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Witness Kentucky history at EKU's White Hall

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Posted at 6:06 PM, Aug 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-24 18:28:45-04

MADISON COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Tucked away from the noise of I-75, the grounds of White Hall feel very far from traces of modern-day life.

But there's more to this sprawling mansion than meets the eye.

The original home was built by General Green Clay, who fought in the Revolutionary War. The home was eventually passed on to his son, Cassius.

"His father, Green Clay, owned 105 slaves when he died. And then here's Cassius who becomes known as a radical emancipationist," said Stephanie Thurman, head tour guide.

Cassius Clay even ran an anti-slavery newspaper in 1840's Lexington, The True American, which you can see on display along your tour.

"Unfortunately, Kentucky was a pro-slavery state. But he didn't care. He saw this was the right thing to do, and this is what he was going to do," said Thurman.

During the Civil War, Clay served the Lincoln Administration as Ambassador to Russia.

Gifts from the czar, Alexander II, are spread across the 10,000 square foot home. While he was overseas, his wife of 45 years, Mary Jane Warfield, ran the house and oversaw the massive expansion of the home.

"She ran the property. She took care of the livestock. She took care of everything. She was in charge of all of it. And then, when their daughters grew older, pretty much all of them became suffragettes in their own right," said Thurman.

Which is why in 2019, White Hall was marked as a spot on the National Votes for Women Trail, honoring Mary Barr Clay, who addressed Congress back in 1884 regarding women's suffrage.

Her sister, Laura Clay, became the first woman to be put forward as a major party nominee for president.

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"We're truly on the forefront of social and political progress. And that's so important for people to know because a lot of times, you know, especially in Appalachia we're not often looked at as being on the forefront of progress but this right here is proof that we were," said Dani Gift, the park's coordinator for EKU.

In the years following the death of Cassius Clay in 1903, the home fell into disrepair.

But in the late 1960's, the state took over the home, and restored White Hall. In 1971, the historic home was reopened to the public, helping new generations learn about a Kentucky family who pushed for progress.

"You don't expect to hear a decade's worth of Russia in this house. Or fighting against slavery necessarily. Or a woman of that time being in charge of everything. It's truly fascinating history, you just have to come out and see it," said Thurman.

Tours are available at White Hall from Wednesday-Sunday.