House on the Hill

Having visited several mansions lately, I have found the common complaint among the cash poor owners to be that the large homes are just too expensive for the average person to maintain.

Betty Jo Wohn Sharp and her son, Brad, hole up in the kitchen and sleep in the downstairs den of her family home. They are forced to turn the heat down to 55 degrees in the rest of the house because it is too costly to heat 5,000 square feet of living space. Betty Jo said, "You are going to find Christmas trees in the living rooms because that's where I leave them. No one ever goes in there anyway."

Like pearls, houses loose their luster when no one uses them. Feng Shui consultant Ann Bowe says that for a house to feel balanced, every room should be used and used for its intended purpose. That becomes almost impossible in a house this size when it is inhabited only by two grown people with no help. This house was built for a large family with many servants.

The H.P. Montgomery House, or as it is known in Georgetown, "The Big House on the Hill," was built in 1894 by Henry Partlow Montgomery for his wife Alice. They lived there with his three children from a former marriage. At the time it was built, on the main portion of the former Blue Grass Park, nothing stood between the house and downtown Georgetown. With its two turrets, stone façade and imposingly large structure, it is easy to imagine old Henry felt much like the feudal lord overlooking his serfs as he sat on the porch that runs from turret to turret.

For all its posturing from the outside, the interior presents as warm and cozy a space as any house on this scale could. Carved woodwork, intricate mantles, inlaid parquet floors and a large, mostly yellow, stained glass window, which is thought to be the Montgomery family crest, all create a mellow environment for entertaining or just living. As Brad said, "I can go sit down in the hall after a bad day and, at about 4 o'clock when the sun shines through that window, it doesn't seem so bad anymore."

Because only four families have owned it not much has changed since the time Henry built the house for Alice. The woodwork has never been painted, the doors all still have their original keys and the floors are in surprisingly good condition. The gaslights are all in place though they have been converted to electric. The things that matched when the house was built still match because no extensive renovation has ever taken place. In the oval-shaped dining room hangs the original gaslight, which is hand painted to match the blue and white tiles of the fireplace surround. The leaded glass in the door to the porte-cochere matches the glass of the front door. In the nursery upstairs one finds the sweetest detail of the house; oak leaves carved in the maple mantle echo the delicate raised oak leaves of the ceramic tiles of the surround.

Betty Jo, the eldest of four, moved to the house in 1957 when she was a senior in high school. She recalls slumber parties for 18 girls and "important local people" coming to the house. There were parties for neighbors and parties for mayors. Once, television star Patrick Duffy even came for a party during the Festival of the Bluegrass.

Betty Jo had to leave for work at one of her two jobs before I left but her parting words to me were, "Unlike many of these big old houses that are more like museums, this house has been lived in. It has been used." At first it seemed depressing that Betty Jo and Brad were camping out in two rooms of this grand house, but it occurred to me they are moving on because they are at the end of their stint here and they realize it is time for someone who will use the whole house to take over.


246 W. Main Street, Georgetown


5021 square feet

3.5 acres

5 bedrooms

2 baths

Pool and pool house

Contact: Connie Tacket (502) 863-5300

If you have a unique or interesting house for sale contact Lissa Sims at lsims@aceweekly.com.