Old Kentucky Houses

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With its rich cultural and architectural history, the Bluegrass retains a tenuous hold on its unique heritage, still so much in evidence.

Reviewed by Patricia Poore

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Take a personal tour through Bluegrass country, the legendary landscape around Lexington, Kentucky. The wealthiest town west of the Alleghenies before the Civil War, Lexington has a rich history, evidenced in its elegant homes. Photographer Pieter Estersohn was invited into 18 properties for the book Kentucky, Historic Houses and Horse Farms of Bluegrass Country. The houses date from 1785 to 1965, with most of them built during the early to mid 1800s.

Seven sites are open to the public, though interpretations for some are not typical of house museums. A tour holds some surprises: this is not the South of Charleston. Properties include Pope Villa, designed by Benjamin Latrobe, architect of the U.S. Capitol, and a picturesque Gothic Revival house after a plan by Downing.

“While Kentucky and the Bluegrass are commonly characterized as ‘Southern’ today,” writes W. Gay Reading in the Introduction, “…our cultural foundation could more properly be deemed mid-Atlantic, with strong ties to Philadelphia and Baltimore. Our farms were not the plantations of the Deep South…”

Still, there’s no mistaking the location of these gentlemen’s farms, obvious in the book’s aerial photographs.