The American Revolution was not only a political liberation, but a cultural one too – and I think the best way to visualize that cultural revolution is to look at the architecture produced in this country during the 19th century. The classical world was put on a pedestal, and one of the styles to emerge from this look to the past was what we now call Greek Revival. (I’ll write a post about the specifics of the Greek Revival style later this month.) I’ve recently been immersed in researching variations on the Greek Revival style in Fayette County, Kentucky, and so when the familiar lines of a two-story portico came into view the other day in a neighborhood of small, one-story 20th century homes, I had no choice but to go investigate!
Standing on a rise above East Main Street, surrounded by one-story frame houses, was a two-story, mid-19th century brick house with a beautiful central entry door. I’m not the first to be intrigued by this house – Clay Lancaster saw it in 1949, and included it in his chapter on Greek Revival architecture in his 1991 book Antebellum Architecture of Kentucky.
Colonel William Holloway bought a 32-acre tract located at the edge of Richmond on East Main Street in 1849. A two-story brick house was already standing on the property, and instead of tearing it down, Holloway simply built a new stylish house in front of the existing house, and turned the original dwelling into the ell for his new home, which he christened “Rosehill.”
The original house was much smaller than Holloway’s new house; a single pile (one room deep) dwelling, with a central passage and rooms to either side – 22 foot square rooms. The ell, sadly, was destroyed after World War II, and a great deal of change has happened to that impressive portico since the 1980s, when the house was documented as part of the Kentucky Historic Resources Inventory. Lancaster described the elliptical staircase in the house as a “thing of beauty, its railing carried on finely shaped banisters of Egyptian inspiration, its consoles carved into a bird-leaf pattern, a great lion’s paw forming the base of the stairway string, and the first few steps curving out gracefully.”
Alas, I only studied this house from the outside, and the black and white photographs taken by Lancaster provide my only glimpse into the interior – and I wonder how much of that interior is intact? The massive Ionic portico with the double row of dentils, as well as the denticultated cornice, have both been replaced, and are sad echoes of the original. The house served as a community center and a fraternity house in the 20th century, and was renovated into apartments at some point after 1983, with new construction (apartments) abutting the house on the east side.
In 1860, Rosehill was sold to Jonathan T. Estill, a major and paymaster in the Union army. He changed the name of the house to “Estillhurst” (not nearly as lyrical sounding as Rosehill…). “Teleford Place Apartments” is likely the least inspired name applied to this Greek Revival dwelling – but despite some of the exterior changes, which have diluted the grandeur of its facade – it is amazing that this vestige of the 19th century is still standing. And by still existing, it can provide a glimpse, however small, into a Kentucky finding its identity (like that of the country) through a new type of architecture.