Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate – Lexington, Kentucky

Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate – Lexington, Kentucky

The original Ashland Estate was so named by Henry Clay because of the surrounding Ash trees on the land.  He bought the land on the outskirts of Lexington when he felt that living in town was too confining and wanted more space for his family to grow and enjoy.

He began acquiring land for the farm in 1804.  By 1809 the center block of the house was complete and Clay was residing on the farm.  He wanted more room in the house and so wings were added to make it a full five-part Federal structure including a center block, two hyphens (connecting pieces), and two end blocks.

When Clay died in 1852 his will dictated that his wife, Lucretia, would have a life estate in the property, but when she left or died, the property would be sold to settle the estate.  Lucretia moved to her son John’s home shortly after Clay’s death and Ashland was sold to another son, James.   When James purchased the property he found the mansion in a state of serious disrepair so he had the house razed and rebuilt, following the original floor plan of his father and using all the materials that could practically be salvaged and set the house on the original foundation.  He did incorporate certain Italianate, Greek Revival and Victorian details in the rebuilding to bring the house into the more current style, but primarily the house was a recreation of his fathers home.

Because of James Clays strong Confederate leanings he could not remain at the house and feel safe.  He fled the country, first to Cuba and then to Canada where he stayed until his death.  Ashland was bought by John Bryan Bowman, in 1866, and became part of the new Kentucky University.

Bowman was eventually fired from the University.  Since the house was the property of the University they rented it out until 1882 when it was sold to Henry Clay’s granddaughter, Anne Clay McDowell, and her husband, Henry Clay McDowell, who had been named in honor of her famous grandfather.  The McDowells returned Ashland to family ownership for the first time in 16 years.

The renovations began immediately.  They kept the house largely the same, but made significant interior alternations to modernize it.  They lived in the house until their deaths and then their oldest child, Nannette, took possession of the home.  Nannette McDowell Bullock, her husband Thomas, and son Henry were the last residents of Ashland, and it is through Nannette’s efforts that the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation was created, preserving Henry Clay’s legacy, the house and 17 remaining acres for future generations.

Since 1950, Ashland has been open to the public as a historic house museum. Due to its long and varied history.   Ashland is a National Historic Landmark.  It was placed on the National Historic Register in 1964.

The highlight of a visit to Ashland is the guided tour of the 18-room mansion.  A guide welcomes  you at the front door to begin your journey through the Clay family mansion and time travel from the 18th century to the present.  Guided tours of the mansion take approximately 50 minutes.   Additional time may be spent visiting the permanent Henry Clay exhibit room,  watching an informational video about Henry Clay, taking the self-guided tour of the outbuildings, strolling the formal garden and walking trails, shopping in the Museum Store, or having a bite to eat or a refreshing glass of iced tea at the seasonal Ginkgo Tree Cafe (open late-April through mid-October, weather permitting).

Hours and Ticket Prices 

Guided tours daily. Tours begin on the hour and last approximately  one hour. Tickets may be purchased in the Museum Store in the mansion.

Hours for House Tours and Museum Store:

10:00 am – 4:00 pm Tuesday – Saturday
1:00 pm – 4:00 pm Sunday

The last tour of the day begins at 4 pm

Admission:

$9 Adults

$4 children (ages 6 – 18), children 5 and under free

Special rates and arrangements for groups of 10 or more and school groups.  For groups larger than 20, a deposit is required in advance.

January: closed
February: open for groups of fifteen or more by appointment only
Closed Mondays and major holidays

Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate
120 Sycamore Road
Lexington, Kentucky 40502
Phone: (859) 266-8581
Fax: (859) 268-7266

Executive Director, Ext. 10,  email: dkorb@henryclay.org