When Governors Really Worked: Thomas Metcalfe, Stone Mason

Politics in today’s world can be a disagreeable affair, to put it nicely. Historically the same is true, I think, but the difference was that occasionally the candidates had to work, either before holding elected office, or after. (I realize Jessie Ventura made quite a mark for himself as a wrestler, but he is a rare specimen in many ways.) Thomas “Stonehammer” Metcalfe, a Virginia native, served as U.S. Representative, Senator, and tenth Governor of Kentucky – but he was also known as one of the Commonwealth’s greatest stonemasons.

He certainly has a stony gaze...Thomas Metcalfe, 10th Governor of Kentucky.

He certainly has a stony gaze…Thomas Metcalfe, 10th Governor of Kentucky.

Metcalfe was apprenticed to his brother (perhaps his half-brother, John Metcalfe III) at the age of 16 to learn the craft of stone masonry. Disagreements abound on the exact number of buildings Thomas built, and how many should be attributed to John. I recently encountered one stone house in Jessamine County credited to the Governor (he was apparently quite proud of his nickname, Stonehammer, and used it throughout his political career).

The facade of the W.C. Young House - the central window was originally a door.

The facade of the W.C. Young House – the central window was originally a door.

Named after a late-19th century resident, it was noted in 1977 that the W.C. Young was one of only two stone houses in the county built to a height of two stories. The home, built circa 1796, also served as girl’s school around 1820. It is built on a hall-parlor plan – there is no hall or passageway, but two rooms, side by side, of unequal size. The hall-parlor plan was common during the Euro-American settlement period of Kentucky (roughly 1780-1820), as were houses with just one room.

The Old Governor's Mansion in downtown Frankfort, Kentucky.

The Old Governor’s Mansion in downtown Frankfort, Kentucky.

Most of Metcalfe’s work occurred in the late-18th and first decade of the 19th century. He worked on the circa 1797 Kentucky Governor’s Mansion, which would be his residence from 1828 to 1832. Interestingly, the brick mason who worked alongside Metcalfe on its construction, Robert P. Letcher, also became Governor of Kentucky. Both of these handsome buildings are testament to the hard work and skill of the craftsman who created them – if only 21st century politicians practiced “craftiness” in the same way…

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  1. This was my grandparents’ home and my family still live there.

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