With an abundance of places to go and things to do in Louisville, we often forget to take advantage of our city’s rich history. Longtime Louisvillians can recall learning about every aspect of Louis and Clark’s expedition, and visiting the Falls of the Ohio on school trips. However, as we mature, we don’t realize how fun it can be to tour our own city. I took some time out of my afternoon to sightsee a piece of historic Louisville when I visited Locust Grove, a 55-acre National Historic Landmark that offers a glimpse into 19th century life.
The Locust Grove mansion originally sat on almost 700 acres of land owned by William Croghan and Lucy Clark Croghan. An affluent family, the Croghans mingled with the likes of Presidents James Monroe and Andrew Jackson, not to mention their influential neighbor, President Zachary Taylor. But many are drawn to the site not only because it served as a gathering place for many of the elite political and social figures of the time, but also because Lucy Clark Croghan’s famous brother, George Rogers Clark – who founded Louisville and was as a Revolutionary War hero – spent the last nine years of his life there.
But being confined to Locust Grove was hardly a bad thing. Visitors today only see a fraction of what was once a huge, sprawling piece of land. Nevertheless, the site is incredible. The main house, which has been extensively restored, has three floors, with each room staged to appear exactly as it would have when the Croghans lived there. Some of my favorite artifacts were the colorful and intricate wallpaper designs (one of which has been completely restored to its original design); a portrait of the Croghans’ daughter, Anna Croghan Jesup, that somehow found its way to Britain and was recently purchased by Locust Grove on eBay; and the kitchen house, which is used for demonstrations on cooking during the 1800s.
If the artifacts aren’t enough to impress, just walking the grounds can force you to picture yourself in the 19th century. The rolling green land with reconstructed buildings all around tells a story just by looking at it. Your tour guide will explain how the land was affected by weather and how the Croghans would have used it in their everyday lives.
But Locust Grove’s beauty and extensive history isn’t the only reason to visit. The staff and volunteer docents make the experience memorable. I didn’t think it was possible to feel so comfortable in a museum, but I felt welcome the second I walked in. I could sense that they were truly excited to have me. The staff and volunteers are special because of their passion for history. The house and grounds have significant meaning to each of them, and they want to share that feeling with visitors.
In fact, my guide, Lynn Renau, was so fascinated by the Croghans and restoring the house to its original form (paint coating and all), that she went through William Croghan’s purchasing records and made significant discoveries about how the family constructed the house and why they bought significant amounts of certain materials on specific dates.
The staff at Locust Grove has also made the experience perfect for all ages. By no means should you leave the children at home. Not only does the museum have fun things like Lucy Croghan’s costume chest and a continental army uniform to try on, but they also offer programming year-round. Coming up is a five-day woodworking camp.
Other exciting events that occur throughout the year include a gardeners fair, an antiques fair, an 18th century market fair (complete with reenactors including a rat catcher) and the upcoming Jane Austen Festival.
When you visit Locust Grove, expect to start with a 12-minute film explaining some background history of George Rogers Clark and the property. Next, you will embark on an insightful, 45-minute tour of the house and grounds. Then, make sure you leave time to go through the museum, especially if you have children.
But most importantly, enjoy your time on the grounds. One of Louisville’s greatest qualities is the stories that sites like Locust Grove can tell. Between the landscape, the architecture and the fabulous people you will meet, you will leave Locust Grove with a new respect for our city.
For more information, call 502.897.9845 or visit www.locustgrove.org.
Locust Grove is located at 561 Blankenbaker Lane. Careful, the windy roads may fool you.
Hours and Tours
Locust Grove is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tours begin each hour, on the quarter hour, with the last tour starting at 3:15 p.m.
$8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $4 for children 6-12. Discount for AAA members. Group rates available.
The museum recently acquired a new doll house that is straight out of the Croghan era. Peak inside and see a collection of miniature figures that easily could have been owned by the family.
A special lecture about history and contemporary uses of rugs from the Middle East and Asian regions by Justin Voreal of Fran Jasper Oriental Rugs at 11 a.m. on Friday, June 4, at Locust Grove. The cost is $5 for the general public and $3 for members. Reservations are not required.
Category: Out & About