On a rainy, rather foggy March day a few years back, I was in the field, scoping out Casey County for a possible survey of historic buildings. It was not a day to wander about and take photographs – the typical two-lane Kentucky roads that hugged the creeks dipped perilously close to the rain-swollen waterways, and visibility was laughable. But then I saw this house, with no bridge or apparent road leading to it, a massive two-story portico leaning rather drunkenly to one side, and the barest outlines of hay bales stored inside. Two months later, on a much sunnier and pleasant day, I returned to document the evocative building.
According to local tradition, on February 8, 1865, William Clark Quantrill and a small group of fellow guerrillas came to this home and requested (I won’t hypothesize about how politely they asked) to come inside. The owner at the time, a Mr. Pryor Prewitt refused, and Quantrill or one of his men shot Prewitt through the door, killing him instantly. True story? I have no idea…but it’s a good story!
According to some sources, Joseph Cunningham built a portion of the house in 1815. Cunningham added onto the house in the 1830s, and when he died in 1853, his daughter Nancy inherited the house. She would marry Pryor Prewitt, the victim of Quantrill’s gang.
The house was indeed constructed over several building campaigns, but sorting out the exact evolution is – well, an inexact art. The left front room is log, as is the rear ell. The central passage and right front room are timber frame, with Greek Revival woodwork – giving some credence to the expansion undertaken by Cunningham in the 1830s.
The exterior gable end chimney on the timber frame portion has been removed, sadly leaving a huge hole in the end of the house. The second story of the house was unheated (there were no fireboxes, nor flue holes for later stoves), but it was plastered. The woodwork upstairs was much plainer the first floor, as was common – the second story chambers would have been private, only for family – and you didn’t need to spend a lot of money in those rooms.
I sadly have no idea what the condition of the house is now – the roof was fairly sound when I was there, but the building was by no means weather-tight. It is very likely now an even more picturesque ruin. My one consolation? Photographs, field notes, and a walked-off floor plan exist to convey some portion of its story, even if we will never know all the details of Mr. Prewitt and the marauding members of Quantrill’s gang.