BY JANEY COWLING
It’s so romantic. You finally found that someone special. You want memories of your wedding day to be extra special. Nothing typical or usual will do. And, like Rhett Butler, you want it to be fun.
Short of renting Tara, you can do the next best thing: Find a locale that captures the history and charm of the old south. The past can hold the key for a wonderfully unforgettable wedding-so while looking forward to the big day can be a splendid thing, don’t forget to look back. The bluegrass area abounds with homes that resonate with rich history and colorful characters.
From just outside Lexington in mansions like White Hall (home of Cassius Clay) and Spindletop (home of Pansy Yount), to homes located in or near historic downtown and Gratz Park (Parker Place, Bell House, Bodley-Bullock and Hunt-Morgan), couples can capture the ambience of these homes while creating their own unique memories.
Bodley-Bullock, located at the corner of Second and Market streets, was bought in 1814 by Gen. Thomas Bodley for his family of 12 children. Wedding guests might be intrigued to learn that the Union army commandeered the house during the War (known to Yankees as the Civil War and to southerners as “the war of northern aggression” among other things) and painted the Confederate flag on the floor of the parlor and entry hall. They would hold balls and dance on the flag-painted floor. Later, when Confederate forces held the house, legend has it they repainted the floor with the Union flag, and stomped their Southern boots on it.
Speaking of Southern boots, directly facing Bodley-Bullock across Gratz Park is the ancestral home of Gen. John Hunt Morgan, the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy” (or “King of Horse Thieves,” depending on where your Civil War sympathies lie).
It was here that Morgan’s sister, Kitty, married Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill. Family descendants tell the story of Kitty coming down the cantilevered staircase in her wedding gown beside a banister that had been festooned with satin ribbons and flowers.
Within walking distance of Hunt-Morgan stands a home with historic connections on the Union side, Parker Place. The influential grandmother of Mary Todd Lincoln, Mrs. Eliza Parker, lived on this site until her death when the house was purchased by John Wilgus, who added an Italianate front to the original structure. In fact, to the right of Parker Place on the site of the rectory of St. Paul’s Church, stood Mary Todd Lincoln’s girlhood home.
Traveling east from the downtown area and located on Bell Court and Sayre Avenue, Bell House combines Greek Revival, Queen Anne, and Romanesque styles which give the home a unique beauty and charm. Highlighted by Corinthean columns, “Sayre House,” as it was originally called, was designed by Major Thomas Lewinski for David A. Sayre, founder of Sayre College (now Sayre School).
A bit further east, located on what used to be the outskirts of Lexington, Henry Clay’s estate stands at the corner of Richmond and Sycamore Road. The house was built in 1811 for the rising young attorney and statesman Henry Clay, who would become known as the Great Compromiser. In the 1880s, the house would be the site for Clay’s granddaughter’s wedding which boasted the then-unheard of use of electrical lights for one of the first times in the city of Lexington. The brilliant affair was said to have created a fairytale effect and was the talk of the town.
Henry Clay’s third cousin, Cassius Clay, made his home at White Hall, approximately 15 minutes outside Lexington, right outside of Richmond. White Hall was originally built by Cassius’ father, Green Clay, one of the biggest land and slaveholders in Kentucky. Cassius, the most colorful of all the Clays, married a 15-year-old girl when he was well into his 80s.
A more recent addition to Kentucky’s colorful homes is Spindletop, the home of Pansy Yount, the outspoken Texas multimillionaire who would discover that all of her oil money could not buy the acceptance or approval of Kentucky’s tight-knit blue-blood gentry. After years of listening to sneering comments about her “lack of culture,” Yount finally decided to sell the mansion to the University of Kentucky and moved back home to Texas.
Spindletop is for use by members only (UK staff, faculty and alums can apply). When asked about rental costs for members, Gerald Marvel, the operations manager, replied that he would not release the costs-for either membership fees or cost of reserving Spindletop.
“We’re not looking for members,” Marvel stated.
Hmm. What would Pansy say? (Editor’s Note: call UK’s Alumni Office for membership info. They will be most delighted to mail you a brochure and take your money, as long as it’s green. If you want to be snubbed by true old south gentility, try Charleston.)
So there it is. A more interesting, romantic and colorful group of characters and homes is not likely to be found. Frankly, my dears, we do give a damn here. Rhett Butler surely would have approved.
Reservations: Most of the homes described above should be contacted at least six months to a year in advance in order to secure a specific date. Hunt-Morgan specifically does not allow amplified music, and the rest of the homes do not allow any loud music. None of the homes, with the exceptions of Hunt-Morgan and Spindletop, allow alcoholic beverages to be served. White Hall and Ashland limit the use of the premises to the outside grounds. Most homes did not require any specific caterer. Arrangements for Ashland are made through the Radisson Hotel.
Free tour included in rental.
Parker Place and Bell House 288-2924 (Note: reservations for both homes are made through Lexington Parks & Recreation Service.)
Ashland (Henry Clay Estate) (Reservations and accommodations made through Radisson Hotel).
White Hall (home of Cassius Clay)
Spindletop (UK), for info about membership and rental rates, call UK’s alumni office 257-8905.
If turning back the clock isn’t your cup of tea, and a religious setting doesn’t appeal to you or your intended, the bluegrass offers a variety of alternatives. This list is by no means exhaustive. Locales are as limitless as the imagination of the bride and groom.
The Headley Whitney Museum (255-6653) is a decorative arts museum located at 4435 Old Frankfort Pike. Founder George Headley designed jewelry for Hollywood types like Mae West and Joan Crawford. Folklore has it that the “sailors’ valentines”were put together from seashells by sailors at sea, pining for their loved ones. Weddings on the grounds with canopy are $800 for evening events (5 pm and later; museum is open till then). Caterers are required to be licensed. Additional tent and restroom facilities (i.e. Porta-Potties) must be arranged for parties over 150. The Jewel room is pictured.
At Jacobson Park, you can reserve a shelter (call Parks & Rec)-making it a popular rehearsal dinner site. No loud music and no alcohol.
Raven Run Nature Sanctuary (272-6105) is a natural for outdoorsy types. Andrea Lane says “Last summer we had a wedding and a reception out here…and naturally, it was very informal-everyone in long summer dresses and flowers in their hair…We have an amphitheater about a quarter mile from the nature center with a small wooden stage and bleachers. That provides the setting for the ceremony. And then there’s a nice open meadow. It’s for nature lovers.” There’s no fee since it’s open to the public. No alcohol, and about 50 people would be the maximum.
The UK Arboretum (268-2583) is another popular site for those who like the wide open spaces. There’s a fee, but the place is open to the public, so you figure it out. No loud music, no food service, and leave the plants alone. According to Shawn Phillips, who was married there last year, “it’s a great place for a small outdoor wedding…In May and June, the flowers are beautiful.”
For equine lovers, the Kentucky Horse Park (259-4219) on Iron Works Pike offers weddings/receptions in an area called the Cove. According to Paula Langheim in special events, the Cove is “a secluded area surrounded by trees and rock wall. It’s a very picturesque place for weddings and receptions.” Best to book as far ahead as possible because of potential conflicts with horse shows. No loud music after 5; catering must be provided by Lundy’s at the Park. Fee, $200; seats about 200 people. Reduced rates are available for rest of the Park if people want to go through. Horse-drawn carriages are also available, for an extra charge. Open year-round.
Continuing on the horse country theme is the Kentucky Horse Center (293-1853) located on Paris Pike. Can have wedding and/or reception in holding area. There are public tours three times a day. Liz Holmes, director of special events and tours says, “It’s great for the bride, if she’s got the fiance’s family coming , and say they all roll in on Wednesday…she’s wondering what she’s going to do with them. They can come out here and have a tour.” Catering policy is open.
For something completely different, or at the very least quite literally “cool,” call the Kentucky Thoroughblades in advance of Valentine’s Day, and their promotions director will consider doing an eight-minute intermission/wedding on ice. Schedules have to be coordinated and arranged, and it probably helps if you and your wedding party are hockey fans.