By 1820, before steamboats tamed the Ohio River and drew industry to its banks, Lexington was one of the largest and wealthiest towns west of the Allegheny Mountains. If you wanted to engage in commerce you came to Lexington. If you wanted an education you came to Lexington. If you wanted to keep up with the latest news or borrow a book you came to Lexington.

Early on the growing of hemp used in ropes on sailing ships drove the economy. The tobacco became a cash crop for more than a century. There were local distilleries and in recent years education and technology have been the economic engine. But hovering above it all in Lexington since its founding in 1775 has been horse breeding.

The men from Maryland and Virginia who settled the town rode their best horses over the mountains or floated them on flatboats down the Kentucky River. The first census in 1790 showed more horses in Lexington than people. Kentucky’s first races had begun informally three years earlier. An early law in the county was passed that was designed to keep the blood of race horses pure. Stallions were imported from England and Arabia and the breeding of thoroughbreds, trotters and saddle horses came to infuse every aspect of life in Lexington. Today nearly 50,000 horses are bred each year on the Bluegrass Country farms around Lexington.

Lexington has sometimes been called “the city in a park” for all the surrounding horse farms but our walking tour of the historic town will uncover nary a reference to race horses. Even the golden stallion weathervane that once lorded over the city from the top of the Fayette County Courthouse is no longer seen (although it is inside the building) and that is where we will begin our tour...

1.
Lexington History Museum
215 West Main Street

This is the fifth courthouse to stand on this site and after so much tinkering with its predecessors it has stood largely unaltered in appearance since 1898. The building is an interpretation of the brawny Richardsonian Romanesque style often favored for important civic buildings of the 1890s. The courthouse features such hallmarks of the style as prominent gables, bold arches and conical towers. On the lawn are commemorative statues of two Lexington natives, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and John Cabell Breckinridge, America’s youngest Vice President. Since 2003 the former courthouse has hosted the Lexington History Museum.

FACING THE COURTHOUSE, THE SKYSCRAPER TO YOUR RIGHT, OVERLOOKING THE SQUARE, IS...

2.
Fayette National Bank
159-67 West Main Street at northeast corner of Upper Street

When the directors of the Fayette Bank, founded in 1870, decided to tear down their 1880s French Second Empire banking house on this corner in 1912 they went to New York City and came back with the greatest architectural firm in America - McKim, Mead and White. The New Yorkers were at the forefront of the move towards classically-styled buildings in the early 1900s and here designing partner William Mitchell Kendall applied the exuberant Beaux Arts style to this 225-foot tower. The skyscraper was intended as a symbol of the bank’s success and it would be almost 60 years before another high-rise would be raised in Lexington to challenge it. 

ACROSS FROM THE COURTHOUSE, CATTY-CORNERED FROM THE FAYETTE NATIONAL BANK IS...

3.
McAdams and Morford Building
200-210 West Main Street at southwest corner of Upper Street

This three-story brick building was constructed in 1849. In the 1860s a cast iron facade was added and the appearance has remained virtually the same since. Cast iron enjoyed a brief wave of popularity in the mid-19th century as a quick and inexpensive way to bring high-style to commercial buildings and this is one of two such facades remaining in Lexington. In this case it was an Italian Renaissance look, punctuated with arched windows and Corinthian pilasters. As early as 1824 John Norton operated an apothecary on this site and it is that company that Harry K. McAdams and J.W. Morford purchased in 1898. While drugs were dispensed on the ground floor, the upstairs areas found various uses, including a theater and classrooms for the Commercial College of Kentucky University.

WALK WEST ON MAIN STREET (THE COURTHOUSE IS ON YOUR RIGHT).

4.
Lexington City National Bank Building
259-265 West Main Street at northwest corner of Cheapside

Chartered in 1865, the Lexington City National Bank anchored this corner with a Beaux Arts-inspired building in 1905. Clarence E. Richards, partner in the top architectural firm in Columbus, Ohio, executed the design in brick, stone and glazed tile. Richards saved his most exuberant decorative flourishes for the top of the eight-story building. The City National name remains carved over the entrance but the bank went through a flurry of name changes and mergers after it set up shop here. 

THE BUILDING NEXT DOOR, FACING COURTHOUSE SQUARE, IS...

5.
Fayette Safety Vault & Trust Co. Building
111-113 Cheapside

Herman L. Rowe was the dean of Lexington architects in the late 19th century. Here he tapped the High Victorian Gothic style in 1891 for the three-story, four-bay commercial building. The cut-stone facade is the town’s most festive remaining from the eclectic Victorian Lexington streetscape. The building was erected for a vault and trust company but its prominent location at the flank of the courthouse quickly made it a favorite office for lawyers and realtors.

CONTINUE WALKING WEST ON MAIN STREET.

6.
Lexington Financial Center
250 West Main Street at southeast corner of Mill Street

Sheathed entirely in blue-tinted plate glass, this 410-foot tower is Lexington’s tallest building. It was completed in 1987 on plans from the Kentucky architectural firm of Sherman Carter Barnhart.

7.
Rupp Arena
southwest corner of Broadway and Main Street

Since its opening in 1976, Rupp Arena has been the centerpiece of Lexington Center, a convention and shopping facility owned by an arm of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, and serves as home court to the University of Kentucky men’s basketball program. It carries the name of Adolph Rupp who coached the Wildcats for 41 years beginning in 1930, winning 876 games and four national championships. In that time only one Rupp-coached team ever lost more than ten games in a season.

8.
Victorian Square
northwest corner of Broadway and Main Street 

This block of picturesque commercial buildings have been fixtures at this prominent intersection since the 1880s. The Italianate-style buildings demonstrate familiar elements of the style - tall windows, decorative window hoods and bracketed eaves. The block of sixteen buildings has housed basket makers, greengrocers, casket sellers and an opera house. A 1985 make-over fused them all under a single roof, preserving as much ornamentation as possible.

TURN RIGHT ON BROADWAY. TURN LEFT ON SHORT STREET.

9.
Lell’s Opera House
410-414 West Short Street

Opera was never much on the entertainment menu here. J.W. Lell operated a beer parlor on the first floor and a theater on the second floor where stage acts typically consisted of a “girlie” show with a male performer in the lead. The 3-bay brick building was constructed in 1882. Herman L. Rowe provided the ornate Italianate design with a center pediment for the one-time burlesque house.

RETURN TO BROADWAY AND TURN LEFT.

10.
Lexington Opera House
145 North Broadway

“Opera House” was a catch-all phrase for a town’s main stage in the 19th century and this one was constructed in 1886 to replace an earlier opera house that had just burned down. Oscar Cobb, a Chicago architect who specialized in theater design, drew up plans with a Turkish theme and the results were satisfactory enough for the Kentucky Leader to gush that the Lexington Opera House was the the “costliest, handsomest and most convenient Thespian temples in the South, an object of cherished pride in the city.” The biggest stars of the day beat a path to the Opera House until its final live performance on October 1, 1926. After that the Opera House made the transition to a movie house, screening the new “talkies” of the day until it went the way of most downtown theaters and closed in the onslaught of competition from television and suburban malls. The Lexington Opera House was one of the lucky ones, however, as it dodged the wrecking ball and re-opened for live performances again in 1976.

RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO SHORT STREET AND TURN LEFT, HEADING EAST.

11.
Security Trust Building
271 West Short Street at northeast corner of Mill Street

This is another heritage high-rise contributed to the Lexington streetscape from Richards, McCarty and Bulford of Columbus, Ohio. Here they used thin bricks to decorate the facade and create the illusion of pillars. When it was completed in 1903 it was the second tallest building in Lexington. 

TURN LEFT ON MILL STREET.

12.
Lexington Arts Place
161 North Mill Street at northwest corner of Church Street

Down the street another Richards, McCarty and Bulford building began life in 1904 as a YMCA, constructed of brick atop a rusticated base. The Beaux Arts facade boasts a classical entrance and is wrapped in broad quoins at the corner. In 1979 the space was transformed by the Lexington Arts and Cultural Council to an art center. 

13.
First Presbyterian Church Lexington
170 North Mill Street

Scotch-Irish settlers founded this congregation in 1784 as the Mount Zion Church. Cincinnatus Shyrock, whose brother Gideon championed the Greek Revival style and was the architect for the Old State Capitol in Frankfort, drew up the designs for this meetinghouse in 1872. Architecture was a sideline for Shyrock who studied medicine at Transylvania and was an amateur astronomer as well. The Gothic-style First Presbyterian is highlighted by a 150-foot copper spire that retains a place of honor in the surrounding streetscape.

14.
Henry Clay Law Office
176 North Mill Street

Henry Clay, one of America’s most powerful politicians never to become President, although he tried three times, began his law practice in this building in 1803 when he was 25 years old. Clay was a Virginian by birth but followed his mother out to the frontier in 1797. He constructed this simple Federal-style structure of brick and launched his political career here by winning successive terms to the Kentucky Legislature. In 1830 the building was expanded into a two-story commercial block which was purchased by the State in 1969 and restored to its original appearance as one of the earliest professional buildings standing in Kentucky. 

15.
Hunt-Morgan House
201 North Mill Street at northwest corner of Second Street

John Wesley Hunt arrived in Lexington in 1795 and opened a store, engaged in horse breeding, manufactured hemp and started a bank while building one of the first fortunes west of the Allegheny Mountains. In 1814 he constructed this fine Federal-stye brick house that he called Hopemont. Hunt’s maternal grandson, John Hunt Morgan became a revered Confederate raider during the Civil War when he carried the fight into Ohio and Indiana before being captured and killed in 1864. Hunt’s great grandson, Thomas Hunt Morgan was born in this house in 1866. He grew up to be an American evolutionary biologist, geneticist, embryologist and science author who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933 for discoveries about the role the chromosome plays in heredity.

16.
Maria Dudley House
215 North Mill Street 

This picturesque Victorian townhouse was constructed in the garden of the Hunt-Morgan house in the 1870s. Swedish architect-builder Phelix Lundin blended the Italianate style for the block of the house with a High Victorian Gothic corner tower.

17.
Goodloe Houses
239, 243, 247 North Mill Street

This cluster of three Queen Anne brick houses were constructed by Mrs. William Cassius Goodloe, the widow of a former United States minister to Belgium, for her three daughters around 1901. Each house has the same floor floor plan, but different exteriors.

18.
Hope House
304 West Third Street at southwest corner of Mill Street    

Caleb Ford constructed this Greek Revival house in 1841 but his history here was short. The handsome home was purchased in 1845 by Reverend Edward F. Berkley who presided over the funeral of Henry Clay in Christ Church in 1852. When Mrs. J. Hull Davidson owned the property in the 1890s she enlarged the house and switched the entrance to face Third Street from its original orientation on Mill Street, causing locals to sometimes be remark that it was “the house that turned its back on Gratz Park.”

AT THE END OF MILL STREET CROSS ONTO THE CAMPUS OF TRANSYLVANIA UNIVERSITY AND TURN LEFT. A HALF-BLOCK DOWN IS...

19.
Patterson Cabin
Transylvania University
Third Street opposite Bark Alley

Colonel Robert Patterson, who had a hand in the founding of Lexington and Cincinnati and Dayton in Ohio, constructed this log cabin in the late 1770s. It may have been the first dwelling in Lexington. Patterson was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania in 1753 and traveled west when he was 21 years old. He constructed the cabin to stake a claim to thousands of acres outside the blockhouse then standing at today’s Broadway and Main. The Pattersons sold the cabin in 1804 and after eleven different owners the property came into the hands of John H. Patterson in 1901 who disassembled his ancestral home and shipped to Dayton. It was returned to Lexington in 1939 and presented to Transylvania University.    

TURN AND WALK BACK TO THE MAIN ENTRANCE OF THE UNIVERSITY AND TURN LEFT, WALKING UP THE CIRCULAR DRIVE.

20.
Old Morrison
Transylvania College
Third Street between Mill and Market streets 

With vast tracts of confiscated British land during the American Revolution, the Virginia Legislature authorized 8,000 acres in its County of Kentucky for “a public school or seminary of learning.” Three years later in 1783 that school became the first west of the Allegheny Mountains, destined to be at the forefront of educational facilities in America in the early 1800s. Henry Clay taught here and future luminaries such as Jefferson Davis, Albert Sidney Johnson and John Cabell Breckinridge studied here. After the main building on campus burned in 1829 the school used a $30,000 bequest from the will of James Morrison to finance the construction of this magnificent Doric temple from local architect Gideon Shyrock, anointed as the “Father of Greek Revival architecture in Kentucky.” Morrison was a Pennsylvanian who fought in the American Revolution and came to Lexington with statehood in 1792. In short order he became a state representative, quartermaster-general of the local militia, president of the branch of the United States Bank, and chairman of the board of Trustees of Transylvania University. The building was gutted by fire in 1969 but restored to its original appearance which graces the city seal of Lexington.  

WALK BACK DOWN THE CIRCULAR DRIVE AND CROSS THIRD STREET INTO THE PARK.

21.
Gratz Park
bounded by Third and Second street and Mill and Market streets

This slender slice of greenspace was where Transylvania Seminary settled when it moved from Danville in 1789. Matthew Kennedy designed a three-story education building with single-story wings here in 1816 but it perished in a fire in 1829. The space was eventually dedicated as Centennial Park in 1876 and now carries the name of early Lexington businessman Benjamin Gratz whose family lived at the corner of Mill and New streets for 160 years and whose son Howard, publisher of the Kentucky Gazette, spearheaded the improvement of the park. The fountain at the head of Gratz Park is a gift from James Lane Allen, a Transylvania graduate who moved to New York in 1893 and became a popular novelist and short story writer drawing on Kentucky themes. New York sculptor Joseph Pollia crafted the fountain that was dedicated in 1933.

WALK THROUGH THE PARK. HALFWAY DOWN ON THE LEFT IS...

22.
The Kitchen
Gratz Park, 253 Market Street

This is the only souvenir from the original Transylvania College campus as envisioned by Matthew Kennedy in 1816. The building served as classrooms and offices - the name “Kitchen” was a derogatory one from students mocking its inadequacy as a classroom. For most of the past 100 years the Kitchen has served as a gathering spot, first by the gentile card playing of the Ah-Sin Club and then as a community center when the Lexington Parks and Recreation department acquired the low slung rectangular building with a hipped roof.

WHEN YOU REACH THE BACK OF THE BUILDING AT THE END OF THE PARK, WALK AROUND TO THE FRONT.

23.
The Carnegie Center
251 West Second Street

When Andrew Carnegie got his first raise as a teenager working in the offices of the Pennsylvania Railroad - to $35 a month - he wrote years later, “I couldn’t imagine what I could ever do with so much money.” In 1901, when Carnegie sold his U.S. Steel Corporation to banker J.P. Morgan for $480 million Morgan shook his hand and told him, “Congratulations, Mr. Carnegie, you are now the richest man in the world.” This time, Carnegie had an idea what to do with the money. He spent a large chunk of his fortune establishing more than 2,500 public libraries around the world. The gift to Lexington was $60,000 and helped construct this Beaux Arts structure of Bedford limestone in 1906. Herman L. Rowe, who embraced the classical style late in his career, contributed the design. When the Lexington Public Library moved to larger digs in the 1980s the Carnegie morphed into the home of the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning.

FACING THE CARNEGIE CENTER. TURN TO YOUR RIGHT AND WALK TO THE CORNER OF MARKET STREET.

24.
Bodley-Bullock House
200 Market Street at northeast corner of Second Street

Thomas Pindell, a partner in a distillery and a Lexington mayor, built one of the most substantial seats in early Kentucky with this brick mansion in 1814. Samuel Long, a local contractor, assembled the brick house. General Thomas Bodley, returning from a stint as deputy quartermaster during the War of 1812, purchased the house in 1814 for $10,000 as a statement of his standing in the community. Unfortunately by 1819 financial reversals forced Bodley to dispose of the property. Through the years the residence picked up numerous additions and alterations, including Greek Revival porticos to the Federal-style building that characterize the house today.

TURN RIGHT ON MARKET STREET.

25.
Christ Church Cathedral
166 Market Street

This is the fourth meetinghouse for Christ Church Cathedral, founded in 1796 as the oldest Episcopal church in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Despite various facelifts the church looks essentially the same as it did to parishioners in 1848 when it was raised. There were some 1,800 worshipers at that time, the largest flock in the state. Christ Church was designated a cathedral in 1897.

26.
Northern Bank Building/Dudley Square
259 West Short Street at northwest corner of Market Street

The first bank in Kentucky was established in 1802 in Lexington as the Kentucky Insurance Company, which had initially formed to insure boats. In 1834 the banking system in Kentucky was re-organized with two banks and their branches. One of the two was the Northern Bank of Kentucky with headquarters in Lexington. In 1889 the Northern Bank constructed one of the finest buildings in town as an anchor to Market Street at the rear of the courthouse. The intervening years have seen the loss of its conical roof and corner turret and an unsympathetic remodeling of the ground floor but the old bank still retains visual interest.

TURN LEFT ON SHORT STREET.

27.
Old First National Bank Building
215 West Short Street

Herman L. Rowe left scarcely an inch of the facade on this Beaux Arts three-story building undecorated. Look up to see engaged Corinthian columns and pilasters beneath a bold, projecting pediment.

28.
McClelland Building
northeast corner of Upper Street and Short Street

If it is a heritage high-rise in Lexington it is likely to have come from the drawing boards of Richards, McCarty and Bulford of Columbus, Ohio and this building, the first high-rise in town, is no exception. The original five stories were completed in 1895 and, as you can see by looking up, two more floors were added a decade later. 

TURN LEFT ON LIMESTONE STREET. TURN RIGHT ON BARR STREET.

29.
United States Post Office and Court House
101 Barr Street at northeast corner of Limestone Street

The federal government favored building grand Neoclassical civic temples after passage of the Public Buildings Act of 1926 and this one came courtesy of architects John T. Gillig and Howard A. Churchill. Rendered of Bedford limestone on a granite base and enclosing 95,000 square feet, the 4 1/2-story building was completed in 1934. This was the town’s only large-scale building project during the Depression and the exterior has remained unaltered since its completion.

30.
St. Peter Roman Catholic Church
143 Barr Street

Pioneer Catholics in Lexington worshipped in their homes and in a log chapel until the first meetinghouse, Saint Peter, was erected on Third Street in 1812. Popular missionary priest, Father Stephen Badin, was responsible for building the church. The site, with its own cemetery, was then on the outskirts of town. The current sanctuary, with a bell tower on the rise of a hill, was constructed in 1929 on plans drawn by Crowe and Schulte of Cincinnati.

TURN RIGHT ON MARTIN LUTHER KING BOULEVARD.

31.
Central Christian Church
205 East Short Street at northeast corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard

Erected in 1893-94, this building is Lexington’s best example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style, executed by brothers Edwin and Frank Smith. Henry Hobson Richardson was the most influential American architect of the post-Civil War era and the Smiths were faithful adherents to his design theories, to the point that they imported the maestro’s favorite building material - brown Longmeadow puddingstone from Massachusetts - for the church building. The contrasting stone, the arches grouped in sets of three, the polished columns, the prominent gables, the patterned terra-cotta are all signatures of the Richardsonian style. Considered the direct descendant of the Cane Ridge Christian Church founded by Robert W. Finley in 1790, this congregation organized in 1816. 

32.
Nunn Building
121 North Martin Luther King Boulevard at southwest corner of Short Street

The core of this building was constructed in 1917 to house the offices and presses of the Lexington Herald. The ancestral editions of the Herald hit the streets in 1870 as the Lexington Daily Press. A descendant of that paper was published in 1895 as the Morning Herald which later swapped in “Lexington.” In 1937 the owner of the rival Lexington Leader purchased the Herald and after years of independent publication in the morning and evening the papers merged to from the Herald-Leader.

TURN LEFT ON SHORT STREET. TURN RIGHT ON ESPLANADE ALLEY. TURN RIGHT ON MAIN STREET.

33.
Kentucky Theatre
214 East Main Street

In 1921 the Lafayette Amusement Company offered $20 in gold to name their planned “palatial new photoplay house” and wound up with probably the most obvious winner in name contest history. They hired Louisville architects Alfred and Oscar Joseph to design the new Kentucky Theatre and the brothers created a Beaux Arts movie palace that looked an awful lot from the outside like the a movie house they had just designed back in their hometown - also called the Kentucky Theatre. No matter. The enterprise was such a success that Lafayette opened a 950-seat theater next door, called the State Theatre, in 1929. And unlike its Louisville cousin this Kentucky Theatre is still going strong.

34.
Lafayette Hotel
200 East Main Street at southeast corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard

The Lafayette Hotel was named for French General Marquis de Lafayette, who stopped in town in 1825 during a celebrated 50th anniversary tour of the United States. The hotel was constructed in 1918 on plans drawn by Cincinnati architects Christian C. and E.A. Weber who had worked across northern Kentucky and designed the Governor’s Mansion in Frankfort. Here they delivered an elegant interpretation of the Italian Renaissance style with a base of pink Rockport granite and buff Bedford limestone shipped from Indiana. For a long time the 12-story Lafayette marked the eastern boundary of high-rise construction in Lexington. The hotel closed, top shelf until the end, in 1963 and was converted into government office space. 

35.
Graham Building
141 East Main Street

This four-story building is another commercial downtown structure attributed to Herman L. Rowe from the turn of the 20th century. The Neoclassical style is representative of his later work. It now does duty as the Downtown Arts Center featuring a theater, gallery and rehearsal space. Next door to the west at #139 is a splash of Art Deco constructed in 1929 for the Lexington Laundry Company.

36.
Central Public Library
140 East Main Street

Books had been lent in Lexington as early as 1795 on a subscription basis to well-heeled members. It is the oldest such institution in Kentucky. The library started with 400 books that supplemented a collection on the campus of the Transylvania Seminary. It was not until 1898 that the town established a free public lending library. Today the collection resides in this five-story granite-and-marble repository created in 1987.    

37.
Phoenix Park
100 East Main Street

This site was occupied by a hotel for 180 years beginning with the Postlewhait Inn in 1797, the oldest occupied hotel site in Kentucky. Since 1833 that hotel was the Phoenix, the type of guest house Presidents and celebrities would check into when in town. The Phoenix shuttered in 1977 and a town institution demolished in 1982. Today that space is occupied by a landscaped park with fountains, benches and tables.

38.
Oddfellows Temple
115-119 West Main Street

Cincinnatus Shyrock created this elongated French Second Empire home for the Oddfellows fraternal lodge in 1870. Look up to see one of the few mansard roofs in Lexington.

39.
Higgins Block
145-151 West Main Street

John McMurtry was a noted architect and builder in Lexington through most of the 1800s with many important buildings to his credit including Floral Hall and the Lexington Cemetery gates. When he constructed the Higgins Block in 1872 the cast-iron facade was hailed as “the handsomest of any building in Lexington.” At the time the three-story commercial block boasted 15 full bays of which you can still see six today. The street level has been compromised but the Corinthian columns and keystoned arches remain up above.  

LOOK TO YOUR LEFT ACROSS THE EMPTY LOT TO SEE...

40.
D. Adler & Co.
113-119 South Upper Street

Here is another creation of John McMurtry. For this 12-bay brick commercial building in 1860 McMurtry employed a Greek Revival style.

WALK A FEW MORE STEPS TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN COURTHOUSE SQUARE.