Kentucky's Bluegrass is an exceptional place. Truly, it is. Whereas the state, as a whole, tends to suffer from both poverty and architectural impoverishment (like much of the South), the triangle of fertile farmland lying between Louisville, Maysville, and Stanford shelters what may be the finest concentration of antebellum buildings west of the Appalachians. Like quasi-Jeffersonian villas? You'll find them here. Multi-pen log structures? Ditto. Greek Revival temples? Likewise. Sprawling Italianate mansions? Yep. The region's incredible agricultural prosperity produced an incredible building stock — and one (seemingly) little-blunted by the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Jessamine County sits at the southern edge of the so-called Inner Bluegrass, the central and most wealthy portion of the broader Bluegrass area. (Here lies Lexington, the "Athens of the West.") Not terribly far from the Lexington city boundary exists the Golf Club of the Bluegrass, which occupies a rural estate once known as Woodland. Woodland, along with many other Jessamine County farms, is listed on the National Register — but it's not well-publicized, in spite of its excellence. The centerpiece of Woodland is an 1889 mansion, commissioned by John Steele (1845–1918) and built in a transitional Italianate–Romanesque style. The round-arched portal, entrance tower, rusticated voussoirs, and semicircular balcony are all features more befitting public buildings than private ones — but then, this is the Bluegrass, where such a thing was possible.
|John Steele's residence (1889), now a golf-course clubhouse.|
Who built Woodland? I haven't a clue. The National Register nomination is disappointingly terse, giving only the most rudimentary information about the property's history. (One quirk: a child's handprint pressed into a brick sandwiched between two tower windows.) But there are two homes at Woodland — and this fact is what tips the property from the great to the exceptional.
Tucked behind Steele's residence is a low brick structure (quite a contrast to its neighbor's buoyant upward thrust) no less interesting. Like the main house, it seems both to embrace and to smash the architectural norms of its era. It's clearly a Federal-period building, perhaps constructed about the time the British and the Americans fought their last battle, or even shortly before. It diverges from almost all other Jessamine County Federal homes, though, in its studiedness. It doesn't make use of the panoply of traditional floor plans available to early Kentuckians (i.e., central- and side-passage arrangements, or the telescopic configuration pioneered in the Chesapeake). Rather, its five main rooms form an H-shaped footprint, with a service ell jutting to the side. Chimneys are placed between the front and back rooms. The partly enclosed areas formed by the H's hyphen function as porches.
The house's finish is equally unusual. The facade features tripartite windows (very common in the Bluegrass) set within segmental-arched recesses (not common in the Bluegrass). The entry consists of two four-panel doors flanked by sidelights and a fanlight (typical enough), but the porch area is plastered as if an interior room. (This treatment reminds me of the Latrobe-designed Pope Villa's entrance.) The cornice has a usual Federal profile.
Unfortunately, the building has fallen into terrible disrepair. ('Twas long thus — as early as 1977, it served as a storage space.) Both porch's roofs and floors are failing spectacularly, interior plaster is falling from the ceilings and walls, several windows are entirely nonexistent, the foundation appears to be sinking, and much woodwork is missing. (No trim remains in the northeastern room.) A glance through the windows reveals jumbled heaps of furniture, planks, plaster dust, and golf balls.
Who designed it? And for whom? Again, mostly silence. The nomination form attributes its initial ownership to a Mason Singleton. My quick perusal of genealogical sites yielded a bit of information. A Mason Singleton (1804–1894) almost certainly owned the property, but he seems too young to have commissioned the home. His father, Manoah Mason Singleton, Jr. (1773–1833), was more likely the first owner. The Singleton family hailed from Spotsylvania County, Virginia — no doubt a source of many Bluegrass settlers. For a time, Manoah resided with his parents at Bryan Station, a fortified encampment which stood north of Lexington (and predated the city's founding).
So, a quasi-Palladian cottage — the sort of thing a Jefferson or Latrobe might design for a less-prominent client, and a building associated with one of Jessamine County's founding families — lies moldering behind the lovingly maintained mansion which replaced it. Such is the Bluegrass. Alas, I'm not optimistic about the building's long-term survival. Restoring it would require a six-figure (or more) investment — not merely a bit of repainting and refinishing, but a complete reconstruction. Bricks would need to be relaid; woodwork, replaned; and walls, replastered. Is it worth the money? I hope so. But only the Golf Club of the Bluegrass can make such a judgment.