Come Along on A Tour of Ashland

YOU ARE HERE -> 1950s-1980s

From 1950 through the 1980s Lorraine Seay welcomed guests to Ashland at her desk in the front hall where registration was required or, in the case of large groups, she would greet them from the front doorstep.  The large groups would be led through the house by tour guides, but smaller groups of visitors were often allowed to freely wander through the house, limited only by the barriers erected in many of the rooms and closed doors that delineated off-limits rooms.   The second floor of the mansion was closed to the public until 1962 after descendant Henry Bullock had moved out.  SEE ALSO: New Life as a House Museum: Just Like a Real Home and Interpreting Henry Clay in a Charming Home Environment.

Mrs. Seay (far left) at front door of Ashland, 1975

From extant documents and first-person recollections, we know that one route of the 1960s-1980s guided tour went as follows:

After registering or getting tickets at Mrs. Seay’s desk…

Mrs. Seay at front desk, 1953

Proceed to the Dining Room…

View into Dining Room, late 1980s
Mrs. Seay in Dining Room, 1951

Drawing Room…

View into the Drawing Room
Drawing Room, 1978


Library, c1980s
View from Library into Lady's Parlor (or Nannette McDowell Bullock Memorial Room), now known as the Billiard Room

The north wing of the house presented the next three rooms: the Lady’s Parlor…

Lady's Parlor (or Nannette McDowell Bullock Memorial Room), 1978, now known as the Billiard Room

Day Nursery…

Day Nursery (more current view), now known as the Morning Room

Henry Clay Bedroom…

Henry Clay Bedroom, 1978, now known as the Ash Bedroom

Walking back toward the Entrance Hall, the tour went through the Museum Room…

Museum Room, now known as the Henry Clay Study

Up the main stairs to the Sitting Room…

Entrance Hall and main staircase (photo from early 1990s)
Sitting Room on second floor, c1960s
Sitting Room on second floor, 1960s

Master Bedroom…

Master Bedroom, 1978, now known as the Henry Clay Bedroom


Nursery, c1960s, now known as the Dressing Room

Ash Bedroom…

Ash Bedroom, 1978, now known as the Nursery

Children’s Bedroom…

Mrs. Seay in Bedroom or Children's Room, c1960s, now known as the Daughters' Room

Down the main stairs and outside – to view the kitchen and the outbuildings from the side porch.

Side porch, 1975
Kitchen, c1970s, now the Exhibit Room

One highlight of visiting Ashland was Gypsy the cat who lived for fourteen years in the mansion (until 1976).  She became quite well-known and “people…are disappointed if Gypsy does not meet them at the door…,” Mrs. Seay told the Louisville Courier-Journalin 1973.  Mrs. Seay considered her a person and a relative (“She must be related to Henry Clay, because he was such a charmer”) and dubbed her “Assistant Curator.”

Gypsy the Cat at Ashland

Gypsy had her own special chair by Mrs. Seay’s desk and she followed tours through the house and would “tug at the draperies” for attention, distracting visitors: “I’d lose them,” Mrs. Seay said of her tour groups, “they would want to know about the cat.”  Gypsy’s picture postcard was the largest selling after tours.  But this living novelty— as Mrs. Seay called her: “‘Henry Clay’s cat ‘in her ninth life’”—was good for attendance.  Mrs. Seay told Southern Living in 1968 that Gypsy served as surprise entertainment for “people who may have thought they were just going to tour the 157-year-old home of the distinguished Kentucky statesman.”  Gypsy died in 1976 and mourning fans raised money for a small tombstone, erected where the popular cat was buried under the larch tree on the front lawn, as if she had been a member of the Clay family.

5 thoughts on “Come Along on A Tour of Ashland

  1. Thank you for the wonderful tour of Ashland in days gone by! Mrs. Seay was surely a colorful character! A great tour from start to finish, very informative 🙂

  2. Wendy, so much fun to see these old pictures again..and a few I had not seen before! We sure have changed a lot at Ashland. No more kitties running through the house, that’s for sure!

  3. Wow. So much has changed. I would certainly enjoy having feline company at work. This is an excellent compilation and shows an evolution of the house that we can all feel proud of.

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