One of the perks of being a lover of historic architecture is the complete annihilation of boredom. There is always something new to see and appreciate, even in the most modest and humble of buildings (unless I happen to be stranded in sprawl land, surrounded by a sea of asphalt and new construction. Then I might get cranky). Over the past few years, I’ve been able to share (or inflict upon) this joy of discovery with my youngest nephew, who enjoys walking around towns with me, peeping into windows, and taking lots and lots of pictures (he also really appreciates the excursion if food is involved, something else we have in common).
Earlier this year, we wandered around Maysville (a sister and niece were in tow as well, but their fortitude is…less than ours. But in our family, you always make sure any trip, no matter how small, is accompanied by books to read…) and could not miss the large, early 19th century brick house in downtown Maysville known as “Phillips Folly.”
Stepped, gable end parapets are a distinctive architectural feature of Maysville, found on both small, vernacular buildings, as well as large examples such as Phillips Folly, described by one writer in the 1980s as an “unusually effective blend of Georgian, Federal, and Greek Revival elements.”
Though the stepped gable ends caught my eye immediately, I was also captivated by the name of the house (and some other architectural features). William B. Phillips was the second mayor of Maysville, and began construction on the house in 1825 (or 1828, depending on who you ask). Apparently the moniker of “Folly” was applied to the house because of Phillips’ delay in completing the dwelling…he ran out of money, and left the house unfinished, while he “disappeared” for two years in New Orleans, where he won “enough money at gambling to complete the structure.”
Although some may attribute the porches (or galleries) on the house to Phillips sojourn in New Orleans, two-story porches on the rear and ells of houses in antebellum Kentucky was a very common practice. Phillips sold the large home to local businessman John Armstrong in 1838. Armstrong’s son, Francis Woodland Armstrong, later owned the property, during which time some sources say the house was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Although many of our “finds” are not as grand as Phillips Folly, they all help tell a story of a town and place, and relay that history – which can seem so long ago (and irrelevant) to many – to us in a very real and tangible sense. The cheeseburger and milkshake we had later that day played an important role as well in our “hands-on history” jaunt.