Henry Clay made his home at Ashland for over four decades (c1809 until his death in 1852). 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 the Ashland mansion in 1805, but it is known that he occupied the estate by 1809.
Virginia-born Clay had arrived in the burgeoning frontier city of Lexington, “The Athens of the West,” in 1797 at the age of twenty. 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.” “The Sage of Ashland,” as Clay became known, always considered himself “H. Clay of Ashland”—never of Lexington. Not only did Ashland symbolize his status, his love for his estate was one of the strongest affections of his life.