As we occasionally do, today we stray from Christian County, finding ourselves in Harrodsburg in Mercer County for a look at the historic Beaumont Inn, as it celebrates its 100th year of operation.
The main building of the Beaumont Inn is much more than a century old, having been built in 1845 as a school for young ladies - like the Green River Girls' Academy in Elkton - which is a decade older than that - 1835. It was built in the then newly-popular Greek Revival Style and is composed of three stories and an imposing front porch with prominent Ionic columns. These columns were made of rounded bricks and then plastered over. Built at a cost of $10,000 (an enormous sum at the time) the college could accommodate 100 students.
During the Civil War, Kentucky was the only state in the union that didn't declare for the north or the south. Under Governor Magoffin, the state legislature issued a proclamation of neutrality in the spring of 1861 - going as far as agreeing to moderate between the belligerents. This was significant for the school since parents thought it a safe place to store their daughters during the conflict. Unfortunately (not for the school but for the parents' peace of mind) the battle of Perryville (also called the Battle of Chaplin Hills or The Battle for Kentucky) took place on the 8th of October 1862 and was one of the bloodiest of the entire Civil War. During the battle, gunfire could be heard at the school, some 15 miles away. It was a decisive battle for the Union, and Kentucky remained under Union control for the balance of the war.
Before the brick Beaumont Inn (school building) came into being in the mid-19th century, there was - on the same spot - a log home that was the childhood residence of John Marshall Harlan, the sixth longest serving United States Supreme Court Justice in American history (12,360 days, or over 33 years). Harlan was known as "the great dissenter" because of his many disagreements involving cases that dealt with restriction of civil liberties. The most prominent of these is perhaps Plessy v. Ferguson from 1896. Here the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation laws in public facilities, as long as they were equal in quality. It became the legal foundation for the "separate but equal" doctrine.
It is little wonder the Beaumont Inn (which means lovely or beautiful hill in French) is a survivor, as it was a state-of-the-art building when constructed of 18-inch thick, load-bearing brick walls, which were designed and constructed with a hollow space inside, to keep moisture from forming on the bricks. It was built on a slight hill, which gives rise to its name. Perhaps because the previous structure on the spot succumbed to fire, the school was made as fireproof as possible, including a metal roof. It is 80-by-52 feet, and the bricks were fired on the property.
The ceilings are 11-foot-5 on the main floor, 10-foot-5 on the second and 9-foot-5 on the third level. Many of the original rolled glass window panes are still in evidence, and a number of those display
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etchings made with diamond rings, of students engagements and the names of dear friends.
Originally called the Greenville Institute, the Beaumont was next called Daughters College, when under the direction of John Augustus Williams, the former president of the University of Kentucky.
In 1894, the property was purchased by Col. Thomas Smith, a Confederate Army veteran, and renamed Beaumont College until 1917, when it was bought by Mr. and Mrs. Glave Goddard. Mrs. Goddard had graduated from the school in 1880, and obviously had a love for the building and the institution. It was converted into the Beaumont Inn two years later in 1919 - exactly 100 years ago.
The Beaumont Inn could (and in fact does) co-exist as living museum of Kentucky history, and is a must-see for anyone in Kentucky who hasn't.
As one enters, he or she is confronted with twin stairways in the main hall that lead to the two upper floors. The chandeliers, pier mirrors and overmantel mirrors in the connecting parlors are from the original Galt House in Louisville - acquired when it was being dismantled.
Maintaining the doctrine of neutrality well into the 21st century, one sees portraits of Jefferson Davis and his second wife Varina Howell on the walls, along with those of George and Martha Washington.
Perhaps one of the most interesting pieces in the Inn is the gold-plated Cleopatra clock, which was sent from France to Chicago for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Also called the Chicago World's Fair or The White City (because all of its buildings were) the French Exposition Building proudly housed this clock, which - with its new gold leaf electroplating process - was sent to promote this new style of decorating.
There is also the James Harrod room - Harrod being one of the men who established the first permanent settlement in Kentucky in 1774. The inn also displays a wood chair that FDR sat in, in 1934, when in Kentucky to dedicate the American Revolutionary War patriot George Rogers Clark's monument at Old Fort Harrod.
On the property, there are two other buildings, Greystone House, a neo-classical mansion that was built in 1931 and provides four guest bedrooms. The other is Goddard Hall, from 1935, which boasts of 10 bedrooms.
A trip to the Harrodsburg area offers an impressive slice of Kentucky history, such as the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill and Old Fort Harrod.
But, the undisputed centerpiece of this visit is the Beaumont Inn, and you will treasure every minute of time spent there.
In July, another monument to Kentucky architecture will be unveiled, perhaps closer to home.
James B. Coursey's Hiding in Plain Sight column appears monthly in the Kentucky New Era. His column is researched jointly with County Historian William T. Turner. Reach James Coursey at 270-719-9462 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.