The Museum of Natural History at Ashland

When John Bryan Bowman founded Kentucky University, one of his goals was to provide non-traditional educational opportunities that would link the the university and larger Lexington community. One effort Bowman made toward this goal was the creation of a Museum of Natural History at Ashland. The museum was a typical mid-nineteenth-century institution that was not focused on any one subject or discipline. Any artifact that was interesting and provided a glimpse of the wider world for the students and Lexington community could be included in in the museum collections. At its height, the museum held over 20,000 specimens including preserved animals, archaeological artifacts, ethnographic materials, and natural oddities such as a giant hairball from the belly of a buffalo. Bowman even opened a zoo behind Ashland that had among its residents a bear, snakes, and an alligator.

Unfortunately, the untimely end of the University in 1878 also brought an end to the museum. Had Bowman been given a better opportunity, the museum might still exist today as a science center or history museum much like the Louisville Science Center which began in a very similar fashion. Many of the artifacts from the museum are now at Transylvania University and are part of the Moosnick Museum. Ashland owns one artifact that had been displayed at the museum: Henry Clay’s jacket worn at the negotiation of the Treaty of Ghent.

Several artifacts are shown below along with a page from the artifact register that is part of the records of Kentucky University at Transylvania University Library Department of Special Collections.

Images from the Collections of the Kentucky University Museum

Pictured here are items from and relating to the collections of the Kentucky University Museum of Natural History.  Most of these items are now at Transylvania University.

In 1872, a Lexingtonian became the first American to die in Korea. This helmet taken from a Korean soldier came back with his body.

In 1872, a Lexingtonian became the first American to die in Korea. This helmet taken from a Korean soldier came back with his body.

Preserved birds like this Atlantic Puffin made up a large percentage of the museum collection.

Preserved birds like this Atlantic Puffin made up a large percentage of the museum collection.

Henry Clay's son Thomas Hart Clay brought this coconut back from Central America.

Henry Clay’s son Thomas Hart Clay brought this coconut back from Central America.

Detailed collection records were kept in this ledger now in the Transylvania Library.

Detailed collection records were kept in this ledger now in the Transylvania Library.

Henry Clay's jacket from the Treat of Ghent (1814).

The jacket Herny Clay wore at the signing of the Treaty of Ghent was placed in the museum by his grandson. It is now in Ashland’s Collection. Photo by Mary Rezny.

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