Birch Nest on Old Frankfort Pike was not classically beautiful. But it sure was interesting.
In 1913, Colonel C.E. Merrill wrote that “There is but one spot on earth like it and nothing under the earth either for it itself is its own parallel.” A 1977 Lexington Herald article described it as an “architect’s nightmare, poet’s dream and a child’s delight.”
It looked as if some wealthy person with a sense of humor had melded together houses of various styles, at least one of them full of windows inexplicably divided into tiny bits of glass, as a visual joke.
Lexington authors Woods Reeves and Kelly McDaniel write about Birch Nest and other houses and notable architectural specimens in Lexington — including the train depot and the succession of observatories at the University of Kentucky — that are now gone, largely replaced by unmemorable development.
The two recently released a book, “Lexington’s Lost Architecture: Places and People” (self-published, $34.95 color, $19.95 black and white), that chronicles the stories and personalities behind the departed buildings.
Reeves was introduced to historic preservation as a child in 1971 when his parents, Forrest and Nancy Reeves, moved a Federal house that was built as early as 1795 from Ironworks Pike in Scott County to its present spot in Midway. The house, with an addition, is now the Scottwood Bed and Breakfast in Midway.
The book got its start when Reeves, who recently moved back to Lexington from Florida, was driving down Old Frankfort Pike and looked over for a glance of Birch Nest.
“I thought, where’s my favorite house?” Reeves said.
It was gone.
“It was such a novelty and so ridiculous,” Reeves said, and it made him wondered what other architectural treasures Lexington had lost with little fanfare.
Birch Nest began as a three-room log cabin in 1840 and eventually included 22 rooms. One of the home’s most distinctive touches was its intricate windows, some of them 24 by 24 panes, some 28 by 28.
The owner, George Douglas Sherley, an author and bachelor socialite, selected the trees, primarily birch, that would be used as timbers for the two and a half story home he built in Bar Harbor, Maine. It looked like a hunting lodge. He later sold the property, but he had the house taken apart and reassembled onto the existing house in Lexington.
Bettye Lee Mastin, a former Herald-Leader reporter, described the result as “nooks and crannies, balconies and short flights of steps leading to nonsensical-seeming passages.”
Sherley died in 1917, his mother in 1928. The home was lived in until 2007.
Birch Nest was a distinctive piece of Fayette County, right up to 2012, when it was razed to make room for the Bluegrass Volleyball Center. Remains of the stone pillar entrance can still be seen on the site.
Other sites included in the book are:
▪ Alleghan Hall, a Greek Revival house known originally as the Pettit House, stood at 2900 Nicholasville Road at what is today the west side of Zandale Drive.
The house was built in 1857. In 1861, when the Civil War broke out, owner William Pettit allegedly withdrew all his money from a bank in gold and buried it somewhere on the property. The family then left Lexington when Union General Stephen G. Burbridge commandeered their home and land.
When the family returned after the war, Pettit allegedly was too sick to find the gold or tell anyone where it was buried. The home became a school for boys in 1887, then it passed to the family of Charles Wellington Burt in 1909.
Burt was the first person given a speeding ticket in Fayette County for going more than 15 mph on Winchester Road and allegedly “spooking” the horse and buggy next to him. Burt paid $10 for the offense.
The house was condemned and demolished in 1966.
▪ Southern Railway Passenger Depot, on the west side of South Broadway at Angliana Avenue, opened in 1908. It was a Georgian Revival building built of yellow and salmon-colored brick that gave it a “speckled” appearance.
In the 1940s, a derailed train crashed into the western track side corner of the depot. Although the building was repaired, the brick wasn’t perfectly matched.
Lexingtonians rallied to preserve the depot, but an arsonist’s fire in 1991 gutted the structure. The building was razed in July 1992.
▪ Cane Run/Glengarry, finished in 1854, was an Italianate villa on Newtown Pike three miles from downtown, originally built for hemp manufacturer Alexander Brand.
Glengarry’s acreage would be used for a new Lexington airstrip, completed in 1935. The airstrip allowed for light traffic as well as flying circuses and aerial stunt shows, and it was Lexington’s municipal airport for the years leading up to Blue Grass Airport’s completion in 1942.
Glengarry burned in 1970 and was later razed.
Reeves said the book “was a labor of love. (Photographer) Jim Archambeault told me I was not going to make any money at this.”
Nonetheless, he’s considering a second volume.