Archive for the ‘Louisville’ Category

Location: Louisville, Kentucky

Locust Grove. George Rogers Clark was sheltered here by his sister in the last years of his life.

Looking over recent blog posts, the last couple of weeks have found us in a Meriwether Lewis state of mind. So to make up for it, here’s a big helping of extra-rich Clark-y goodness!

Locust Grove, a finely restored 1790 Georgian manor, was built in 1790 by Lucy Clark and her husband William Croghan (pronounced Crawn). Though her brothers get most of the ink from historians, Lucy was a remarkable woman in her own right. Not only did she make her home the hub of family activity and a veritable hotel for celebrities traveling through Louisville (her guest ranged from Aaron Burr and John James Audubon to presidents James Monroe and Andrew Jackson), she even threw a week-long house party for Lewis & Clark when they returned from the Expedition — perhaps the least she could do for a little brother made good.

Lucy Clark Croghan

By no standards was Lucy a great beauty. A contemporary wrote that an idea of her appearance could be gained by studying the famous portraits of her brothers, war hero George Rogers Clark and explorer William Clark, who could best be described as rugged rather than pretty. From all accounts, she made up for it in spades with a bubbling intelligence and a huge heart — which from age sixteen belonged to William Croghan, a young Irish-born major who was serving in the Continental Army with Lucy’s beloved older brother Jonathan.

Though an immigrant, Croghan was already well-connected with the frontier elite. His uncle, a man named George Croghan, had emigrated to America decades before and made a fortune trading for furs with the Ohio Valley Indians. His “mansion” at Lake Otsego, New York, might have been made of logs, but it was sheer luxury for the time and place, complete with wall paper, damask tablecloths, glass windows, and six fireplaces.

Young William came in hopes of finding a fortune, but all he found was war. He chose to join the Revolutionary cause, fighting with Washington at Trenton and enduring the terrible winter at Valley Forge. When he came south, he was taken prisoner at the surrender of Charleston, and it may have been as a P.O.W. that he met Jonathan Clark, who ultimately introduced him to Lucy.

William Croghan of Locust Grove

William Croghan was both smart and lucky. He emerged from the war with over $7000 in cash (around $90,000 in today’s money), became a surveyor, and headed west to resume his quest for a fortune. It is unclear why he and Lucy waited until 1789 to marry. Some sources indicate that Lucy’s father objected to the match, but it’s difficult to fathom why he would have. In any case, shortly after the marriage, William and Lucy moved to a large property overlooking the Ohio River, where they began construction of the magnificent country estate they named Locust Grove.

The Croghans may have been rich, but they weren’t immune from the same troubles that afflicted everyone else in Kentucky in the early 1790s. One evening when William was away, Lucy and the servants were taking in wash when they saw an Indian near the stables. Lucy hid in the bushes and watched as the Indian strolled into the house and took a look around. Fortunately, she was able to get to the alarm horn and sound it, and as neighbors came running, the Indian made tracks for the woods. Another time Lucy had to hide for several days at a neighboring plantation (and home of future president Zachary Taylor) due to the threat of Indian attacks.

As it turned out, Locust Grove was a spectacularly successful plantation, raising tobacco and fruit as well as hams and dairy products. In addition to helping run the farm and its enterprises, Lucy raised six sons and two daughters. In November 1806, she also hosted one of the biggest parties Louisville had ever seen, welcoming home her baby brother William and his partner Meriwether Lewis from their exploration of the western territory.

George Rogers Clark and Locust Grove, by Gwynne Tuell Potts and Samuel W. Thomas (2006)

The old warhorse George Rogers Clark met the returning heroes first at his place across the river in Clarksville, Indiana, then escorted Lewis and Clark into Louisville, where they were decked out in new clothes at the general store operated by Clark’s brother-in-law Dennis Fitzhugh. The people of the town burned bonfires and shot off cannons as the pair made their way north of town to Lucy’s home.

Locust Grove contained a ballroom on the second floor. But for the four days of the party, it was not used for dancing. Instead, William and Meriwether turned it into a museum, unpacking and displaying “Mandan robes, fleeces of the mountain goat, Clatsop hats, buffalo horns, and Indian baskets, Captain Clark’s ‘tiger-cut coat,’ Indian curios, and skins of grizzly bears — each article suggestive of adventure.” Considering how many of Lewis & Clark’s artifacts have been lost over the years, this description is both exciting and heart-breaking. What I wouldn’t give to see that coat!

Lucy was famous for her hospitality and her family loyalty, and both were put to the test in 1809. George Rogers Clark, who had battled alcoholism most of his life, took a terrible fall in his cabin and burned his leg, which had to be amputated. Clark also suffered a stroke. Unable to stay alone, he came to live at Locust Grove. Today, Locust Grove is restored to the period that General Clark lived there, and it is touching to see his downstairs bedroom, handmade wheelchair, and the porch where he passed his last years. Clark was anything but a good patient; apparently he was bitter, ill-tempered, and unpredictable. At least he was always cherished and protected by the fiercely loving Lucy. 

George lived until 1818, long enough to see Lucy’s son George Croghan continue the family tradition by becoming one of the greatest heroes of the War of 1812. The old general’s death after so many miserable years may have come as something of a relief, but four years later, Lucy received the double blow of losing her youngest son and her beloved husband William in a malaria epidemic. Her sister Ann also died, along with her sister Fanny’s husband Dennis. Within the next few years, Fanny herself died. Lucy lost her son Nicholas at the age of 24, and began to face the sorrow that alcoholism was beginning to blight her son George’s life as thoroughly as it had his uncle’s.

They Came to Locust Grove, by Melzie Wilson (2004)

To console themselves, Lucy, now 60, and Nicholas’s twin, Charles, decided to travel to Washington, D.C. visit friends and relatives. It was Lucy’s first trip out of Kentucky since arriving 41 years earlier. Lucy was invited to the White House by President Monroe, socialized with Dolley Madison, and was squired around town by Henry Clay. She enjoyed it so much that in 1833, she returned to Washington to attend the inauguration of Andrew Jackson, this time in the company of baby brother William (now 63 years old).

By 1835, at age 70, Lucy’s health had declined, and she could no longer climb stairs. She lived in a small room next to the kitchen in her last years, passing away in April 1838, just four months before her brother William. A “greatest generation” had passed from the scene.

The subject of a spectacular restoration in the 1960s, Locust Grove is probably the best of all the Clark family sites as a visitor experience. We had a nice picnic outside before starting our tour with a short film about George Rogers Clark and the house. The tour itself was one of the best house tours we’ve ever experienced. It was easy to get a sense of the family eating, talking, sleeping, and living in this genteel but informal place.  After the tour, we looked at the family cemetery and the small museum, highlighted by a great quilled hunting shirt once owned by George Rogers Clark. Don’t miss the gift shop and book store here — excellent!


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Location: Louisville, Kentucky

Graves of the Clark brothers: George, Edmund, and Jonathan, at Cave Hill Cemetery

In recent road trip posts we’ve taken a visit to Meriwether Lewis’s lonely grave along the Natchez Trace, and William Clark’s warm circle of family at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis. But in the spirit of “collect ’em all,” especially for Clark fans, you can pay tribute to an entire generation of Clark men with a visit to the beautiful and historic Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.

Cave Hill is a wonderful example of the concept of “rural cemetery” as it emerged in the middle of the 19th century. In early America, the dead were generally buried in churchyards. These can be creepy places to our modern sensibilities. I remember years ago visiting the Granary Burying Ground in Boston, where the graves are tumbled together and the headstones bear the images of skulls and have dark, dire inscriptions warning you to prepare to meet your Maker.

In the South, the churchyard tradition fell by the wayside, and many people were buried in family graveyards on their farms or plantations. This was the case for the Clark brothers of Louisville as for so many Southerners. When I visited our family’s farm in Delaware when I was a child, I remember coming across a grave and wondering about it. That was many years ago, and the farm has long since passed out of the family. I still wonder about that grave. I don’t know who it was, or what has happened to it in the years since. And even for men as famous as the Clark brothers, family graveyards can raise similar concerns after the passage of time and generations.

George Rogers Clark by Joseph Henry Bush

George Rogers Clark shortly before his death, painted by Joseph Henry Bush

As readers of this website or our novel The Fairest Portion of the Globe are aware, the life of George Rogers Clark was both heroic and tragic. His early conquests in the American Revolution, which earned him the nickname “Hannibal of the West,” gave way to betrayal, bankruptcy, despair, and alcoholism. Once described as an incredibly charismatic and intelligent figure with a build like a Viking God, Clark in old age was a withered man reduced to shouting epithets at unruly neighborhood children. When his brother Jonathan, a hale man of 61, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1811, George is said to have remarked bitterly, “Everyone can die but me.” In 1818, at the age of 66, George finally got his wish. He was laid to rest at Locust Grove, the plantation of his sister Lucy and her husband William Croghan.

During the Victorian era, a wildly romantic concept of death swept both England and the United States, leading to the rise of a third type of burial: that of a garden cemetery filled with beautiful and ostentatious monuments. The new cemeteries were scenic and landscaped, a far cry both from the densely packed churchyards and the homespun family graveyards. Families would build the biggest, best, and most impressive monuments they could afford. The park-like setting was ideal for spending the day visiting departed loved ones,, leaving flowers and even picnicking on the grounds.

Moreover, the new cemeteries offered perpetual care for the graves, something new that reflected the increased worth of the individual in society. It was a way to honor the dead, reconnect with their spirits, and celebrate the promise of hope and joy in the next world. Cave Hill Cemetery became Louisville’s entry in to the cemetery movement. Designed in 1846 on land originally purchased by the city as a quarry, the new cemetery made use of naturally hilly ground to showcase especially prominent monuments. Paths through the graves followed the gently rounded curves of the land, and low-lying areas became ponds or were planted with trees.

The entrance to Cave Hill Cemetery, 1906

By 1869, the Civil War and its aftermath had destroyed the old plantation life at Locust Grove, and the Clark family decided that the remains of George Rogers Clark should be moved from the farm to Cave Hill Cemetery. (Similarly, William Clark’s remains had been moved from his nephew’s St. Louis farm to Bellefontaine Cemetery in the 1850s.) There is a good story about the reburial of Clark’s body. If headstones had ever existed at Locust Grove, they had been lost, and a number of bodies had to be exhumed in the search for Clark.

The workers had to be getting pretty discouraged by the time they dug up the ninth body, but this time they hit pay dirt. Fortunately for them, though not for Clark, the old general had fallen in 1809 and burned his leg in a household fire. The leg had to be amputated. So the appearance of a skeleton dressed in a military uniform, missing a left leg and sporting the remnants of gray and red hair, must have filled everyone with unseemly relief. Clark was reinterred in a gently sloping section of Cave Hill.

Dear Brother, edited by James Holmberg (2002) is a wonderful collection of William Clark's letters to his brother Jonathan

Although less well-known today than George Rogers or William, two other Clark brothers were laid to rest next to George. Jonathan Clark, the steely pater familias and confidant of William, was a well-known Revolutionary War hero in his own right, a veteran of the South Carolina campaign, a former prisoner of war, and a wealthy and successful attorney. His wife Sarah Hite, documented as a kind and motherly woman who was a great cook, rests by his side. Fewer details survive about Captain Edmund Clark, also a veteran of the Revolution. A merchant by trade who was shyer than the other brothers, he nonetheless comes down in letters as a sensible, strong-minded man who was smart about money. Like George Rogers, Edmund never married.

Unlike many of the graves at Cave Hill, the Clarks have only modest headstones, not grand monuments. If you visit, you will want to take the time to explore some of the impressive statues and family plots. (Among others is the impressive memorial for Harlan Sanders, the Colonel of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame.) But none are more moving than the well-tended graves of these three heroes and their families, still lying together shoulder-to-shoulder in Clark family solidarity. We placed our Texas flags next to some fading tributes from the DAR and felt grateful for the service (often thankless) rendered by these brothers to America.

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