What makes Louisville so interesting and full of possibilities? No one knows better than Brian Cushing, Program Coordinator at Locust Grove History Museum. He joins the Louisville Perspectives Podcast, brought to you by Lenihan Sotheby’s International Realty, to discuss why Locust Grove is more than just a static piece of local history – but a dynamic learning experience, in a broader sense.
“Well Locust Grove is really nicely tied to the early history of Louisville,” Cushing explains. The estate was commissioned by William Corghan of Dublin, Ireland – a Revolutionary War veteran -- in 1792. In those days, it was certainly considered a big mansion – not the biggest in Kentucky, but not a regular person’s house. There were only a few other stone and brick buildings up at this point – many residents still lived in log homes then, says Cushing. Though Croghan owned a farm, he was never really a farmer. “He was a businessman – and this was his country seat,” Cushing explains.
Croghan’s family moved into the home in 1795. His wife, Lucy Clark, was the younger sister of George Rogers Clark who is credited with founding the City of Louisville. George Rogers Clark lived here at Locust Grove for a spell after suffering a stroke and leg amputation in his old age. According to Cushing, George Rogers Clark discovered our city in 1778 while roaming with a regiment of troops. He stopped at Corn Island, but ultimately built his fort at 12th and Rowan. “From there you have the first Louisvillians. It was just fourteen years after the nucleus of Louisville started that Locust Grove started being built,” Cushing summarizes.
Back then, walking between Locust Grove and the town of Louisville would have taken the same amount of time as going to Cincinnati by today’s standards – it’s not impossible, but it’s not necessarily a place you pop out to on a regular basis. In the earliest years of Locust Grove, there was walking, there were horses, the affluent may have taken a carriage. Important people did make a point of stopping at Locust Grove when they came through town. Famed explorers Louis and (baby brother William) Clark came through on their expedition. President Monroe came in 1819. Andrew Jackson worked with George Rogers Clark as a general and later returned for a visit as President. Much later, Locust Grove was the site of a famous duel between Cassius Clay and Robert Wickliffe.
By the time the ownership transferred to William Croghan’s oldest son, John, the home fell into obscurity for a while. People understood Clark had lived there some time ago, but it was pretty much just a family farm until the county got it in 1961. Over time, structures have come and gone on the property, but visitors today can still see some of the main estate as William Croghan and George Rogers Clark lived it – the main home and the smokehouse, for instance. The smokehouse is the long, three-room stone structure beyond the outdoor bathrooms. Everything else has been carefully reconstructed to reflect the original style, on the old foundations. “They never cut any corners,” Cushing assures us. The interior is decorated to reflect wealth -- the paint, wallpaper and furnishings were all imported from the east.
One of the reconstructed areas he’s most excited about is the kitchen, which is completely functional. We can go in there and put some of the old cooking skills into practice to learn about how things were gone back in the earliest years of our city and nation. “Some of the best meals I’ve ever had have come out of that hearth in the kitchen,” Cushing confesses. Once you get into the mindset, you can really accomplish anything a modern kitchen can do with the right tools, he adds. A culinary-minded volunteer is out there cooking at least once a week. Then there are Revolutionary War reenactment volunteers who stay for the weekend, eating meals prepared in the kitchen.
The reenactors come from the Northwest Territorial Alliance and the Brigade of the American Revolution. The biggest Revolutionary War reenactment happens at the end of October during the 18th Century Market Fair. During this time, the front circle drive of the home is filled with vendors and crafts from the time period. They set up the American camp opposite of the stone wall, and the British camp in the garden quads. Throughout the day, they’ll be demonstrating military drills. The grand finale takes place in the big valley, where both sides face off for a historically accurate encounter. From year to year, different Revolutionary War battles from across America are depicted. Each year, they try to play out a full year of the war, which ran from 1775 – 1783, so they’re running on a seven-year cycle.
“The research is always moving forward,” says Cushing. For instance, a couple of letters surfaced within the past few years to shed some light on the family. “One letter referred to the death of the third son’s wife and said that she died in Lucy Croghan’s arms. Then there was a letter from the oldest daughter that referred to enslaved people being able to read and write, which is a detail we didn’t previously know.”
There are many ways to experience the museum. People who are interested in volunteering are invited to contact Locust Grove directly. For instance, St. X High School sends crews of guys to do heavy lifting as needed. Kentucky Shakespeare has been hosting high-impact performances in the historical setting. Visitor center and the 55 acres of rolling farmland are available for year-round rentals if you’re planning a wedding or company meeting.