Frankfort, KY Part I: Liberty Hall
Frankfort, KY - Events of Friday, August 3, 2012
After picking up the motor home from Bluegrass Trucks on Wednesday, we chose not to do anything except chill out around the motor home all day Thursday. By Friday, we felt like doing some sightseeing. Unfortunately, Friday turned out to be a cloudy, rainy day; but our time in Frankfort was winding down, so we pressed on with our sightseeing plans in spite of the weather.
There are numerous things to see and do in both Frankfort and nearby Lexington, but we decided to limit our sightseeing to Frankfort since our remaining time in the area was short. We zeroed in on Liberty Hall Historic Site, which is the location of two historic houses in the old section of downtown Frankfort. Since rain was threatening, we thought indoor house tours would be a good idea.
The first of the two houses is Liberty Hall, which was built by John Brown over a period of several years starting in 1797. John Brown was a politician and statesman who was instrumental in the creation of the state of Kentucky.
Since his older son Mason would inherit Liberty Hall, John Brown divided the property in 1835 and built a second house for the younger of his two sons, Orlando. We'll have a little more on the Orlando Brown House a little later in this post.
John Brown was born in 1757 in Virginia and was the son of a Presbyterian minister. Brown studied law at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), at the college of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA, and at the law office of Thomas Jefferson in Charlottesville, VA.
John Brown served in the Virginia State Senate from 1783 until 1788. He was also sent by Virginia as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1787 and 1788. After the U. S. Constitution became effective, Virginia elected John Brown to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1789 where he introduced a petition for Kentucky statehood. Kentucky was originally a part of Virginia. After Kentucky became a state in 1792, Brown resigned as a representative to U. S. House from Virginia and was elected a U. S. Senator from Kentucky. While he was a senator, Brown moved to what was then the frontier town of Frankfort, KY.
John Brown was still a bachelor when he began building Liberty Hall in 1796. It was one of the earliest brick homes in Frankfort, and the bricks were fired locally from clay dug from the cellar. At the time, it must have seemed a very lavish house with most homes in the area being of log construction.
Brown married Margaretta Mason in 1799, and the couple moved into Liberty Hall even though the house did not yet have glass in the windows. The window openings were probably covered by something like translucent, oiled paper, plus there were shutters they could use for really inclement weather. Glass, which was manufactured in Pittsburgh, was finally installed in 1804. John and Margaretta had 5 children; but only two of them, Mason and Orlando, survived to adulthood.
Our tour guide was the Tour Administrator, so she really had a lot of knowledge and her enthusiasm was contagious. We started our tour under a gnarled catalpa tree in front of Liberty Hall. The tree was growing there when John Brown first purchased the property.
A second catalpa was planted from a seed pod from the first in 1900 (to the left in the foreground in the photo below), and the branches of the two trees intertwine.
As we entered the front door, our guide pointed out the original locks on the doors that were still in excellent operating condition.
Liberty Hall remained in the hands of descendants of John Brown until his great-grand- daughter passed away in 1934. The house was then sold to a group of concerned citizens who formed a non-profit organization called Liberty Hall, Inc., which opened the house as a museum in 1937.
The structure itself has been stabilized and restored, and the interior is early in the process of being renovated. Some original furniture has been donated to Liberty Hall by family members, but it is from various time periods throughout the home's history. Photography without flash is permitted, so you will see in the following several photos that furnishings are fairly sparse.
Period wallpaper has been hung in the parlor. Carpeting and drapes will be next. In the photo below, a sample of the proposed carpet lies in front of the fireplace.
The master bedroom was on the first floor.
Also on the first floor was John Brown's office where his portable desk is displayed with copies of letters he sent to Thomas Jefferson. As we mentioned, Brown studied law with Jefferson, and Brown continued to correspond with Thomas Jefferson over the years. Thomas Jefferson advised John Brown on the construction of Liberty Hall, and may have actually done some of the design work himself.
We also got to see the ballroom, guest rooms and kids' rooms on the second floor.
The kitchen wasn't a totally separate building like it was in many homes of the time, but it was in a wing separated from the main house by a porch. Liberty Hall has cooking demonstrations in the kitchen once a month.
They had an interesting display on the table in the kitchen. The dark block with the embossed pattern to the left is pressed tea leaves. Pieces were broken off and added to hot water to steep. The blue-wrapped cones are sugar, and the item in front of the sugar is a sugar nipper. It was used to pinch off small pieces of sugar from the solid cones. Although the sugar cones were displayed with the tea, it is likely the tea would have been sweetened using honey.
There is a garden area behind Liberty Hall that extends a couple hundred yards to the Kentucky River. It had started to rain, so we didn't spend much time exploring the garden.
From the garden, we walked to the other end of the block to the Orlando Brown House. As we mentioned, John Brown divided his property and built this house so both his sons would have an equal inheritance, although the Orlando Brown House isn't built on quite as grand a scale as Liberty Hall.
Descendants of Orlando Brown lived in the house until 1955. When his last remaining descendant passed away, she left the house to the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Kentucky (NSCDA-KY), and the Orlando Brown house was opened to the public the same year. The Orlando Brown house looks a bit more finished inside than Liberty Hall, although some restoration is needed and it is also sparsely furnished.
We were the only ones on the tour and were able to ask lots of questions, so we got a lot of interesting information. Our tour lasted a lot longer than we thought, but we still had a couple of things we wanted to do before the day was over. We'll tell you about them in our next post.