Wedding of the Decade at Ashland


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YOU ARE HERE -> April 19, 1892

Nannette’s wedding gown, on display at Ashland

Henry Clay’s great-granddaughter, Nannette McDowell, was married at Ashland, her home, in one of the most celebrated weddings of 1890’s Kentucky.  The wedding of Nannette and Dr. Thomas S. Bullock was celebrated on a Tuesday and Lexington was “all agog over the pending event…the State-at-large feels an interest in this evening’s nuptials…up to 300 guests at Ashland.” [1]

Nannette and Thomas Bullock

Nannette had moved to Ashland with her family a decade before, at the age of 22.  She – as well as her sisters – married relatively late.  Madeline and Julia would also marry at Ashland, but Nannette’s wedding would, for many reasons, be the most elaborate celebration.  A local paper described the setting:

In the whole of Kentucky no more beautiful mise en scene could have been chosen for a wedding than Ashland…The event tonight is typical of the South’s best enlightenment and gracious hospitality.  Major McDowell is the very prince of entertainment…the good cheer for which he is noted will know no stint.  Yet withal an utter lack of display and ostentation characterizes every detail of the affair.  There is sumptuous, quiet simplicity everywhere…Dignity, elegance and unaffected grace will be the keynote of the festivities tonight…[2]

The wedding ceremony took place in Ashland’s drawing room, “the oaken trappings of the entire interior making an effective surrounding for the pretty scene.”  Petite Nannette wore a stunning gown of shimmering ivory with matching shoes.  (Her gown and shoes are in Ashland’s collection.)  A few years earlier, a journalist who visited Ashland described the bride-to-be: “She was slight, graceful, with auburn hair, blue eyes, a perfect oval face, a little pale and serious, save when the sweet, refined mouth breaks into a wonderful smile, between two delicious dimples.” [3]

Nannette McDowell Bullock

The many lavish wedding gifts were assembled in a chamber in the north wing of the house.

Afterward, the wedding reception occurred in an “extemporized banqueting hall running the width of the house at the back.”  The banquet table held 100 guests at a time, which suggests that the wedding meal was served in shifts.

Ashland Dining Room, commemorating Nannette’s wedding

But the most spectacular sight for the guests was the newly installed electric lighting at Ashland.  The lighting was in portions of the mansion now, but most beautifully in the wedding hall: “Electric lights will blossom from pink rosettes draping the ceiling.”  Lexington street cars would be running to Ashland all evening, the paper announced, so that locals could come by and see the amazing sight.

Detail of Nannette’s gown at Ashland

Nannette and Tom left Ashland for about a decade: moving to Louisville after their wedding, then to New Mexico.  They had their first and only child, Henry McDowell Bullock, on November 21, 1893, and returned to Lexington in 1903.  Dr. Bullock would die at Ashland in 1929, Nannette surviving him by almost twenty years.

Nannette and son Henry, c1894

[1] “Witnesses the Beautiful Nuptials at Old Ashland…” Lexington, KY: The Kentucky News Leader, April 19, 1892.

[2] “Witnesses the Beautiful Nuptials at Old Ashland…” Lexington, KY: The Kentucky News Leader, April 19, 1892.

[3] Andrews, Maude.  “A Visit To Henry Clay’s Home.” Atlanta Constitution, June, c. 1887.


Ashland’s Opening Day


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YOU ARE HERE -> 1950

April 12th is Henry Clay’s birthday – and the day chosen as Ashland’s opening as a public museum.

Ashland, the Henry Clay estate, has since the early nineteenth century been an important American historic site.  During Clay’s lifetime (1777-1852), the estate was often equated with the man and ‘Ashland’ became a household word.  After Clay’s death 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.

Even though this opening blog entry places us somewhere in the middle of Ashland’s story, it was a transformative moment in its history: the day it officially became a public place.

It was April 12th, 1950, auspiciously chosen because it was Henry Clay’s birthday.  After nearly 150 years as a private home, Ashland was officially opening its doors to the public.  Clay’s great-granddaughter Nannette McDowell Bullock, who had died in 1948, had been largely responsible for the formation of the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation and for the preservation of Clay’s beloved estate.

Henry Clay’s original farm was more than 600 acres in size, but over the century after his death in 1852, the estate had shrunk to 17 acres in the middle of a burgeoning Lexington residential neighborhood.  Fortunately, the large mansion, a great number of mature trees, and a smattering of outbuildings remained.

For Opening Day, the Foundation set out its vision for Ashland: “The Henry Clay Memorial Foundation now has the pleasurable task of opening Ashland to the nation as a public memorial.  The Foundation hopes, in the next several years, to restore the stables, ice houses, the smoke house and other outbuildings, and to develop the gardens and grounds to the point where they will not only represent the finest Clay tradition, but where Ashland will be recognized as the loveliest spot in the bluegrass of Kentucky.  The Foundation hopes, further, constantly to increase the number of Henry Clay memorabilia to the point where Ashland will be a mecca for the research scholar as well as for the patriotic American who wishes to see the home of one of America’s favorite sons.”

Prior to Opening Day, the local papers built anticipation for the event.  A year in advance, plans for the museum were coalescing.  The Lexington Leader explained that no remodeling of the mansion was planned, only “reconditioning.” Landscaping of the grounds was a priority, as well as the collection of artifacts.  Maintenance of the museum was to be financed by visitor “fees” and Foundation membership. In the days before Opening Day, the papers ran photos of Henry Clay artifacts and the progress inside the mansion.  The April 10th Lexington Leader wrote that “50 groups” of Henry Clay items had been collected by the Foundation and placed in Ashland “to furnish authentic atmosphere of the time of Henry Clay.”

Opening Day festivities opened with a parade that began at the Cheapside square downtown. Students and faculty of Henry Clay High were to be dismissed as the procession passed the school on East Main Street to join it on its final leg to Ashland.  The dedication featured concerts by the Henry Clay High School and University of Kentucky’s bands.  Mayor Tom Mooney proclaimed it “Henry Clay Day” in Lexington and urged all citizens to attend the opening.

And, on that chilly April day, thousands (estimates from 3,000-6,000) gathered on Ashland’s sprawling back lawn.  Children climbed trees to get a better view. Photographers maneuvered to get the best shots.  Keynote speaker and fellow Kentuckian, U.S. vice president Alben Barkley declared: “This fine mansion now will rank alongside Mount Vernon, Monticello, the Hermitage, and other public memorials to great men of this nation….generations to come will thank you for preserving this shrine” (Louisville Courier-Journal).

While Barkley was a draw, his glamorous wife, Jane Hadley Barkley, was a sensation: “Mrs. Barkley was on hand for the event, too, to the great delight of some 3,000 Central Kentuckians who didn’t bother to disguise that they had come to see the charming ‘Veepess’ as much as to witness the dedication….[during Mr. Barkley’s speech] the crowd gave its attention largely to her…” (Lexington Leader).

Even with the “50 groups” of Henry Clay artifacts, the mansion could not to be interpreted strictly to Clay’s era.  Not only were there not enough of Clay’s belongings extant to do so, but so many of his descendants’ objects then filled the house.  The Foundation was careful to describe Ashland’s interior as “in the spirit of Clay’s time.”  The first rooms to be opened to the public in 1950 were all on the first floor: the entrance hall, dining room, drawing room, office, library, a room dedicated to Nannette, as well as the Henry Clay bedroom.

Two Clay descendants dressed up in historic clothing from Ashland’s collection – something that current museum practice would never consider – and acted as host and hostess for the reception held in the mansion.  Mrs. Stuart Platt, a great-great-great granddaughter of Clay, wore a ruby red gown which was mistakenly thought to have belonged to Mrs. Clay, while Goodloe McDowell, a great-great grandson, wore the dashing blue and gold ceremonial jacket donned by Clay when he signed the Treaty of Ghent.  The thin and wiry Henry Clay’s jacket proved to be even too narrow for the slight Mr. McDowell; a sleeve seam was torn that day.

The McDowells Update Ashland


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YOU ARE HERE – > 1880s

It had been almost thirty years since the Ashland mansion had been rebuilt by Henry Clay’s son, James B. Clay …and the house had seen some serious wear.  Kentucky University had used the mansion for many purposes, including the housing of its sizable Natural History Museum (with accompanying taxidermy facilities) and then several tenants had occupied Ashland after the University moved away.  In 1882 when Henry Clay’s granddaughter and her husband, Anne and Major H.C. McDowell, brought the estate back into the family, it was likely in a state of disrepair.


Ashland Drawing Room, 1880s or 90s

The McDowells, like the press and the public at this time, believed that 1880s Ashland was still Henry Clay’s home.  Yet there was no question that it would serve as the McDowell family home as they modernized and remodeled to suit themselves.  They 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.  They boldly made decisions that affected the permanent structure of the mansion.

During James and Susan’s time, the rebuilding of the Ashland mansion had been the focus of controversy, but the McDowells’ sweeping 1880s remodeling was greeted with nothing but praise.  As historic interior design consultant Gail Caskey Winkler observed: the “son built,” but the “granddaughter modernized.” 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.

McDowell women with friends and family at Ashland

The McDowells were clearly unafraid to modify Ashland, even to the point of altering Clay’s Federal floor plan that James had been so careful to preserve.   A significant modification was required when the McDowells, as Caskey Winkler describes, “sacrificed the 1856 dining [breakfast] room for that most welcome of modern conveniences – indoor plumbing…”  Creating a full, modern bathroom for the family and a “water closet” for guests in a first floor passageway created the need for an alternative passage for the servants.

McDowell-era floorplan with current room labels

The new narrow service stair, which descended from the main staircase landing back into the first floor dining/breakfast room, served that need.  That room was then remodeled as the butler’s pantry.  This new service space was the “staging” area for the more elaborate formal dining that would occur in the adjacent dining room.

The domestic service wing was also altered in other ways during the McDowell period: from the installation of a servant call bell system to a water cistern (instead of the old well) to the introduction of modern kitchen appliances.

The McDowells’ updating manifested most dramatically in the replacement of the old elliptical staircase.  They installed a radically different type of staircase: oak, Eastlake style with straight flights.  They deemed James’s spiral staircase unsuitable, too narrow and awkward.  To install the new staircase, they had to completely remove the existing stairwell walls on the first and second floors with the end result an undeniably impressive, bright and open entrance hall.  The Eastlake staircase spoke more clearly to their refined taste, modernity, and desire for sophisticated hospitality.  Retaining the original staircase for preservation’s sake was not as important to the McDowells as perpetuating the tradition of grand hospitality at Ashland – and doing it with elegant style.

New staircase in entrance hall

The McDowells were interested in modernizing the mansion through the creation of a sense of spaciousness.  ‘Open planning’ was a significant architectural innovation during the 1870s and 1880s and they utilized this concept to enhance Ashland’s interior spaces.  The entrance hall, drawing room, and dining room were united—all doors open wide—as one expansive public space for entertaining.   The adjoining library and brand new glass conservatory completed this large entertainment space.  Replacing the central staircase dramatically opened up the entrance area of the house as well.  The addition of a full-length mirror in the entrance hall reflected light and gave the illusion of a larger space.

Major McDowell in entrance hall

The McDowells’ interior design transformed the mansion into a fin de siècle showcase of sophistication as they embraced a mix of decorative styles: the late-Victorian and Eastlake styles, but particularly the Aesthetic Style that was popular at the end of the nineteenth century.  Oriental carpets, “Japanesque” patterned anaglypta, potted palms, art pottery, portières, richly colored wall finishes and thinly slatted hardwood floors comprised this look—and found their places at Ashland.  They purchased fine woods for their new interiors: oak for the front hall flooring, cherry for the drawing room flooring, and walnut for the guest restroom wainscoting.

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 indoor kitchen, the McDowells would definitively 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.  Modern innovations allowed them to make Ashland a more comfortable place than it had ever been with the addition of indoor plumbing, central heating, gas (and later, electric) lighting, and telephone service [one week after the McDowells moved in, The Daily Lexington Transcript reported what must have been groundbreaking news: “Major McDowell will have a telephone line run out to Ashland” (19 January 1883)].

Because the estate was too distantly located for municipal gas service, the McDowells introduced gas lighting to Ashland through 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.

Ashland library view into billiard room – with part of gasolier visible

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… (Lexington Weekly Press, 16 May 1883).

New conservatory

Unusual Architecture and Dolphins at Ashland


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YOU ARE HERE -> 1850s

When James Clay rebuilt his father’s Ashland mansion in the 1850s, his intent was to create a tribute to Henry Clay.  James sought to create an impressive home so that they could receive the public (many of Henry Clay’s still devoted fans) and impress the world with the legacy of Henry Clay.

So James preserved significant elements of his father’s house, but adapted it to his time and aesthetic.  By the mid-1800s, the original Ashland house was of an outmoded architectural style. The original unembellished Federal design with whitewashed facade was by mid-century no longer a suitable style for such a historically significant mansion.  Since Clay’s time, tastes had changed and status was now demonstrated by way of ornamentation.

If James had wanted to perfectly reproduce his father’s home, he would have had to remain unfashionably plain in his plans.  But he did not seem to consider returning to his father’s ‘antique’ style.  This is where he left the literal Ashland behind for the spiritual Ashland, one that he envisioned as noble and world-class, a home that honored his father’s memory in the most distinguished way possible.

He had salvaged as much of the old house as possible before it was razed, saving woodwork for reuse in the new structure.  Robert Spiotta says that, “working a little like a modern preservationist, James salvaged all that he could—both in style and materials—from the old ruin and built a more permanent and worthy monument to the memory of his father.”

Architect Thomas Lewinski managed a complex feat of design 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.  He utilized the same massing as the original structure: a pedimented center pavilion on the two-story main block with low pedimented end pavilions connected by wings. The new house rests on a rusticated stone basement just as the original had.  He also borrowed most of the major features of the original façade.

The new roofline followed the original, the windows positioned in the same locations, and the small round window in the front gable borrowed from the old.  The bayed entrance with colonnetted doorway and a fanlight in the polygonal projection and the balcony with a Palladian window directly above it closely quoted the originals.  But the new structure featured high, browed windows in the Italianate style, enlarged and thickened cornices with supporting brackets, elaborated chimneys, prominent rusticated quoins, a service porch, and iron balconies and porches.  The entire effect of the combination Federal-Italianate architecture was decidedly unusual, but successful.

And James decided to add a touch of whimsy to Ashland’s exterior, features that still delight visitors to Ashland today: cast iron downspouts in the form of heraldic dolphins.  They may have been inspired by similar downspouts found on early nineteenth-century homes in Savannah, Georgia. The 1813 Oliver Sturges House in Savannah also features them.

From Fictitious and Symbolic Creatures in Art by John Vinycomb:

The heraldic dolphin…is an ornamental monstrosity bearing but slight resemblance to the natural form of this celebrated historic marine symbol… Like its near relative the porpoise, it is an air-breathing animal; its apparent gambollings on the water may, therefore, be more truly attributed to its breathing and blowing whilst in pursuit of its prey…Torqued… from the Latin torquere, to twist…bent in the form of the letter S, turning contrary ways at each bending; …As signifying the conquest of the sea, it appears in the shields of many seaport cities.

And, curiously, two chairs that James and Susan used in the house, which remain at Ashland today, have backs with interlocking dolphins.

One of the mysteries of Ashland: precisely what the dolphin symbols meant to James and Susan….

For more about heraldic dolphins:

For more about James’s rebuilding, see Robert S. Spiotta, “Remembering Father: James Brown Clay, Merchants, Materials, and A NewAshland.” (MA Thesis, Cooper-Hewitt Museum and The Parsons School of Design, 1990).

For more about Ashland architecture, see 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.

Clay Family Loses Ashland, University of Kentucky Predecessor Moves In


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YOU ARE HERE -> 1860s

Although Ashland had survived its first transfer of ownership (from Henry Clay’s widow Lucretia to his son James), 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.

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 (land grant) Agricultural and Mechanical College and a merger with Transylvania University.  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.  In February of 1866 Bowman purchased for the Kentucky University/A & M campus both the Ashland estate for $90,000 and the adjoining Woodlands estate (which had belonged to Henry Clay’s daughter and son-in-law, Anne Brown Clay and James Erwin) for $40,000, a total of 433 acres for $130,000.   These two properties joined the existing downtown Transylvania campus.

The Lexington Observer & Reporter applauded the purchase, saying that the University “will do credit to our State, and serve as a monument to the memory of Mr. Clay.”  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 thoroughfare and virtually everyone knew how to find Ashland.  It would have been impossible to produce such a fine physical setting for the University campus elsewhere.

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, as he described it in 1866:  “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…”

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; 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” (c1870s unidentified newspaper).  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.”  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…” (Scribner’s Monthly, December 1874).

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.  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.

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 at that point no inkling that Ashland would return to the private ownership of a Clay heir nor that it would eventually serve as a public memorial to Henry Clay…

An American History Museum …In Henry Clay’s House


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YOU ARE HERE -> up to 1852

Ashland’s history is unique in the world of historic house museums in that there was a very early and unusual practice of displaying artifacts for a public audience …within Ashland, while it was still a private dwelling.  Henry Clay himself initiated a particular manner of presenting the past in his home.

Henry Clay. 1861 engraving of painting by Alonzo Chappel.

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 consistently 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 nineteenth-century 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.  But reverencing 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…” (“Spinning the Revolution.”  New York Times, 4 July 2006).

The United States of Clay’s lifetime was not as enthusiastically patriotic as might be expected.  Michael 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) (Mystic Chords of Memory. The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 1991).  Yet, he 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.”

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.  The original handwritten Address had been put up for sale by 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.

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? (From Clay’s Comment to the Senate, 31 March 1848).

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.”

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 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…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. (Comment to the Senate, 31 March 1848.)

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.

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.

Memorializing George 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.

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 “‘greatest treasure’” for an 1847 visitor.   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.  Nearly every visitor recalled the huge picture and gazed upon it “with renewed respect and well nigh reverence.” [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.]

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.  The varied visitors’ accounts taken together provide a fuller 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…”  This large collection on display caused some visitors to claim that Ashland seemed like “a veritable museum of gifts.”  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.”

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.  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.

By the creation of his national history collection, Clay created something of a 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, which was key to his work in the present.  His relics and his legacy would form the basis of the museological collection that would be displayed at Ashland to the present day.

Reclaiming The Grandeur of Clay’s Estate


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YOU ARE HERE -> 1880s-1940s

Thirty years after Henry Clay’s death, after the ravages of time, war, and use by the state college had taken their toll on the 324-acre Ashland estate, granddaughter Anne Clay McDowell returned to the family’s hallowed grounds.  She and Major McDowell transformed Ashland, providing Clay’s old estate its new public face.  They believed that Ashland belonged to the public as a living memorial to Henry Clay.

Ashland’s front lawn, 1905

As with the house, the McDowells chose not to fix the grounds and farm in a former moment in time, as a replica of Clay’s.  They instead intended to capture the best of the spirit of the past and customize it for themselves and their times.  They also intended to evoke Clay’s memory at every turn.

They planted and replaced trees, hedges, vines, and flowers – beautifying the entire place.  The lawn was said to have looked like “emerald velvet.”  They made countless improvements to the Ashland grounds, so much that Elbert Hubbard, when visiting in 1898, observed, “…Ashland is probably in better condition today than when Henry Clay worked and planned, and superintended its fair acres.  The place has seen vicissitudes since the body of the man who gave it immortality lay in state here…”

Henry Clay Walk

Yet the McDowells never failed to emphasize to the press and public the connections between Ashland’s physical surroundings and Henry Clay.  Despite the myriad of McDowell improvements, alterations, and differences, the perceived resemblance between the McDowells’ and Henry Clay’s farms invariably became the focus of every published description.  The grounds and the farming operations were consistently described as a continuation of Henry Clay’s Ashland, in effect erasing from public memory the intervening decades.

Only months after the McDowells’ arrival, the estate was said to have been in impressive shape and dramatically evoking Clay’s memory.  A journalist described his 1883 visit to Ashland in the Philadelphia Times:

The capacious grounds are a forest of shade, variegated in type and threaded with walks and drives, and beautiful with shrubs and flowers.  It is a home worthy of Henry Clay, and that exhausts eulogy.  Colonel [sic] McDowell inherited Clay’s love for horses, and his stable would have delighted Clay…All that is about Ashland has the appearance of grandeur.  Its gently undulating fields…the high bred cattle grazing on the bluegrass coated lawns, and the primeval forests which freshen the fascinating landscape and stand as sentinels over the bountiful fields, all tell why the home of Henry Clay was to him the dearest spot of earth.

Dogwood and myrtle. From Country Homes, 1905

Another visitor believed that he was seeing the original Ashland:

…the general appearance of Ashland is unchanged…the walk of Mr. Clay, where he ‘thought up’ some of his most celebrated speeches; the dairy, where Mrs. Clay continued through half a hundred years to keep her milk and butter; the old pigeon house, the cottage, cabins, walks and trees, are still as they were in the days of the orator’s lifetime, and it is hoped will remain unchanged and undisturbed for many generations to come. (Lexington Daily Transcript, 15 May 1887.)

More than James and Susan, the McDowells viewed Ashland’s grounds—especially “Clay’s Walk”—as a precious and perpetual memorial to Henry Clay.  The Henry Clay Walk was a winding path, circumscribing the back lawn, that Clay was said to have frequently strolled while busy contemplating the issues of his time and planning his speeches.  The McDowells restored and publicized it, now the primary highlight of the Ashland grounds.  A 1934 visitor described this hallowed feature: “The whole place is delightfully redolent of the great man who was its founder.  His favorite promenade, a serpentine walk wandering beneath an avenue of pines and cedars, with here and there a redbud or dogwood, has been preserved intact.”

The walking path most of all provided a tangible link to Henry Clay because his feet had actually trod there.  It evoked a vision of lofty inspiration.  A writer for House and Garden magazine described what she saw in 1907: “The pathway of tan-bark, where Mr. Clay’s biographers love to picture him walking with bowed head deeply engrossed in affairs of state, is left intact.”

Unidentified person on Henry Clay Walk

The Walk was also highlighted when a writer for the Atlanta Constitution visited in June 1887.  She was treated to a tour of the house by “…[great-granddaughter] Miss Nannette McDowell, whom we found at home to do the honors of the mansion…‘I’m sorry to say,’ she said, as she showed us through the rooms, ‘that we haven’t many relics of Henry Clay to show you, as my aunt has most of them, but you can see how the house was arranged and,’ pointing out to the side, ‘that was his favorite walk.’”

By the McDowells’ time, Henry and Lucretia Clay’s kitchen and flower gardens had suffered neglect for decades and, in some cases, had been nearly obliterated during the nineteenth century.  But around the turn of the twentieth century, the McDowells sought to restore them.  Nannette told Alice Trabue in 1923 that her mother, Anne, had twenty years earlier revived Henry and Lucretia’s formal garden.  A 1939 visitor reported that “the interest of Mrs. Clay in her flower garden is not forgotten.”  But, although Nannette tried to keep up the garden after her mother, that original garden seems largely to have disappeared by the 1940s.

Major McDowell’s horse farm was frequently compared to Henry Clay’s.  But again, the McDowells had updated and focused the Ashland farm to fit their needs.  Instead of the great variety of blooded livestock of Clay’s original farm, the Major developed a first-class standardbred breeding establishment, concentrating his efforts on the trotting horse.  They renovated the large A & M mechanical building for use as “one of the most complete stables in the nation” with stalls and an indoor track for exercising their horses.  One visitor observed that this was where “100 splendid horses are housed, and tended like 100 royal people…”

Horse stable

The Major’s distinguished standardbred operation was seen as maintaining the legacy of Henry Clay’s estate:

Indeed it is believed that Mr. Clay intended that Ashland, though a great retreat for the man who preferred being right to president, should be a breeding establishment.  In any event from the time it was laid out up to the present, with the exception of the few years when owned by the Kentucky University, it has been used as such…It was here that until his death a year ago, Major H. C. McDowell, grandson-in-law of Mr. Clay, maintained the place’s reputation with a collection of stallions and brood mares that will make live for many years the glory of the nation’s greatest legislator…(R.E. Hughes and C.C. Ousley in  Kentucky the Beautiful, c1900).

Famous standardbred, Dictator, purchased by Major McDowell in 1883

The McDowells adapted the grounds in grand style to create the ‘good life’ at Ashland.  When tennis became the rage, they demonstrated their fashionable taste by installing two of the first tennis courts in Kentucky upon Henry Clay’s “pleasure lawn.” Major McDowell authorized the development of a golf course at Ashland, “on the grounds made sacred to Kentuckians as the home of Henry Clay,” to accommodate the Lexington Golf Club, of which he was a member.  Lorraine Seay later claimed that the open space had once been a bowling green.

While the McDowells played tennis, golfed, bred and raced horses, the public continued to come desiring only to breathe the hallowed air and walk the historic paths of Henry Clay’s estate.

Tennis on Ashland’s back lawn

Messy Generational ‘Layers’ Complicate Museum’s Task


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YOU ARE HERE -> 1950s

Historic house museums often face difficult decisions regarding which period of the house’s history to interpret.  This interpretive decision has proven to be a most complicated issue at Ashland.  Not only is Henry Clay’s original house gone, but five generations of his family occupied the estate and much of the remaining evidence of those generations remains at Ashland.

Great-great grandson Henry McDowell Bullock, with McDowell-era clock, c1950s

Historic house museums “are not always frozen as their last occupants left them,” as William Seale says.   “Their long histories have shown that to be impossible.” (Of Houses & Time: Personal Histories of America’s National Trust Properties, 1992).  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…”

While Henry Clay has been 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 over-simplify Ashland’s story and to interpret it very narrowly.

In the 1950s when the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation wanted to emphasize that Ashland was the ‘real’ Henry Clay house, the solution was to gloss over (the many) non-Henry Clay realities.  Mrs. Seay and her colleagues must have recognized the impossibility of manifesting Clay’s early nineteenth-century environment, but the ideal of the “Great Man” memorial clung fiercely.  “Great Man” house museums, as Charlotte Smith labeled them, were the once ubiquitous patriotic shrines memorializing prominent white males, such as Mount Vernon and Monticello.

Lorraine Seay conducts a tour, Ashland drawing room, 1957

Probably with these ideals in mind, the Foundation hired Richard S. Hagen, a historical consultant recommended by the National Trust, to conduct a survey of Ashland.  Hagen was to provide recommendations for a period-proper restoration in preparation for great-great grandson Henry Bullock’s departure in 1959.

Hagen’s 1958 recommendations were adamantly in favor of returning the house to its pre-1850s, Henry Clay-era, 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 to the mansion.  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.

Ashland facade, featured in a local business Christmas greeting

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.”

Hagen felt very strongly that all things post-Clay 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.   Another 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 be 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.

Nannette Bullock room, c1960s

While funding likely drove ideology in this case, perhaps the Foundation in some way wanted to maintain the multi-era interpretation.  By 1961 and the execution of the second-floor restoration, Hagen had resigned himself to the “compromised” interpretation, as he wrote to Mrs. Seay: “…presentation of the house as representing many generations of the Clay family will continue…”

The Origins of Kentucky University and The Kentucky A&M …and How They Came to Ashland


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Founder and Regent of Kentucky University, John Bryan Bowman (1824-1891) held a lofty vision for higher education in Kentucky and was devoted to the ideal of egalitarian education, proclaiming, “I want to build up a People’s Institution, a great university eventually accessible to the poorest boy in all the land…”[1]

John Bryan Bowman

Bowman was a man of energetic determination and a finely-honed gift of persuasion, repeatedly raising enormous sums of money and convincing many of the need for a great Kentucky university.  Bowman’s plans for his university were big and bold, even though Kentucky had so far lagged behind other states in education.  Bowman fully expected his new university to attain a first-class national reputation: “…we would not be deemed arrogant in proposing to build, upon a more modern basis, an Institution equal to any in America…with a high grade of scholarship…”[2]

Kentucky University, a private, sectarian institution situated in Harrodsburg, was officially formed in 1858 and opened in the fall of 1859 (emerging from the defunct Bacon College, 1836-1850).  It survived the war years, but didn’t survive in its location in Harrodsburg when its main building was destroyed by fire in 1864 and Bowman couldn’t procure enough land to expand and develop the University there.

The University’s Board decided that the permanent location of the University would be moved to a community that would subscribe at least $100,000 for it.  Louisville and Covington made proposals.  And Transylvania University in Lexington (established 1798) – which had proposed a merger with Kentucky University four years earlier – renewed its offer.[3]

Transylvania’s original main building, downtown Lexington

Three years prior to this, President Lincoln signed into law the Morrill Act, which allotted states public land or equivalent “land scrip” to generate endowment funds for schools, particularly Agricultural and Mechanical colleges, to teach practical skills instead of the customary curricula based on the classics. Kentucky’s participation in the Morrill grant program was tardy due to the war and heavy debt, inducing the State Legislature to consider refusing it altogether.

But Bowman stepped in.  He made his proposal: that Transylvania and Kentucky Universities would merge and take on the A & M College as a part of the new enlarged University, that it would be located in Lexington, and that the University Board would faithfully execute the intent of the Morrill Act.[4]

The bill was passed to create the Kentucky Agricultural and Mechanical College as a part of Kentucky University. [5]  Although organized under the private, sectarian Kentucky University, Kentucky A & M was Kentucky’s land grant college.[6]

The Ashland mansion depicted during Kentucky University’s tenure

Now that Transylvania’s campus was part of the new vision, Bowman searched to find a farm in or near Lexington with appropriate buildings to 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.[7]  This was a decision widely applauded by citizens who saw it as a noble use of Henry Clay’s historic homestead and a source for continued pride within the community.

A letter written by an unidentified person, prior to Susan Clay’s 1866 sale of Ashland, was sent to Susan’s brother and trustee of her estate, Thomas Jacob.  The writer provides an argument for Kentucky A & M’s establishment at Ashland.  It is quite possible the letter was written by John B. Bowman in an effort to convince Jacob to sell the estate: “…it would place Ashland where it may be supposed the friends of Henry Clay would prefer to see it, in the hands of the state rather than in the possession of some unknown individual.” [8]

The “hands of the state” refers to the Kentucky Agricultural & Mechanical College’s funding specifically as the land-grant college of the Commonwealth, because its umbrella institution, Kentucky University, was a privately funded, denominationally-affiliated establishment.

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.”[9]  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 made over the course of 47 years.  The maturing landscape with its exceptional variety of fine trees, shrubs, lawns, flowers and gardens was a tremendous gift to the new College.  The estate was ideally located a short distance from town on a main thoroughfare and everyone knew where Ashland was located.  It would have been impossible to reproduce such a fine physical setting.

In February of 1866 Bowman purchased both the Ashland estate for $90,000 and the adjoining Woodlands estate for $40,000[10], for the Kentucky University A & M campus, a total of 433 acres for $130,000.[11]

The Ashland and Woodlands estates that Kentucky University purchased in 1866

[1] John D. Wright Jr.  Transylvania: Tutor to the West.  Lexington, KY: Transylvania University, 1975, 198.

[2] Henry Milton Pyles.  “The Life and Work of John Bryan Bowman.”  (Diss., University of Kentucky, 1944), 25.

[3]Transylvania University endeavored to bring the University to Lexington in 1860, but Bowman was opposed to it at the time because he expected to secure the Harrodsburg Springs property. – Pyles 36-37.

[4] Pyles 52.

[5] Pyles 52.

[6] Carl B. Cone. The University of Kentucky: A Pictorial History.  (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1989), 3.

[7] Pyles 65.

[8] Undated and unsigned letter known to have been sent to Thomas Jacob. From Library of Congress, Collections of the Manuscript Division; a reproduction in the Ashland archives.  It is in currently unrecognizable handwriting, but the point of view of the letter implies someone whose interest lies with the College, if not Bowman, perhaps a member of the University Board of Curators.

[9] Lexington Observer & Reporter, January 17, 1866.

[10] The Woodlands had belonged to Henry Clay’s daughter and son-in-law, Anne Brown Clay and James Erwin.

[11] James F. Hopkins,  The University of Kentucky: Origins and Early Years. Lexington,KY:University of Kentucky Press, 1951 67.  Kiesel puts the amount at $147,000, 106.  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.

An Early Christmas at Ashland


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While Henry Clay had not been home for many Christmases at Ashland due to Congress being in session, once James and Susan Clay come to Ashland in the 1850s, we begin to get details of how Christmas was celebrated at the estate.

James had rebuilt the Ashland mansion between 1855 and 1856 and letters reveal that the family was indeed moved in by Christmas of 1856.  Susan and her siblings corresponded about that Christmas Day.

In their letters, they relayed that the parlor contained the family piano and upon it Christmas presents were arranged.  Down the stairs came “six or seven little urchins,” wild with excitement.  Those ‘urchins’ were twelve-year-old Lucy, ten-year-old Jimmy, eight-year old John, seven-year-old Harry, five-year-old TeeTee, three-year-old Tommy, and one-year-old Sukie.  Susan was pregnant with their eighth child.

James, Susan, and family on Ashland’s front porch

The children tried to figure out which presents belonged to them, but they had to have breakfast before digging into the gifts.  Father James added to the excitement by handing out gold coins to the children for proficiency in their studies: two gold dollars to Lucy, John, and Harry, and one to Jimmy.

As Susan wrote to her sister describing this first Christmas at Ashland, Santa Claus appeared,

…under a beautiful Christmas tree covered with light, candies, oranges, apples, grapes, misseltoe [sic], and holly.  All of us went forward and all bowed with much politeness to old Santa Clause [sic], who returned our salutation and handed me a folded sheet of paper.  We then bowed ourselves out of the room and shut the door so as to give the old fellow and opportunity to make his exit up the chimney and then all crowded round me to see what it was that he had given to me.  I found that it was  a letter which Santa Clause had written to the children and I read it aloud to them…

James and Susan’s parlor doors, closed (almost always open at Ashland today)

After I got through with the letter the parlor door was again opened and there was a general rush to the tree and then such a scene, such noise, and such confusion and none would rest until the presents were distributed and then after they had time to admire their own and every body else’s they returned to the dining room and passed the evening dancing and playing and every now and then rushing into the parlor to admire the tree and presents and where the boys took the liberty of kissing the girls under the miseltoe [sic].

I love to see children happy particularly at Christmas and I enter very cordially into their happiness.  I wish particularly that my own children when they are grown and perhaps scattered over the face of the earth, may look back with pleasure to the days when they were all united under their Father’s roof and felt that they had much happiness there.

– Susan Clay to her sister Lucy Jacob, 17 January 1857.  From The Family Legacy of Henry Clay: In the Shadow of a Kentucky Patriarch, by Dr. Lindsey Apple

James, Susan and their family enjoyed too short a time at Ashland – and a tenure that increased in sorrow.  Last baby, Nathaniel, had died in May of 1862.  And Christmas 1862 was the last that daughters Lucy and Sukie would celebrate; they both would die of diphtheria in 1863.   Christmas 1862 was also the last that Susan and the remaining children would ever spend at Ashland because Susan began her journey late in 1863 to reunite with her husband in Canada.  James was dying of tuberculosis and she would be with him at his death bed in January of 1864.

Christmas at Ashland drawing by 7-year-old Sukie, 1862

Many thanks to Ashland docent Charlie Muntz for his excellent research.  See:  The Filson Magazine (Fall 2005). “Browsing In Our Archives, Christmas at Ashland,” by James J. Holmberg.