A Tale of Two Houses

William Tarr House

A tale of two houses in Kentucky: William Tarr House and Duncan Hall.

A tale of two houses.

When I lived in Lexington, Kentucky for five years, and was free from the restraints of an eight-to-five job, I frequently traveled the back roads of the state, finding new places to photograph and explore on an almost daily basis. There were times when I would pass by a location and say to myself, “I’ll check it out on my next trip.”

Too tired to exit the vehicle and investigate. Getting too dark outside. Classes in the morning. Always some excuse.

One house that I fortunately returned to after a several-year hiatus was the William Tarr House. Constructed for A.J. Hitt in the mid-1860’s, the house was sold to William Tarr prior to 1877. Tarr was a farmer and distiller who operated the Old Tarr Distillery in Lexington.

Tarr updated the original Federal-style residence with Italianate detailing. A two-level ell was constructed in the rear, along with an expansion of the residence.

The house was last used in 1985.

Between my first visit years ago and this trip, much has changed: the rear addition has collapsed.


Another residence, Duncan Hill, constructed in the mid-1850’s, was owned by Major Green Duncan who served in the state legislature and as a sheriff and depot agent. The residence featured brick walls four-deep that were manufactured on-site, massive timber beams, eight rooms with 13-foot ceilings, and a kitchen in an ell. Slave quarters were located across the roadway.

Duncan Hall was abandoned in the early 1990’s.

When I first set my eyes upon this house, I abruptly stopped and pulled by car into a rutted dirt driveway. “No Trespassing” signs were abundant, but it was clear that no one really cared about this stately residence. Courier-Journal newspapers from the 1960’s littered the front porch, and vintage products from the 1980’s stocked the shelves in the kitchen. And it appeared that more vintage furniture and items remained inside, although I only got but a few glimpses from the exterior.

There was seemingly no way to enter the main residence, though. The flooring had rotted through to the basement from the ell to the house via a hallway connecting the two. The basement stair steps had collapsed. And the front porch was non-existent in front of the swinging front door.

I thought I would return soon,. I decided a few nights ago to do some research on what I called just the “Classic-Revival Mansion, but unfortunately, a newspaper article about a “historic 1850’s era residence” being destroyed in a fire cuaght my attention first.

My heart abruptly sank. Was this the same house I briefly encountered years past? I called the local fire department the next day, and it was confirmed that the house that I longed to enter was engulfed in a raging inferno on August 2. The cause was not arson but a lightening strike.

7 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. 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.

  5. 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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