A Tale of Two Houses

In a narrative that juxtaposes the contrasting fates of two stately residences, we are presented with a poignant tale that encapsulates the fragility of our architectural heritage and the imperative to preserve it.

In a narrative that juxtaposes the contrasting fates of two stately residences, we are presented with a poignant tale that encapsulates the fragility of our architectural heritage and the imperative to preserve it.

During my five-year stay in Lexington, Kentucky, when I was unencumbered by the constraints of a traditional nine-to-five occupation, I frequently embarked on expeditions along the state’s rural byways, constantly pursuing new locales to photograph and explore. These excursions were an almost daily ritual, a means of quenching my insatiable curiosity. Regrettably, there were instances when I would encounter a site of interest only to defer its exploration for a future visit, citing excuses ranging from fatigue to the waning daylight or the demands of academic obligations.

One such edifice that I fortunately revisited after a prolonged hiatus was the William Tarr House. Constructed for A.J. Hitt in the mid-1860s, the residence was subsequently acquired by William Tarr prior to 1877. A farmer and distiller by trade, Tarr operated the esteemed Old Tarr Distillery in Lexington and bestowed upon the original Federal-style abode an Italianate embellishment. A two-level ell was erected at the rear, further expanding the dwelling’s footprint.

Alas, the intervening years between my initial encounter and this subsequent visit had wrought their toll, as the rear addition had succumbed to the ravages of time and collapsed.

Another storied residence, Duncan Hall, constructed in the mid-1850s, was once the domain of Major Green Duncan. This distinguished figure served in the state legislature and held the esteemed positions of sheriff and depot agent. The residence boasted brick walls four-deep, manufactured on-site, and featured massive timber beams, eight rooms with soaring 13-foot ceilings, and a kitchen situated in an ell. Across the roadway stood the slave quarters, a sobering reminder of our nation’s troubled past.

Duncan Hall was abandoned in the early 1990s, a fate it shared with the William Tarr House, whose last occupants left in 1985.

Upon my initial encounter with Duncan Hall, I was compelled to an abrupt halt, drawn by the stately presence of this architectural marvel. Disregarding the abundant “No Trespassing” signs, I pulled my vehicle into a rutted dirt driveway, recognizing that the property’s guardianship had long been forsaken. Courier-Journal newspapers from the 1960s littered the front porch, while vintage products from the 1980s adorned the kitchen shelves. Through the windows, tantalizing glimpses hinted at a treasure trove of vintage furniture and artifacts that remained housed within these hallowed walls.

Alas, entry into the main residence proved an insurmountable challenge. The flooring had succumbed to rot, collapsing into the basement through a hallway that once connected the ell to the house. The basement stairs had crumbled, and the front porch lay in ruins, without exposing the swinging front door to the elements.

Resolving to return at a later juncture, I instead found myself immersed in research a few nights ago, seeking information on what I had dubbed the “Classic-Revival Mansion.” However, my investigation was abruptly halted by a newspaper article detailing the destruction of a “historic 1850s-era residence” in a fire.

My heart sank as I feared the worst. Was this the same house I had encountered years prior? A call to the local fire department the following day confirmed my dread – the house I had longed to explore had been engulfed in a raging inferno on August 2, ignited not by the nefarious hand of an arsonist but by a lightning strike.

As I reflect on the diverging paths of these two architectural gems, I am reminded of the fragility of our built heritage and the urgency with which we must safeguard these irreplaceable treasures. For in their preservation lies the collective memory of our communities, a tapestry woven from the threads of our shared history.


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What was it about this house that held such a charm for people? I too have been “in love” with Duncan Hall for over 25 years. It’s held my interest ever since I first visited my husband’s family in Kentucky. (I live in Houston.) Driving through the countryside, we passed it and it caught my attention. I’d always look for it on subsequent visits. When my father in law moved to Bloomfield, I was so excited – I’d get to see my beloved house more frequently, though it saddened me to see it deteriorate more and more with each visit. I asked relatives about it and would revel in the rumors and legends connected with the place. Then one year we drove by, only to see the blackened shell. I was devastated. All those dreams of seeing it restored were gone.

I, too, have been enchanted by this abandoned home since I first came across it by accident when traveling to Bloomfield. I had often dreamed of restoring it to it’s former glory, but alas, could only be a dream.

Thank you for taking pictures of Duncan Hall. I had seen this home a few times over the years, and after moving nearby, was sad to see the damage from the fire. I had done searches on the net for it to find out more history on it with no luck. Like you said at first sight after visiting the winery nearby, I wanted to stop and take pictures, but time after time, there was always something else I needed to do. I am so grateful that you captured this magnificent place. It is sad when historic beauties such as this fall in disrepair. I have another location in Spencer County that I’d like to see you photograph. I may take pictures of it myself if I can ever get over there. I love the work you are doing – keep it up!

Like John, I grew up in the area and have watched Duncan Hall fall. Even more sad than a beautiful house being destroyed by time and deglect is the importance the house held in history. The original owner was a Confederate and some Union soldiers were hanged on the property or at least captured there. Also, the house has stayed in the same family since being built. Since no direct heirs exist from the last man, the legacy is totally gone.

Hi. I grew up next to this home and knew the family well. In fact, my Father used to work for the man that lived here. The home has been a source of interest by hundreds of passers by for many years, before fire and after, most all of them in agreement that the downfall and abandonment of the home is tragic. In fact, many folks tried for many years to get the owners to either sell or restore the home, but to no success. I was lucky to visit inside the home as a young man in the 1980s with the home owner and my Father.

The site almost daily receives new visitors. It's phenomenal. I was just there the other day and a man and his daughter, a photographer, from Louisville stopped in.

Your photographs are beautiful of the home prior to being burned. Though there was a storm in the area the night it burned, local opinion is that arson is highly suspect. I was curious to see if there was anything online about Duncan Hall – and was pleased to see your website come up on Google. Small world, it is.

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