Covering Kentucky

Jan 12, 2014 3:09 PM

Kentucky Governor's Mansion Turns 100

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - It's the house that Frankfort built - literally - and this month begins a yearlong celebration of the 100-year-old Governor's Mansion.

Kentucky's 61st governor, Steve Beshear, and first lady Jane Beshear will head the centennial celebration. The couple also had the honor of leading the 100-year celebration of the Capitol in 2012.

It was Gov. Augustus Willson in 1911 who actually set in motion the building of a new residence, though he was not in office when it was completed. Gov. James McCreary and his daughter would be the first occupants in 1914. His wife, Kate, died before his second term.

After the Capitol was completed in 1912, the General Assembly selected the low bid of approximately $75,000 from Frankfort Construction to build the Beaux Arts revival home as designed by Ft. Thomas architects C.C. and Edward Weber.

Dozens of Frankfort workers went to work on the impressive home that would replace The Palace, the original governors' residence on High Street. The new home would be within eyesight of the new Capitol.

McCreary frequently visited Berry Mansion in Frankfort and wanted a home that would be considered even more prestigious.

"He considered himself an aristocrat and made changes to the original design, believing that such a grand home should have a ballroom and therefore to balance its look, the south portico, which now houses the sun parlor, was added," said David Buchta, director and state curator of historic properties.

Buchta said since McCreary was a lieutenant colonel in the Confederate army, many of the soldiers who served under him donned their uniforms to honor his service at the grand party.

"It was believed that over 1,000 citizens attended the party held by McCreary. Through modern movie-making techniques, we're going to come as close as we can to that eventful evening," said Michael Breeding, a Lexington filmmaker who has been working the past few months on a documentary about the mansion's history.

His efforts have included interviews with governors, first ladies and their children, members of the staff past and present, and those who have served as directors of the Mansion.

"Their stories and anecdotes have been fascinating, poignant and filled with humorous incidents from their time in this home. They definitely have provided real insight on how it was to live and work here," Breeding said.

The film, "Kentucky's Governor's Mansion, a Century of Reflection," will debut at the Grand Theatre 7:30 p.m. Jan 15. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased through eventbrite.com.

"Since Frankfort was at the center of the Mansion's creation, we wanted its people to see it first," Buchta said.

A pre-showing reception is planned for 6 p.m. at the Mansion. The cost for the reception is $75 per person.

The film will also be shown Jan. 16 in Lexington with a viewing at the Kentucky Theatre and a pre-show reception at Portofino's.

All proceeds for the multitude of year-long events will benefit the Kentucky Mansions Executive Foundation.

"It is the goal of Mrs. Beshear to ensure that this year's celebration raises money to keep the people's home in good repair for years to come," Governor's Mansion Director Ann Evans said.

"While money is provided by the Legislature for routine maintenance of the house, no money is provided for its general upkeep."

Evans explained that with thousands of people visiting the Mansion each year, it experiences the same wear and tear any home would receive with that amount of traffic. Carpets wear out, floors become scuffed and drapes wear thin.

Just as the board is comprised of nonpartisan members and is actively involved in the centennial, Evans said every effort is being made to ensure this year's celebration is nonpolitical as well.

"This year is not about Democrats or Republicans; it is about a home that was residence to every governor and first lady of Kentucky since 1914," Evans said. "It is actually viewed as the people's home, where everyone is welcomed and the politics of those people are never considered when it comes to hosting visiting groups big and small."

One of the highlights of the year will be a private event Jan. 20 when all former governors and their families will return to the mansion.

Steve Collins, son of former Gov. Martha Layne Collins, is in charge of reaching out to the descendants of earlier families.

"Steve is doing a marvelous job and has talked with sons, daughters, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren of Kentucky's early governors," Evans said.

"Some live as far away as China and Ireland," Buchta added.

Evans said this is the first time all families have been brought together and a luncheon is being planned for them Jan. 21 at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, along with a viewing of the film.

In April, local residents will have an opportunity to view the house when Harry Lee and Lee Waterfield and John and Jennie Nunn Penn serve as hosts for a special Frankfort reception.

Again, there will be a charge to raise funds for the continuing upkeep of the Mansion.

Also being showcased is a $2 million art exhibit of the works of John James Audubon, on loan from John James Audubon State Park, the Speed Art Museum and The Filson Historical Society.

Audubon, who came to Kentucky in 1808 and settled in Henderson in 1810, was the most prolific painter of American birds. His initial work of the Kentucky cardinal is also on display.

Another exhibit will be added in April through June with a focus on Frankfort furniture.

"There were incredible furniture makers in Frankfort at the turn of the century, and we have been fortunate to locate many original pieces," Evans said.

In June, the exhibits will turn to Kentucky silver and in October the focus will be on the Kentucky bourbon industry.

Also in June, a grand centennial celebration gala will be held.

Evans said the Mansion will remain open to public tours on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Other days of the week will be added this year with tours conducted by Frankfort volunteers.

"We are making every effort to make the people's home open to as many people as possible this year," she said. "We want those in Frankfort, as well as citizens across the state, to have the opportunity to see what a showcase the Mansion is."

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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