not articulated. The definition of the house museum as one that allows public access presumes a particular—and too limited— understanding of that public access: institutional, organized, regulated. Ashland’s history as a public destination challenges this assumption, as do the early histories of house museums such as 8
Pavoni, “Towards a Definition…”, 16.
Mount Vernon and Monticello which are examples of private occupants allowing public visitation during the time prior to their homes founding as institutional museums. Public access and private occupancy in these instances go together. While most house museums are indeed vacated and fully given over to public visitation and museum activity, Ashland’s history and Great Britain’s stately homes show that a living private residence can not only accommodate public access, but can indeed coexist with museological activity (preservation and display of collections, creation of narrative, interpretation, and guided tours). But the conception of public-private is not clear in the definition. The current idea of the house museum does not allow for just any configuration of public and private in order for a home to qualify as a house museum. The definition implies that only the home which is no longer occupied and which is subsequently institutionalized may be considered a house museum. The house museum definition presumes this particular stipulation of public-private functionality, but does not specifically verbalize it. If the definition of the house museum as presently articulated is applied to Ashland’s pre-1950 identity, Ashland indeed fits within the parameters of the definition: it was a privatepublic hybrid, it was an authorial creation, it was a historic document representing the past. If the current definition is understood at face value, pre-1950 Ashland should be classified as a house museum. But when the implicit meanings are figured in, Ashland does not fit the definition so neatly. While it is unquestionably an authorial creation, the fact that Ashland was an occupied private home excludes a number of implicit house museum characteristics: it cannot represent its domestic past if it is still serving as a residence in the present, it cannot be considered open to the public if access is not granted in a structured, institutional manner, and it cannot function museologically if it is still functioning domestically. Interpreting the definition of the house museum with its implicit meanings results in the conclusion that pre-1950 Ashland cannot, in fact, be classified as a house museum. Ashland’s story thus calls for a more precise definition of the house museum that sets forth how public access is defined and how occupancy fits into the picture. Ashland’s story also points to a wider vision for the house museum which allows for a greater diversity of types of public access, occupancy, and public-private hybrids.
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“Henry Clay’s Farm.” Niles National Register, 11 October 1845. “Mr. Clay at Home.” Green Mountain Gem; a Monthly Journal of Literature, Science and the Art, 15 July 1843, 109. “Visit to Mr. Clay at Ashland.” “C.D.S.” Niles National Register, 21 June 1845 (from New York Tribune, 25 May 1845).
James and Susan Clay era A review of The Life, Correspondence, and Speeches of HENRY CLAY by Calvin Colton. (New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1857.) The North American Review, January 1866. “A Walk to Ashland.” Baraboo, WI: Baraboo Republic, October 30, 1862. “Anti-Monumental.” The New York Daily Times, 22 June 1855. “Arrest of James B. Clay.” New York Times, 28 September 1861. “Ashland – Jas. B. Clay.” (excerpted from letter to the St. Louis Republican) Kentucky Statesman, 14 July 1857. “Ashland, the Homestead of Henry Clay, Sold…” Kentucky Statesman, 23 September 1853. “Ashland.” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, 4 July 1857. “Ceremonies Incident to Laying the Corner-stone of the Monument to Henry Clay, on the 4th of July…Tribute of Tom Marshal to Henry Clay.” Cincinnati Daily Gazette, 4 July 1857. “Death of Hon. James B. Clay.” Lexington(Ky.) Observer & Reporter, 30 January 1864. “Death of Hon. James B. Clay.” Louisville, KY: True Presbyterian. 4 February 1864. “Henry Clay’s Home and Grave.” Frankfort (Ky.) Commonwealth, 17 October 1854. “Mount Vernon As It Is.” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine 18.106 (March 1859): 433-451. “Rumored Offer to Purchase Ashland.” Frankfort (Ky.) Commonwealth, 15 September 1854. “Scenes and Incidents in the Life of Henry Clay.” Cincinnati (Oh.) Daily Gazette, 4 Jul 1857. “To Judge Thomas A. Marshall and James O. Harrison, Esq. Letter From Henry Clay’s Widow – Her Defence of Her Son.” New York Daily Times, 26 September 1856.
Wallace, Sarah Agnes. “Confederate Exiles in Canada: Last Letters of James Brown Clay, 1864, Montreal.” Register of the Kentucky Historical Society 50.170 (January 1952): 41-56.
Kentucky University era “Ashland Gardens and Green-house.” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Press, 6 July 1875. “Notes and Queries.” American Historical Record 1.12 (December 1872): 554. “Our Readers Will Learn with Pleasure that ‘Ashland’…Has Been Purchased…” Lexington (Ky.) Observer and Reporter, 17 January 1866. “Presentation. A handsome pair of fawns…” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Press, 1 February 1872. “The A. and M. College To Remain Here A Little While, Until It Is Removed.” Lexington (Ky.) Press, 20 August 1878. “The Ashland Property was conveyed…” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Press, 8 May 1871. “The Great South.” Scribner's Monthly, December 1874. “The Museum of Kentucky University.” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Press, 11 June 1872.
The McDowell era “1777 – Henry Clay – 1927.” Editorial. Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 12 April 1927. “A Dining at Ashland.” Lexington, KY: Kentucky Leader, 13 March 1890, 5. “A Pleasant Scene.” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Press, (p 1, col 2), 17 June 1877. “A Visit To Ashland, Henry Clay’s Famous Home, 100 Years Ago.” (c. 1898.) Kentucky Explorer, October 1998, 31-33. Andrews, Maude. “A Visit To Henry Clay’s Home. Something of Beautiful Ashland…” Atlanta Constitution, June, c. 1887, 2. “An Historic Neighbor.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, c. 1927. “Articles Are Approved. Henry Clay Memorial Foundation Will Seek to Buy Ashland.” Lexington, KY: unidentified newspaper, c. April 1926. “Ashland Addition to the City of Lexington.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 8 April, 1917, 8.
“Ashland The Home of Henry Clay, The Great Kentucky Commoner: It Is At Present the Residence of Colonel McDowell.” Cincinnati Commercial Tribune, 1 December 1901. “Ashland, Henry Clay’s Home, Which May Be Sold Again.” Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, 30 April 1922. “Ashland. A Visit to the Home of the Renowned Harry of the West. Reminiscences of the Past with Some Fitting Illustrations.” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Transcript, 15 May 1887, 2-3. “At Henry Clay’s Home. The Large Party Given Last Night at Ashland.” The Lexington (Ky.) Leader, 17 July 1889. Barnard, Eunice Fuller. “To Henry Clay Comes Paradoxical Fame.” New York Times, 10 April 1927, 6, 22. Bishop, Coleman. “Henry Clay.” The Chautauquan; A Weekly Newsmagazine, March 1889. Breckinridge, Sophonisba Preston. “Southern Pioneers in Social Interpretation: I. Madeline McDowell Breckinridge.” Journal of Social Forces 2.1 (November 1923): 105-110. Butler, Lorine L. “Clay’s Old Home Proposed for a Museum.” New York Times Magazine, 14 November 1926, 7, 13. “City Bond Issue Proposed to Purchase ‘Ashland’ for Public Park Purposes.” Lexington (Ky.) unidentified, undated newspaper, c. April 1926. “City May Get $300,000 Property for $200,000: Voters Asked to Decide on Bond Issue Authorizing Purchase of Additional Park Space.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 2 November 1926. “City Park Bond Proposal is Defeated…by Heavy Figure.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 3 November 1926, 1. “Clay Mansion to Be National Shrine.” Memphis, TN: The Commercial Appeal, 14 February 1926. “Clay Memorial May Be Set Up: Mrs. Bullock’s Will Outlines Shrine Plan.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, c. July 1948. “Clay’s Descendents: Most of Them Brilliant But Short-Lived.” Washington, D.C.: The Morning ___ (unidentified newspaper), 16 February 1889. “Clay’s Old Home Proposed For Museum.” New York Times Magazine, 14 November 1926.
Coleman, Chas. W., Jr. “Ashland, The Home of Henry Clay.” Century Magazine, 23.2, (December 1886): 163-170. “Death Comes To Maj. Henry Clay McDowell Early This Morning.” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Leader, 18 November 1899, 1. “Descendants Attend Henry Clay Memorial Service.” Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, c. April 1938. Duncan, Lily B. Address at the 150th Anniversary of Henry Clay’s birth, 12 April 1927. In Register of Kentucky State Historical Society 25:74 (May 1927). Dunn, C. Frank. “Original Dwelling at Ashland Built in 1789 by Elisha Winters, Merchant.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, c. 1885. “Editorial Notes.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 12 April 1904, 2. “Election Results.” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Leader, 3 November 1926, 4. “Fayette Vote By Precincts.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 3 November 1926. Foster, E. T. “The Park Bonds.” Lexington, KY: unidentified newspaper, c. October 1926. Franke, Wilhelmine. “Henry Clay’s Interest Centered on Home and Farming.” Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, 12 May 1935, 3. “General Grant. Lexington Entertains Distinguished Visitors.” Lexington (Ky.) Press, 5 June 1883. Goode, D. “Interesting History Found on a Mail Route: Distinguished Men Have Made the District Rich in Lore – Homes of Statesmen and Warriors – Facts About Early Families and Incidents of Fayette County.” Lexington, KY: Morning Herald, 1 September 1901. Harrison, J.O. “Reminiscences By His Executor.” Century Magazine, 23.2 (December 1886): 170-182. Hart, Albert Bushnell. “The American Triumvirate.” The Mentor 5.3 (15 March 1917). “Henry Clay’s Old House. Ashland the Pride of Kentucky, and Once the Property of Our Greatest Statesman, After Many Ups and Downs, Again Abloom.” Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, 25 March 1883. Hodges, Mary. “Ashland.” House and Garden 11.6 (June 1907): 213-217. “Home of Clay Tourist Mecca Hard to Find.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 10 October 1926, section 2, page 1.
Hopkins, James F. “Henry Clay, Farmer and Stockman.” The Journal of Southern History 15.1 (February 1949): 89-96. “Interesting History Found on a Mail Route.” Lexington, KY: Morning Herald, 1 September 1901, section 2, page 1. “Jottings.” Lexington (Ky.) Press, 26 July 1882. “Judge Charles Kerr to Speak at Clay Dinner…Many Expected to Make Pilgrimage to Ashland.” Unidentified Lexington (Ky.) newspaper, 8 April 1927. “Judge Wilson Confident of Bond Success.” Lexington, KY: unidentified newspaper, 1 November 1926, 1. Kay, Charles S. “Lexington, Home of Henry Clay. Some Account of a Recent Visit to That Historic City.” Unidentified newspaper article, c. 1920s. Keller, J. E. c. early 1920s. Letter to the Editor. “Suggest Henry Clay National Park for Lexington. Writer Outlines Plans for Giant Amusement Project.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, undated article, c. early 1920s. Kerr, Charles. “A Life Connecting the Past with the Present.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald. 15 April 1917. “Leaning On The Arm…Major H. C. McDowell Passes Into the Presence of His Maker.” The Lexington (Ky.) Morning Herald, 19 November 1899, 4. “Letters of Henry Clay Reveal His Intense Interest in Ashland.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 14 April c. 1920s, 3, 20. Lexington (Ky.) Daily Press article (title unknown). 22 June 1882. “Form Boosters’ Club for Memorial Fund. Transylvania Students to Aid in Fight for Bond Issue for ‘Ashland.’” Lexington, KY: unidentified newspaper, 20 October 1926. “Links With History: Grounds of a Kentucky Gold Club Once Henry Clay’s. Ashland’s Great Farm…Interesting Personality of the Great Commoner’s Nephew. Major McDowell’s Generosity.” The Chicago Tribune, 28 January 28, 188?, 42. “Located in the Loveliest Residential Section of the City.” Unidentified Lexington (Ky.) publication, c. 1926. “Major H. C. McDowell, by his purchase of Ashland…” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Press, 22 June 1882.
“Masons Seek to Have Clay Home Made a Shrine.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, undated, c. early 1920s. Massie, Robert K., “For Bond Issues.” Letter to the editor. Lexington (Ky.) Leader, 19 October 1926. McChesney, H. V. Address at the 150th Anniversary of Henry Clay’s birth, 12 April 1927. In Register of Kentucky State Historical Society 25.74 (May 1927). McClure, Col. A. K. “Lexington.” The Philadelphia Times, excerpted in the Lexington (Ky.) Weekly Press, 17 October 1883. McDowell, Madeline. “Recollections of Henry Clay.” Century Illustrated Monthly (September 1895): 765-770. Memorial to Clay is Object.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, undated, c. April 1926. Milward, Burton. “Ornate Gothic Structure Once Selected As Clay Memorial…” Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, undated, c. 1940. “Model Home is Open…” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 24 April 1927, 8. Molloy, Alice. “Home of Henry Clay.” Unidentified newspaper, c. 1900. “Move to Make Ashland Shrine Begun By Sons of Revolution.” Unidentified newspaper article, c. 1925-26, 1-2. “Mrs. Bullock Dies At Home.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 6 July 1948. “Naught But Kindliness Today.” The Lexington (Ky.) Morning Herald. 19 November 1899, 2. “Noted Stable Will Be Razed. Building on Ashland Estate to Be Destroyed to Construct Entrance for Herald Model Home.” Lexington, KY: unidentified newspaper, 30 May 1926. Nunn, Judge Clem. Address at the 50th Anniversary of Henry Clay’s birth, 12 April 1927. In Register of Kentucky State Historical Society 25.74 (May 1927). “Old Henry Clay Home in Danger as Bungalow Builders Approach It.” Columbus(Oh.)Dispatch, 6 February c. 1910s-1920s. “Olla-Podrida.” Lexington (Ky.) Morning Herald, 5 and 16 November 1898, 6. “Our Guests. International Excursionists Arrive in Lexington. Men From Three Americas Hospitably Received By Lexingtonians – Entertained in Royal Style by Major H. C. McDowell at the Home of Henry Clay.” Lexington, KY: Kentucky Leader, 4 November 1889, 1, 5.
“Out of an Era of Patriots. Ashland, Bluegrass Home of Henry Clay, Is Mellow with Age and Traditions.” Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, Society and Women’s News, 20 July 1941, section 2, page 1. “Park Ordinance Leads to Question as to Meaning.” Lexington (Ky.) Leader, 29 October 1926, 1. “Personal.” Harper’s Bazaar, 22 July 1882, 15, 29. “Personal Notes…Beautiful Reception to Mexican Veterans at Ashland…” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Leader, 11 June 1896, 3. “Plans for Buying Ashland for National Shrine to be Formulated by Committee.” Lexington, KY: unidentified newspaper, 27 February 1926, 1, 11. “Present ‘Ashland’ House is Replica of Clay’s Home.” Lexington (Ky.) Leader, 30 June 1938, section 3, page 9. “Presentation of Portrait and Pilgrimage to Ashland Mark Clay Anniversary.” (Lexington, KY: unidentified newspaper, 13 April 1927.) In Register of Kentucky State Historical Society, 25.74 (May 1927): 209-214. “Preserving Ashland.” Editorial. Louisville Herald-Post, undated, c. late 1920s. “Sale of Ashland Confirmed.” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Transcript, 7 June 1882, 4. “Sale of Ashland.” Lexington (Ky.) Daily Transcript, 1 May 1882, 4. Sherlock, Chesla C. “Homes of Famous Americans.” Fruit, Garden and Home, May 1924. “Speakers Favor Buying ‘Ashland’ as Park, Museum.” Lexington (Ky.) Leader, 28 February 28 1926. “Success Seen In Project To Save Ashland.” Lexington, KY: unidentified newspaper, c. early 1920s. “Supporters of Bond Issue Thanked by Judge Wilson.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 3 November 1926, 1. “The ‘Whist Club’ at Ashland.” Lexington (Ky.) Weekly Press, 16 May 1883. “The Duke and Duchess: Objects of Much Interest During Their Lexington Visit. Dined at Ashland…” Lexington, KY: Kentucky Leader, 16 November 1890. “The Great Statesman’s Home Life – Mrs. Clay and the Deeds of Her Great Husband – The Farm, the Stock, and the Household. Heretofore Unwritten History.” Lexington (Ky.) Transcript, May 1887.
“The Henry Clay Home.” Editorial. Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 15 December 1935. “The Home of Henry Clay.” Lexington, KY: Kentucky Leader, 26 May 1892, 6. “The Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of Henry Clay’s Birth.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 10 April 1927. “The McDowell Reception.” Lexington, KY: Kentucky Leader, 1 June 1889, 2. “The Past Stands Close to Historic Ashland.” Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, 9 July 1949. “The Wife of Henry Clay.” New York Times, 6 October 1878. Thompson, C. L. “Lexington is Hub of Blue Grass Region. Increasing Thousands Visit Metropolis of Eastern and Central Kentucky and Beautiful Surrounding Country.” The Chesapeake and Ohio and Hocking Valley Employees’ Magazine, September 1928, 8. “To Know Her Was to Love Her.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 4 February 1917, 4. Trabue, Alice Elizabeth. “Henry Clay—The Farmer, The Gardener, The Home Builder.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, undated, c. 1926, 16. Trabue, Alice Elizabeth. “Plea for Ashland.” Lexington (Ky.) Leader, 21 October 1926. “Typothetae. Distinguished Publishers and Printers Visit Lexington And Accept the Courtesies of Major H. C. McDowell…” Lexington (Ky.) Leader, 23 October 1891, 1. “Voters to Decide Fate Of Historic Clay Estate.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 4 September 1926, 1. “Will Be Preserved.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 31 July 1926, 11. Wilson, Samuel M. “Ashland Leads Man o’ War as Greatest Tourist Attraction, Wilson Declares.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 14 October 1926. ———. “‘Ashland,’ Historic Home of Henry Clay, Is Portion of McDowell Trust Estate. City Lost Opportunity in 1882.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 10 October 1926, section 2, page 1. ———. “Ashland Center of Henry Clay’s Career.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 15 April 1926, 3. ———. “Prices Asked for Ashland Park Tract Not Exorbitant, Judge Wilson Avers.” Unidentified Lexington (Ky.) newspaper, 4 October 1926. “Witnesses the Beautiful Nuptials at Old Ashland…” Lexington, KY: Kentucky News Leader, 19 April 1892, 1. Wolfe, Clarence P. “Editorial Comment.” Unidentified newspaper, date unknown (between 1920-1948).
“Would Make Henry Clay’s Old Home Museum and Park.” Unidentified newspaper article, c. February 1926.
Henry Clay Memorial Foundation era “6,000 See Barkley Dedicate Clay Memorial at Lexington.” Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, 12 April 1950. “A Historic Treasure Begins a New Life.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, 4 November 1992. “Ashland Enshrined as Memorial to Henry Clay.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 13 April 1950. “Ashland Needs Our Help.” Editorial. Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, 18 July 1989. “Ashland to Ashland. Henry Clay’s Historic Lexington Home Visited.” Ashland, KY: Sunday Independent, 7 April 2002. “Ashland To Be On Garden Club Tour.” Lexington (Ky.) Leader, 27 April 1951, 5. “At Ashland – You Can See How Henry Clay Lived.” Southern Living, April 1967, 18. Bailey, Rex. “Gypsy May Be More Human Than Cat.” Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal, 4 May 1973. Baugh, Madeleine. “About 36,000 Persons Visit Henry Clay Home Each Year: Few Lexingtonians Make Tour.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, 4 February 1973. “Chilled Crowd of 3,000 Hears Barkley Laud Henry Clay as Home is Dedicated.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 13 April 1950, 1. Clark, Thomas D. “Ashland.” Antiques, October 1978, 803-807. Cubbison, Laurie. “Ashland Worth a Second Trip After Remodeling Project.” Winchester (Ky.) Sun, Travel and Recreation, 27 April 1993. Dunn, C. Frank. “Readers’ Letters to the Herald Editor. Henry Clay and Ashland.” The Lexington (Ky.) Herald, 28 April 1950. Eckdahl, Andrew. “Most U.S. Citizens Are Well Informed About Henry Clay: 40,000 Persons Visit Kentuckian’s Home Since Opening April 12, 1950.” Lexington (Ky.) HeraldLeader, 11 January 1953. Edwards, Don. “Ashland Holds 50th Anniversary Tours.” Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, 9 April 2000.
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Internet Resources American Association of Museums web site. www.aam-us.org. Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate web site. http://www.henryclay.org Decatur House Museum web site. http://decaturhouse.org Drayton Hall web site. http://www.draytonhall.org/
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