Located in Richmond, Kentucky, White Hall is really two houses in one. The original building, called Clermont, was built in the Georgian style in 1798-1799 by Cassius Clay's father, Gen. Green Clay. A contemporary of Daniel Boone, Green Clay had amassed a great fortune on the Kentucky frontier; his holdings included distilleries, taverns, farms, and a ferry across the Kentucky River.
After inheriting Clermont from his father, Cassius Clay enlarged the house from 7 to 44 rooms between 1861 and 1862 and renamed it White Hall. The work was largely done while Cassius was away as ambassador to Russia. The renovation, designed in the Italianate style by renowned architect Thomas Lewinski and builder-architect John McMurty, was overseen by Clay's wife, Mary Jane Warfield-Clay. Lewinski also designed the renovation of Ashland -- cousin Henry Clay's home in Lexington. That project was completed in 1857.
In fact, there are obvious similarities between the two Lewinski projects. Both White Hall and Ashland feature high, browed windows in the Italianate style, enlarged and reinforced cornices, and iron balconies and porches. Indoors, both houses also contain examples of the Greek Revival style, popular at the time, including plaster medallions around the bases of the chandeliers and elaborate plaster cornices that decorate the edges of the ceilings in some rooms.
While her husband was away during the Civil War, Mrs. Clay gained protection from Southern troops by allowing Union troops to bivouac on her property. They paid her for the right to let their horses graze at White Hall, and she received protection from Rebel threats.
The interesting and unusual features of White Hall itself include a central heating system that was fed by two basement fireboxes. The heat traveled up and into the rooms through ducts to openings in false fireplaces. Also rare for its time was White Hall's indoor plumbing: Rainwater was collected in a large cistern on the third floor of the house, which in turn fed the water closet, bath, and commode on the floor below.
After Cassius M. Clay's death, White Hall stayed under family ownership for several decades. It was purchased by the state in 1967 restored a few years later through the efforts of Kentucky Gov. Louie B. Nunn and his wife, Beula. It is now a Kentucky Historic Site, maintained by the state.
Visitors to White Hall today can take guided tours led by guides in period dress. The house and grounds are open from April 1 through October 31 and again for a few days at Christmas time, with tours given between 9:00 am and 4:30 pm ET. (The grounds open one hour earlier and close one hour later.) White Hall is open seven days a week from April 1 to Labor Day, but is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays after that, except for special events. School groups are welcome. Call (859) 623-9178 or visit the White Hall web page maintained by the Kentucky Parks Department for information and admission fees.
One popular "special event" at White Hall -- appropriate for a house long rumored to be haunted -- is the annual Halloween celebration, "A Haunting Evening with the Clay Family." Costumed guides reenact some of the history of White Hall as guests wander through the home at night. Our own virtual tour includes video clips of several of those White Hall ghost stories.
White Hall is located at 500 White Hall Shrine Road in Richmond, KY. By car, it is off I-75 at exit 95 between Richmond and Lexington. Fort Boonesborough, the site of one of Kentucky's earliest settlements, is nearby; combination tour packages are available.
Last Updated: Wednesday, 27-Aug-2014 15:25:30 EDT