Meet Henry Clay
Who was the Great Compromiser?Meet Henry Clay
The two brick ice houses on the south side of the house are sixteen feet into the ground and topped with conical roofs. Clay mentions constructing “a new conical ice house” in a letter to Henry, Jr., dated October 31, 1830. These outbuildings provided the rare luxury of chilled food and drink year round. In an 1842 letter to his wife, Henry Clay wrote “The winter has been so mild here, that they have no ice. I am afraid that you have not been able to fill our Houses. If there should fall a snow, I would advise the Houses to be filled with that, and have it well rammed in…”
During the winter a layer of straw or sawdust insulated the base and sides of the icehouses. They were then filled with large cakes of ice and covered with another layer of straw or sawdust. As the ice melted it consolidated into one large mass, helping to preserve it. Melting ice water drained from the ice houses through a lead pipe to a trough in the adjacent dairy cellar where crocks of cream could be chilled. Ice placed in an icehouse in January and February could last until the following October and November.
The construction date of the central smokehouse is unknown, but it was probably built during Henry Clay’s lifetime. You can still see the rafters where the prize country hams once hung while a slow fire provided the smoke to preserve and flavor them. The openings near the top would draw the smoke up and out. The adjacent wings, one of which houses a coach given to Henry Clay by the citizens of Newark in 1833, were built later, but prior to 1882.
A gift to Henry Clay from the citizens of Newark, New Jersey in 1833, the stately C-spring coach, weighing approximately 1,500 pounds, remains on exhibit at Ashland in the east wing of the smoke house. The exterior is a glistening black, and the interior is pine paneled with a rich wine color upholstery. The cab, slung on its still-flexible, leather-filled C-springs, can accommodate four passengers. The driver would sit in the front guiding as many as six horses and the footman would ride in the rear of the cab. A baggage compartment, the “boot,” is in the back where a deerskin covered trunk was usually carried. Folding steps extend from the high cab to within a foot of the ground and the covering for the windows could be rolled up or down. The coach has oversized, red-spoked wheels with the original brass hubs, and the interior is pine paneled. Missing are the two ornate coach lamps which were mounted on the front of the cab.
Passage from The History of Newark, New Jersey, 1878:
“The renowned orator and statesman, Henry Clay, visited Newark on November 20, 1833, by invitation of leading citizens. Because of his powerful and effective championship of the Protective system, Mr. Clay was a great favorite here. A committee waited upon him in New York and escorted him hither. As in the case of Lafayette, the distinguished visitor was met on the Turnpike about two miles from Newark, by a “large cavalcade of citizens, mounted and in carriages.”… Clay was addressed with warmest admiration for his character, talents and important public services and was begged to accept as a token of regard for his “highly respected lady,” the splendid Newark-made carriage in which he had ridden from Newark to New York. Mr. Clay was deeply moved at this fresh and most substantial proof of Newark appreciation. In broken accents, his voice tremulous with emotion, he replied:
‘Gentlemen, you overwhelm me. I know not how to refuse, and yet may I be permitted – (the company here interrupted him by dissent), I assure you, gentleman, I know not why it is that one so undeserving as myself should be so loaded with such marks of your esteem and generosity. I know nothing in my humble services deserving a return so splendid and so costly; it comes so unexpected. Gentlemen, my heart is too much overwhelmed, – the citizens of Newark have made upon it such an impression; IT can thank you, but tongue cannot. Be pleased, sir, to accept in behalf of yourself and your fellow townsmen, my warmest thanks for this elegant present to my wife.'”
Clay brought the carriage home to Ashland where his family used it in their travels for many years. The coach remained at Ashland until 1874 when it was displayed at an exposition in Louisville and later purchased by Jacob Edinger, a Louisville carriage maker. It remained in Louisville until 1951 when George Edinger, a descendant of Jacob Edinger, gave the carriage to the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation. The coach was in bad condition, having survived two fires between 1874 and 1951. It was restored by generous donors in 1951 and again in 1991.
Henry Clay’s local architect, Thomas Lewinski, finished designs for the Keeper’s (or Gardener’s) Cottage at Ashland in April of 1846. The cottage, intended for Clay’s estate grounds keeper, was a “small building composed of a main block containing a room on either side of a stair hall on each of two floors, and two rooms in a one-storied wing at the rear.” There is evidence that Clay’s son James may have used the cottage for a temporary residence during the reconstruction of the mansion. After The Henry Clay Memorial Foundation took over the management of Ashland in 1950, the cottage was used as a residence for maintenance/security personnel. This arrangement continued until 1991 when the entire estate was closed for a major restoration and the cottage was completely restored. During that time the one-story wing was converted into public restrooms.
Significantly, the two Federal style mantels and banister within the cottage are believed to have been salvaged from Henry Clay’s original mansion.
The Keeper’s Cottage currently houses the Ashland administrative offices.
This building, once essential to daily life on the estate, contains an exhibit of items discovered during archaeological investigations. The privy, which was restored in 1991, was probably built by Henry Clay’s son James at the same time as the 1857 reconstructed house. Archeological analysis indicated that the oldest deposits dated from approximately 1860. Lead pipes from a cistern leading into the privy confirmed the probable use of one room of the privy as a laundry.
Because Clay’s granddaughter’s family at Ashland was too far away to take advantage of municipal gas service, they installed their own source of gas for the lighting of their home. In the front lawn of the main house are the remains of a Springfield Gas Machine that they used in the late 19th century. The Springfield system was fueled with gasoline emptied into a generator unit, or evaporating tank, that was placed underground some distance away to protect the residence in case of explosion. A pair of pipes connected to an air pump, the other to a network of pipes that supplied gas to the fixtures in the house. Forced air from the air pump passed over the gasoline in the generator. As the gasoline vaporized in the chambers, the pressurized gas-air mixture was forced into the house through the other connecting pipe and then to the fixtures in the house through a network of pipes. The system made it possible for gas to be constantly present at the burners in the light fixtures. As long as the system worked properly, and the burners were closed when lights were not in use, gas would not escape, and a constant pressure of air was maintained in the air pipe, the gas generator, and in the burners in the house’s fixtures.
Who was the Great Compromiser?Meet Henry Clay
Experience the place Henry Clay declared was "as good as any" Moses would have found in the Promised Land!Take the Tour!
To Educate the Masses: the Kentucky University and Mechanical College at AshlandSee Our Latest!
Lots of exciting events coming up!What's Going On