Gardens to Gables

A Bullet Hole in the Door: Discoveries in Casey County, Kentucky

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.

Across raging flood waters and through the mist (I may start writing Gothic horror novels next) stood this treasure of a house.

Across raging flood waters and through the mist (I may start writing Gothic horror novels next) stood this treasure of a house.

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!

This is the entry door, but I saw no sign of the dastardly bullet hole.

This is the entry door, but I saw no sign of the dastardly bullet hole.

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 two-story five bay house is log and timber frame. The two bays on the left are frame, while the central hall and two bays on the right are timber frame.

The two-story five bay house is log and timber frame. The two bays on the left are frame, while the central hall and two bays on the right are timber frame.

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.

Greek Revival trim and a winder stair (and a very helpful friend) in the front timber-frame potion of the house.

Greek Revival trim and a winder stair (and a very helpful friend) in the front timber-frame potion of the house.

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.

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I love this fragment of wallpaper found in the central hallway.

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.

The ell and rear elevation of the front portion of the house.

The ell and rear elevation of the front portion of the house.

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7 Thoughts on “A Bullet Hole in the Door: Discoveries in Casey County, Kentucky

  1. Marcie on May 23, 2015 at 10:53 pm said:

    I used to live here as a child in like 1987? Wow there is so many memories there.

  2. Mary Lee buis on May 23, 2015 at 11:39 pm said:

    I would love to have a sample of that wall paper just to keep. It is very pretty and unique. I love to go in old houses and just stand real still and listen. I try to imagine voices from years ago, families at mealtimes or Christmas.

  3. Fran Lawson on May 24, 2015 at 1:45 pm said:

    Tom, thank you for sharing more of this wonderful old house. The fragment of wallpaper was indeed beautiful. As Hank told you, our mother was born there. It was also shown in KY Explorer several years ago but yours are the only interior photos I’ve seen. Her family moved to Casey Co in the very early 1800’s and we’re related to many of the families there with names of Cochran, Pemberton, Combs, and Lane, to name a few.

    Fran Lawson Harris

    • JR Brother on May 26, 2015 at 1:56 pm said:

      Fran,thank you so much for sharing this information! Someone shared the KY explorer article with me on Facebook, but I’m not sure who Tom and Hank are…but I hope you enjoyed the post! I contacted the current owner and documented the house as part of survey and planning grant, and authored a report on architecture in Casey County.

  4. DeAngelo Wiser on May 25, 2015 at 7:46 am said:

    Have visited this house many times with my dad and mom before he passed away many years ago. My dad’s family and relatives were born on Wiser Branch located up the creek and behind the house. It has an alluring quality that draws you in to a different time in our history. Legend also has it that the raiders buried some money in haste as they rode down the creek, only to never be able to come back and retrieve it.

  5. Kerry Lawson on May 25, 2015 at 8:31 pm said:

    My grandmother, Margaret Crews Lawson, was born in this house in October 1918, and we’ve visited it a couple of times over the years. It was a lovely house once, certainly.

  6. Fran Lawson on May 26, 2015 at 6:19 pm said:

    JR, Tom is Tom Watson, author of the piece; Hank is Hank Lawson, my brother and son of Margaret Wilcher Crews Lawson who was born in the house in 1918. Mom’s roots run deep in Casey County.

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