Col. Thos. Hart Home, Lexington, Fayette, Kentucky


S.W. Cor. Mill and 2nd. Sts
, Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky

Col. Thomas Hart, Sr., on December 23, 1793, from his home in Hagerstown, Md., wrote to his friend Governor William Blount, Governor and Commander in Chief of the Territory South of Ohio, "to be left at Hawkins County House," a lengthy letter about his plans for the future.

"You will be surprised when I tell you," said Colonel Hart, "that I shall write my friends in Kentucky by the next post to procure me a House in Lexington for the reception of my family in the Spring. Yes, Mrs. Hart who has opposed the measure for the 18 years past has now given her consent when she finds that her Eldest son will go, thinks it best to go."

"Altogether I have had four stores established in that country for some time past and I find that my manufacturing business that I now carry on, may be pushed to much greater advantage in that country than here, and so we go on, an old fellow of 63 years of age, seeking a new Country to make an Estate in, and making good your Brother Tom's observation to my neighbor Col. Sprigg (in Frederick Town) about 10 years ago that I never would be satisfied in this world whilst new countries could be found, and which the Colonel did not fail to put me in mind of a few days ago.  My views in Kentucky is to push the merchantile business as long as the Indian War continues and money is plenty."

This remarkable letter (Henry Clay papers, recently lodged with the Library of Congress by direction of the will of the late Capt. Thomas Clay) reveals more history about Colonel Hart's coming to Kentucky than all of the meagre notes of historians collectively heretofore published. Correlated with other fugitive items it completes a glamorous story of a courageous pioneer.

First, it reveals that Colonel Hart had been determined to cast his lot with "the West" since he came to Boonesborough as one of the proprietors of the Transylvania Company in 1775 ("18 years past") and had endeavored to prevail upon his wife at that time and ever since to risk the untold hardships and dangers of "the Wilderness."

Next it shows that his spirit would not "down" at the advanced age of 63 years, that he already had established "four stores in that Country" and finally--which brings us to the subject of this article--he was writing his friends "to procure a house in Lexington" for his family.

Colonel Hart, as will be shown later, arrived in Lexington about the first of June the following year.

Now, to properly introduce the distinguished near century-and-a-half old manse here, let General Robert B. McAfee ("The Life and Times of Robert B. McAfee") relate his first visit as a boy to Lexington, to see Mr. John Breckinridge:

"1794--In the month of February I was sent with my uncle James McAfee to Lexington. He had several packhorses with flour to sell. I rode one of them, but rode into town behind him and went to Mr. Breckinridge's house. He lived in one which Thomas Hart (Mr. Clay's father-in-law) afterward lived in. I will never forget his fine carpets, which were new furniture to me. I hesitated to walk on it until my uncle, seeing my embarrassment, ordered me to walk on."

As Mr. Breckinridge soon removed to his famous Cabell's Dale in the country, Colonel Hart's "friend" may have bought this house. If so, Dr. Frederick Ridgely built it, as he then owned the block.

Contra to the deduction from McAfee's statement that Colonel Hart bought a "ready-made" residence is the statement by Henry Clay in a deed to James B. January for Mr. Clay's house (razed) and lot next door, "beginning on Mill St. 200 feet south-west from the corner of John Bradford's house erected by the late Col. Thomas Hart." (Repeated in deed of Jas. B. January to John Tilford--both deeds 1813).

Colonel Hart, who had been one of the Transylvania Company proprietors of Boonesborough in 1775, and was living in Hagerstown, Md., made the following announcement in the Kentucky Gazette February 18, 1794:

The Subscribers, intending to remove to Kentucky in Spring and wishing to see manufacturers (as well as trade and commerce) flourish in that country, have purchased and are now sending off a number of French Burr Millstones, which they will take down the river with them, together with superfine Bolting Cloths, &c. They propose also to establish in Lexington a nail manufactory on so large a scale as to supply the whole of Kentucky with nails of every kind. They will also establish a Tin Manufactory and a Rope Manufactory in said town and supply the inhabitants on lower terms with their manufactures than these articles have hitherto been furnished. THOMAS HART & SON."

Colonel Hart upon arrival opened a store for the sale of his "Bolting Cloths, &c.," and purchased, preparatory to launching his nail factory and rope-walk, the entire block here, today surrounded by Broadway, Second, Mill and Church Streets.

His progress was told in a letter he wrote to his friend, Gov. William Blount, of Maryland, the following February (1795), in which he stated he was living in affluence and making money:

"We arrived in this country about the first of June last and with us we brought between three and four thousand pounds worth of goods which we distributed amongst the stores we then established here, and after fixing ourselves to work in the manufacturing of nails and rope, I sent my son back and he started in the month of November with between 7 and 8,000 pounds worth of goods--on which he received a profit of upwards of 1,700--and is now on his way to Philadelphia and intends bringing...merchandise back. Our nailing business is a very pretty thing in this country...and a rope manufactory that I have all ready to set going as soon as the winter breaks will also be profitable. I am building a large shop and I shall set four forges agoing at this Blacksmith business in a few days...I am but 65 years of age and do not entertain company more than twice a week...I feel all that ardor and spirit for business I did forty years ago."

Colonel Hart's nail factory back of this house was established in 1794. An ad in the Kentucky Gazette in October, 1794, by Thomas Hart & Son announced a "nail manufactory in Lexington." It stated that "a number of Journeymen Nailors were wanted, to whom generous wages will be paid in cash." Hart & Son "would wish also to take a few sensible sprightly Negro boys of about 14 or 15 years of age apprentices for three or four years as they can agree with their owners, or they would give cash for each at reasonable prices," the ad said.

Advertisements of the products of the nail factory were noted in the Kentucky Gazette as late as 1799.

Colonel Hart, in November, 1796, advertised "Twenty Dollars Reward" for two "runaway Negro men." One, "named Billy, a lusty, well-made fellow, had on a new pair of leather overalls when he went away in the time of the races last week." A few weeks before "a purse" was advertised to be "run for over the Lexington Course." It was to be a three-day meeting, with three-mile, two-mile and one-mils heats the respective days.

The other slave, Colonel Hart stated, was "a tall, likely-made fellow named Ned, lately the property of John McNair and well known in this town for a great rascal."

In December, 1796, Colonel Hart advertised that, "wishing to carry on the manufacturing of cordage upon a more extensive scale, he will employ a number of Journeymen, and to a Foreman who well understands the making of every species of Tarred Rope or Rigging for ships, extraordinary wages will be given." He offered a "generous price in cash and merchandise at Samuel Price & Co.'s Store" for a "quantity of well-cleaned hemp."

He had advertised in January, 1796, for well-cleaned Hemp, "having begun manufacturing Cordage," to be delivered at the stores of "Thomas Hart & Son or Samuel Price & Co."

In March, 1797, the following announcement appeared in the Kentucky Gazette:

The subscriber having engaged a workman from Philadelphia perfectly acquainted with manufacturing Cordage in all its branches, is determined to engage extensively in that business; he will therefore give the highest price for good well-cleaned HEMP and TAR, and generous wages to all such JOURNEYMEN Rope Makers as can come well recommended for their sobriety and industry. He would also wish to take a number of boys from twelve to fifteen years of age as APPRENTICES to the said business, who shall be well cloathed and comfortably boarded in the family of Mr. Doge, the manager, who has come forward highly recommended as a man of character, and perfectly well acquainted with the management of a rope walk, and whom the subscriber has taken into partnership. As this species of manufacture will probably be continued and greatly extended in the western country, and as it is an easy and decent employment, it is hoped that many will be disposed to be instructed in so useful a branch of business. THOMAS HART.

(David Dodge still was manager of Colonel Hart's rope-walk in December, 1799,--Henry Clay papers, Library of Congress).

Colonel Hart had so many enterprises launched on his Broadway block, from Second to Church Streets, that he had to remove his rope-walk elsewhere. He announced in the Kentucky Gazette in August, 1797:

"FOR SALE--The subscriber, who is about to remove his old Rope Walk, will lay out the land on which it stands, in six lots 66-2/3 feet in front and 140 feet back; he will also lay out a lot on the street he lives on, the same size including his blacksmith's shop, on three of the other lots will be three small brick houses, which will accommodate as many families; all of which will be sold on reasonable terms by THOMAS HART."

He sold the Second Street corner lot on Broadway to his manager, David Dodge, reserving the house on Second Street and the alley, back of it, however. The next two 66-2/3 foot lots he held for a while as his nail plant. The next two he sold to Stout and Ashton, and John Eads bought the sixth lot on the corner of Church Street and Broadway.

Colonel Hart made the following disposition of the six lots "on the street he lives on" (Mill Street):

He conveyed the "Colonel Hart House" on the Second St. corner of Mill, with its brick wall extending back to the alley and with 100 feet fronting on Mill St., to his son, Thomas, Jr. He built a house on the next 100 feet (thus covering three lots) and presented it to his son-in-law Henry Clay (house razed, but Mr. Clay's old stable may be seen in the rear of it). The fourth lot he sold to Samuel Willkinson (the famous jeweler, Asa Blanchard, lived here for many years). The fifth already was occupied by Colonel Hart's own residence, which he had built meantime (Emmal House).

The sixth lot, on the Church Street corner, he sold to Andrew Hare. Hare conveyed it to John Keiser and next it became the residence of the Hon. Wm. T. Barry, later the Bank of the United States. All of the Mill Street houses mentioned have been razed, except the "Colonel Thos. Hart Home."

Colonel Thomas Hart, Captain Nathaniel Hart and David Hart, brothers, all were proprietors in the Transylvania Company.

Captain Nathaniel Hart established Hart's (White Oak Spring) Station one mile above Boonesborough. In August, 1782, as he was carelessly riding out in the vicinity of the station, he was killed by a small party of Indians, who escaped although warmly pursued by Colonel Daniel Boone.

His son, Nathaniel Hart, who finally settled in Woodford County and was one of Kentucky's most prominent citizens, conducted a store in Lexington at an early date (seemingly overlooked by historians). His ad--"Nath. Hart"--in the Kentucky Gazette May 13, 1799, announced he was "in the house lately occupied by Messrs. Gardner & Boardman and adjacent to Major Beatty's store." He advertised an extensive line of dry goods, hardware, groceries, glassware, paints, patent medicine and "Crowley steel." He suggested "his old customers on the South side of the Kentucky river, should they come to Lexington to trade, give him a call."

Colonel Thomas Hart built the home next door for his son-in-law, Henry Clay, about 1802. The house passed from Mr. Clay to James B. January, John Tilford, Dr. Benjamin W. Dudley, John J. Hunter, Col. W.C.P. Breckinridge and Ephraim D. Sayre, who razed the building and erected two dwellings in place of it.

Mr. Clay married Colonel Hart's daughter, Lucretia, in the old home here. He had his law office across the street and resided next door until he bought and removed to "Ashland." Jas. B. January bought the Clay house (assessed for it in 1807). Mr. Clay in 1807 was assessed only for his law office on Mill Street and a house he owned on Upper Street (Owings-Hawes House).

Thomas Hart, Jr., took over the "Colonel Hart Home" evidently soon after he advertised May 12, 1800, that he "wishes to sell 6 or 7 likely young Negro boys and men," with instructions to apply at his farm "four miles from Lexington on Strodes road" (now Winchester Road).

A few years later he bought and moved into Col. Geo. Nicholas' home (see "Sayre College"), and sold this house to John Bradford, the pioneer editor.

His father died June 23, 1808-"Col. Thomas Hart, an old and very respected resident of Lexington died Thursday evening." His mother, "Mrs. Susanna Hart, widow and relict of the late Col. Thomas Hart" died August 26, 1832, in the old home ("Emmal House," razed recently) near the other end of the block.

The really great career of Mr. Bradford occurred during the Kentucky Gazette editor's residence here from 1806 until his death March 20, 1830, aged 83. "The Moral Philosopher of the West," he was called in his newspaper obituary. He was Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Lexington and of Transylvania University, and connected with every community enterprise of his day. He delivered the address of welcome to General Lafayette on his memorable visit in 1825. The General paraded here in front of his door.

Rafinesque, the distinguished, eccentric scientist, boarded here with Mr. Bradford--the bill for board and "candles" still is preserved at Transylvania College.

Since the time of the great editor's occupancy, the house has been referred to in all the deeds as the "John Bradford Home." The John Bradford Society has erected a tablet in the wall giving a brief biography of "The Moral Philosopher."

Source: Old Houses of Lexington, C. Frank Dunn, typescript, n.d., copy located in the Kentucky Room, Lexington (Kentucky) Public Library.

Transcribed by pb, June 2006