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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.  No biographer can give Ashland short shrift.  But, until Ashland curator Eric Brooks’ 2007 pictorial biography of Ashland—the first book exclusively dedicated to Ashland’s full two-century history—no complete institutional history had been attempted.[1]

Aerial view of Ashland

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-institutional 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.[2]  Amelia Clay Van Meter Rogers’s 1934 master’s thesis provided a look at Ashland’s history up to the early twentieth century.[3]  Great great-grandson and last family resident, Henry McDowell Bullock, wrote a brief personal view of Ashland’s history in 1951.[4]

Ashland historic marker

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),[5] Ashland’s equine legacy (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),[6] farming and slavery at Ashland (Richard Troutman’s work in the 1950s),[7] the growth and subdivision of the Ashland estate (Richard Bean’s 1980 study, “A History of the Henry Clay Family Properties”),[8] and the 1850s rebuilding of the Ashland mansion (Robert Spiotta’s 1990 thesis, “Remembering Father: James Brown Clay, Merchants, Materials, and A New Ashland”).[9]  Research into Ashland’s archeological and Civil War-era history is ongoing.

With my 2008 MA thesis, Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate, As House Museum: Private Home and Public Destination, I began exploring the full history of this historic site.  There is more research to be done, of course.   I am working on a full manuscript to submit to the University Press of Kentucky in 2012.  The story of Ashland is fascinating and needs to be told.

Thanks for reading this blog!

Ashland after ice storm '09


[1] Eric Brooks. Images of America: Ashland the Henry Clay Estate.  Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2007.

[2] 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.

[3] Rogers, Amelia Clay Van Meter.  “Ashland, The Home of Henry Clay.”  MA thesis, University of Kentucky, 1934.

[4] Henry McDowell Bullock.  “The Story of Ashland.” c. 1951. Addendum, 21 September 1951.  Ashland archives.

[5] 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.  Ashland archives.

[6] 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.

[7] 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.

[8] Richard M. Bean, “A History of the Henry Clay Family Properties.” 20 August 1980.  Ashland archives.

[9] 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.

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