Sunday, August 7, 2011

William Whitley House

William Whitley House is the first brick home in Kentucky, and the site of the nation's first circular racetrack, completed in 1788 by Kentucky pioneer William Whitley and his wife Esther. The estate, known as Sportsman's Hill, was famous for its unusual architectural features, and it became a gathering spot for early Kentuckians, including George Rogers Clark and Daniel Boone.

The William Whitley House stands today as a monument to pioneer ingenuity and resourcefulness. From the delicate dentil molding and frieze board of the cornice along the roof's edge, to the poplar floors, the House is a gem.

The brick house was constructed in the Flemish bond pattern which was more expensive than other methods; however, it gave the walls greater strength. In this type of construction, one brick was laid lengthwise, the next endwise. The lengthwise brick is called a stretcher,; the endwise brick a header. Glazed headers were used to create decorative patterns. In the Whitley house, the Flemish bond pattern is used on all four outside walls. The diamond-like pattern on the side walls of the house is called a diaper. The WW initials on the front of the house and the EW initials on the back of the house were patterned after buildings in Virginia, where it was usually indicative of a desire to establish a family dynasty.
Inside the house, the walnut and pine fielded paneling, the S-shaped carvings over the fireplace, the crown molding and chair railings throughtout the house, and the eagles carved on the footers of the stairsteps are evidence of skilled craftsmen on the frontier. A fascinating feature is the presence of a hidden stairway in the house, supposedly built as a last-stand defense against attack.

The son of Irish immigrants, William Whitley made his first trip to Kentucky in 1775 accompanied by his brother-in-law, George Clark. They established a station on land near St. Asaph, now known as Stanford. Whitley returned to Virginia for his wife Esther, and two daughters (eventually their offspring would number eleven). Often the terrain was so rough that they had to take their goods off the pack animals and carry them by hand. The Whitleys built their homestead away from a walled fort because attacks by the native Americans were few. They planted 10 acres of corn, thus staking their claim to the land.

However, attacks from the natives increased and the Whitleys fled, first to Logan's Fort, then to Fort Harrod. After a year, the family returned to their station. Its position on the Wilderness Road led to persons gathering there to increase their numbers before crossing the wilderness back to Virginia. Whitley advised the travelers and sold them supplies. He became well-known as an "Indian fighter" because his station was often the first stop for travelers who had been attacked on the way to Kentucky. He or his wife Esther would raise the Kentucky Militia to pursue the attackers. Whitley was recommended to the rank of captain in the Militia. Whitley's fame as a defender of the frontier caused his acceptance as a volunteer at the age of 64 in the War of 1812. He was killed in the Battle of the Thames.

Alfred "Boy" Bledsole visiting the Whitley house

During the 1780s and 1790s, the Whitleys felt secure enough to build the brick home and a circular racetrack, and held race meetings each autumn. The track was unique in the nation because it was the first circular design and was built of clay instead of using turf. It is felt that the American practice of racing counter-clockwise began at this track, in response to anti-British feeling at the time. The British raced in a clockwise direction.

625 William Whitley Road, Stanford KY 40484-9770

(606) 355-2881
William Whitley House is about 10 miles south of Stanford off US 150. Exit I-75 at US 150 or take US 27 south from Lexington to US 150 east.

This is a great side trip to make when going to the CLA Show in Lexington.

Copy from Kentucky State Parks with top three photos from here. Additional photos by Jan Riser.

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