Pictured is Blakemore, home of Matthew Sellers, aviation pioneer. Blakemore was listed in 1975 on the National Register of Historic Places, but burned shortly afterward, apparently from arson. It was located two miles due south of Grahn on State Route 1644 and 1400 feet southeast on a private dirt road.
Blakemore was built in 1894. It was unusual because of its scale in the context of the region, its dramatic and unexpected site, and its extreme verticality. Of straightforward wood-frame construction sheathed in clapboard, the main block had a high gabled tin roof allowing for two-and-a-half stories on the almost identical front and back with a fourth story under the roof. There was s small two-story kitchen wing to one side, and a lightly framed porch over the entrance to the stairway hall. The fenestration was rigidly symmetrical, with tall narrow evenly spaced openings unconnected vertically or horizontally and with minimal trim; there were no revival motifs on the exterior. The cornice projected out at the gable ends but was altogether plain. It appeared from early photographs that the window and door surrounds, corner posts, and other trim were painted dark against light walls. Some of the original shutters seemed to have swung out from the top rather than sideways like the usual (and pictured) casement type. Overall, the original effect must have resembled Stick Style or even Chautauqua camp wooden architecture, particularly amid the tall slender trees surrounding it on the slight level ground that interrupted the hillside site.
The interior expressed a continuation of the simplicity that is seen in the exterior. The interior layout was simple with its wide central hall and three-story stairway. The walls had no decoration but were merely painted. The details of the interior were as austere as those of the outside. Although the staircase had anachronistic curvilinear trim at the ends of the risers and turned spindles, the square newel posts had sharply chamfered corners and deeply incised horizontal belts that articulated movement of the stairs rather than suggesting continuity.
The residence was equipped with electric lighting in 1895. The power source was a wet-cell storage system charged by a dynamo. This was driven by an upright steam engine which also supplied power for machine tools and similar requirements in the shop/laboratory building. There were speaking tubes between the principal rooms in the residence. An electric call system was designed and installed by Matthew, this featuring a panel with eight "drops" place in the service area. Also on the grounds was a steel windmill seventy-five feet in height which was also built by Sellers to draw water and crush grain.
Blakemore was the scene of pioneering aeronautical research and invention undertaken by Matthew Bacon Sellers during the period 1897 through 1911. Located deep in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky, the house was a lavish mansion when compared to the rustic cabins then scattered among the hollows of that region. Blakemore's commanding hilltop location inspired awe among its neighbors, and the highly unusual activities which took place there have contributed much to its enduring reputation.
Matthew Bacon Sellers was born into wealth on March 29, 1869, in Baltimore, Maryland. His early education was under tutors, at private schools, and in 1885-1887 in Goettingen, Germany, and Evreux, France. he entered Harvard Law School two years later, receiving the LL.B.. in 1892. Thereafter he undertook special courses in the sciences and mechanical arts at The Lawrence Scientific School and Drexel Institute.
Sellers' interest in mechanical flight had its inception during his early youth. While yet in his teens he constructed kites, "mechanical birds," and large balloons of both hot-air and hydrogen types. Upon completion of his formal education and the construction of Blakemore, Sellers began to devote more serious attention to aeronautics. During 1897, at Blakemore, he undertook experiments with a "blower" to observe the dynamic forces exerted upon various shapes in a moving current of air. His apparatus included devices to record the lift and drag characteristics of the shapes tested. In July, 1903 Sellers turned his full attention to aeronautics, and during that year he constructed his first full-size glider. At the same time he built a more sophisticated wind tunnel in his laboratory building at Blakemore. This measured 3 x 24 feet and incorporated instruments for recording air velocity as well as the lift and drag of various airfoil sections. Sellers' wind tunnel was much larger and more advanced than that used by the Wright brothers.
These laboratory investigations in aerodynamics continued through 1907, at which time Sellers began construction of new "quadruplane" gliders for which he obtained patents. During the next year he fitted a chassis with retracting wheels and a 7 hp. engine to one of these gliders. This powered machine made its initial short flights from a field adjacent to Blakemore on December 28, 1908. Thus, for the first time in aviation history, retracting wheels had been used on an airplane.
Sellers continued to improve his airplane, securing additional patents on its innovative features. It is widely credited with being the lightest airplane ever flown, and with the least power--the achievement which Sellers sought. His flights at Blakemore continued through 1911 when, in October, a local assistant was killed by the airplane's propeller. Sellers immediately left Kentucky to continue his experiments in Georgia and elsewhere, although Blakemore remained in his family.
In 1912, Matthew Sellers was appointed by President Taft to the Aerodynamical Laboratory Commission. The deliberations of that body led to the formation of the national Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, now the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In 1915 Sellers was appointed to the Naval Consulting Board as an authority on aeronautics. This body was chaired by Thomas A. Edison and was composed of prominent scientists of that period. Following World War I, Sellers married and established his home at Ardsley-on-Hudson, New York. There he resumed private aeronautical research until his death on April 5, 1932.
Few other buildings so intimately associated with pioneer-period aeronautics as Blakemore still existed when Blakemore was placed on the National Historical Register.
It has been said that Matthew Sellers was "one of the few real
scientific flying men in the U.S.A.," according to 'All The World's Aircraft,
1913.' The foundation of his contributions to early aviation was
securely laid at Blakemore--far from other aeronautical centers of that
time and under conditions which demanded the utmost resourcefulness.
Many surviving specimens of his aeronautical equipment are now held by
the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institute.
Submitted by Garrett and Sherry Lowe
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