History

The Northside is a historic neighborhood immediately to the north of Lexington's urban center and, as such, its history is intertwined with the city as a whole.  In June 1775 a group of frontiersmen led by William McConnell established a camp at a spring near Elkhorn Creek.  Talk of a Revolutionary War battle at Lexington, Massachusetts in the previous spring led to their naming the settlement Lexington.    While this early settlement was not maintained, when Robert Patterson built a garrison west of the original campsite four years later, near what is now the corner of Main and Mill Streets, the name stuck.

In January 1780 the small group of settlers signed a "citizens' compact" which divided what is now Lexington's core into eighty-seven half acre lots, five lots to a block.  What were called "out-lots", which included what is now much of the Northside, were five acres each.  Lots were drawn, town trustees were elected, John Higbee's tavern at the corner of Limestone and High was designated a meeting place for town business, and the development of Lexington was off and running. 

One of those "out-lots" was designated #6 in 1781, what would later become Gratz Park.  Transylvania Seminary purchased the lot in 1783 and built on its northern end, in 1816, one of the first major projects in the Northside, a three story structure for its Lexington campus.  When this building was destroyed by fire in 1829, the Transylvania campus moved to the north side of Third Street where it remains today, the oldest university west of the Alleghenies.

The Gratz Park area and its perimeter was a focus of development as early as the late 18th century.  Near the park on Market Street is Ridgely House, built around 1794.  Mary Todd Lincoln attended school here in 1831 when the structure housed Ward's Academy.  The two oldest homes north of Second around the park are the Bodley-Bullock  House and the Hunt Morgan House, both built around 1814.  Bodley-Bullock, which has undergone significant revision of its original Federal style, served as both Union and Confederate headquarters during the civil war though, not surprisingly, not at the same time.  Hunt-Morgan is another Federal Style house, across the west side of the park.  The history of this structure is one of the most colorful, housing at various times the first millionaire west of the Alleghenies, a famous Civil War cavalryman, and Kentucky's first Nobel Prize winner.  Both Hunt-Morgan and Bodley-Bullock are open for tours.

Another of the major Northside building projects in the early 19th C took place at what was then a remote region of the neighborhood, isolated from other development.  In 1822 the General Assembly passed an "Act to Establish a Lunatic Asylum."  Ten acres of land were purchased north of West Fourth Street, and construction on the second oldest state mental hospital in the country was begun.  Originally called simply the Lunatic Asylum, its name was gratefully changed to Eastern State Hospital in 1912.  The history of Eastern State Hospital is, in short, a history of psychiatric treatment as it has evolved over the past two centuries, from the horrifying to the humane.  Construction of a modern hospital at a different location is underway, with plans for the now 68 acre Eastern State site to become the new campus of Bluegrass Community and Technical College.  Several of the historic buildings are to be preserved.

A short walk north on North Broadway from Second Street is a living architectural history of the Northside.  Development progressed, both north and south, from the original city center.  Many of the homes on North Broadway between Second and Third Streets were built around 1840 by owners of nearby hemp factories.  At 255 North Broadway, for example, one finds the Avery Winston house, considered to be one of the finest and best preserved Italianate homes in the city.  At 301 North Broadway is the Josiah Innis house, a Greek Revival home built in 1840.  305, 309, and 315 North Broadway were constructed between 1838 and 1840, with 319 a bit further north built in 1843.  At 325 a pair of Romanesque "mirror image" houses known as the Scott-Frazee homes were built in 1890.  Although there are many exceptions, as a general rule one finds later development in the Northside as one travels north from Second Street. 

A business boom in the 1880s brought rapid expansion in the Northside.  Many of the homes along both West Second and West Third Streets date from this period.  Much of the block of West Third Street was constructed between 1887 and 1890, with some earlier and some later.  448 West Third, for example, is an Italianate home built in 1872, while 455 was designed in a Georgian-Federal Revival Style and built in 1910.

Hampton Court, jutting off of the north side of West Third Street, has its own unique history.  Construction of the first luxury apartment in Lexington began here in 1907, and the court continued to develop until 1936 when it reached Fourth Street.  The development was built on the site of the Lexington Orphan's Home that housed (white) children made homeless by the cholera epidemic of 1833.  Cholera killed ten per cent of Lexington's more than 6000 residents.

Another notable Northside "suburb" is Fayette Park, a beautiful cul-de-sac west of N. Broadway between 5th and 6th Streets.  The Park was designed in 1888 at the highest topographical point in the Northside, which had become accessible for residential development with the construction of a street railway on Broadway.  The stately homes there include examples of Richardsonian Romanesque, Chateaueque, Arts and Crafts, and Prairie Style architecture.

The history of the Northside, of course, is not just one of prosperous expansion and beautiful 19th C architecture.  For African Americans, it is one marred by the horrors of slavery, Reconstruction violence, and segregation that is visible even today.  Lexington and the surrounding area had, during its ante bellum history, the highest concentration of slaves in Kentucky, many of whom worked in the booming hemp factories and rope walks of the Northside, like one that ran the length of the block between Second and Third Streets.   By 1860, in fact, Lexington was roughly forty percent black.

It was also in 1860 that one of Lexington's favorite (if ambivalently regarded) sons, John C. Breckenridge, ran for the Presidency against Lincoln, Douglas, and Bell on a southern Democrat, ardently pro-slavery platform.  Born near Lexington, Breckenridge studied law at Transylvania University and held various government positions before the war.  With Lincoln elected and war declared, however, he fought against many of his Lexington comrades as a Brigadier General in the Confederacy.  Granted clemency in 1869, he returned to Lexington to practice law and lived his last years at a home that still stands at 429 West Second Street.  If ever there was a monument to the contradiction and inequity that scars Kentucky's social history, this is it.  For just a short walk west on Second from the Breckenridge home one intersects with Miller Street, a short connector between Second and Third Streets, with a rich history of its own.

Prior to the Civil War, free blacks, slaves, and whites lived interspersed throughout the city in close, if not comfortable, proximity.  Emancipation and a large freed-black migration to Lexington by 1870 raised white anxiety, leading to vigilantism and the restriction of black civil rights.  African Americans increasingly clustered in communities on the edge of town, both out of necessity and for self- protection.  Many of these remain today, still predominantly African American.  These include Goodlowtown, in the area surrounding Third and Race Streets to the east, and Taylortown, in the Northside neighborhood along Jefferson Street, Second to Sixth, and west to Georgetown Road. Miller Street is part of Taylortown.   Many of the 19th C houses have been raised, but 244 Miller Street remains, thanks to the preservation efforts of the Northside Neighborhood Association.  St. Peter Claver was built in 1887 to minister to black Catholics who were excluded from Lexington's main parishes, and it operates today in Taylortown, at the corner of Fourth and Jefferson Streets.


Tours and Addition Info

For the 25th Anniversary of NNA, we commissioned a print celebrating the preservation of houses which are historically and architecturally significant and a residential neighborhood which enjoys the vitality of living with them.

Download 25th Anniversary PDF


Guided Tour Outline

Download Guided Tour of Northside Neighborhood



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