Come Along on A Vintage Tour of Ashland

YOU ARE HERE -> 1950s-1980s

From 1950 through the 1980s Director Lorraine Seay welcomed guests to Ashland at her desk in the front hall where registration was required.  In the case of large groups, she would greet them from the front doorstep, from which they would be led through the house by tour guides.

Smaller groups were often allowed to freely wander through the house, limited only by the barriers erected in many of the rooms and the 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.

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 through the mansion 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

On to the Drawing Room…

View into the Drawing Room
Drawing Room, 1978

Directly into the Library…

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

The Day Nursery…

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

The Henry Clay Bedroom…

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

Then 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

On to the Master Bedroom…

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

And the Nursery…

Nursery, c1960s, now known as the Dressing Room

Next, the Ash Bedroom…

Ash Bedroom, 1978, now known as the Nursery

And the Children’s Bedroom…

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

Down the main stairs to the exterior – 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 in the 1960s-70s was Gypsy the cat.  Gypsy lived for fourteen years in the mansion until her death in 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-Journal in 1973.  Mrs. Seay considered Gypsy a person and a relative of Clay’s.  She insisted: “She must be related to Henry Clay, because he was such a charmer.”  Mrs. Seay even dubbed her “Assistant Curator.”

Newspaper photo of Gypsy the Cat at Ashland

Gypsy had her own special chair by Mrs. Seay’s desk.  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— “‘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.


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