Two hundred years ago, building around Gratz Park was booming. So much so that the two houses that bookend the park — the Hunt Morgan House at 201 North Mill Street and the Bodley-Bullock House at 299 Market Street — are celebrating their bicentennial this year.
To commemorate the anniversary, the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation, which operates the Hunt Morgan House as a museum, and the Junior League, which has its headquarters in the Bodley-Bullock House, are collaborating on an event.
It's a chance to showcase downtown history that not all Lexingtonians know, said Sheila Omer Ferrell, executive director of the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation.
"It's about opening the houses," she said. "They're a community resource. We love opening up the house and letting people see. We love when people say, 'I have always wanted to come into this house.'"
Both houses are similar on the outside, Ferrell said, "where symmetry was everything."
It was the Hart Bradford house across Second Street from the Hunt Morgan House that helped launched the Trust. It was torn down in 1955. The site has been a parking lot ever since.
The Hart Bradford house was built in 1798 by businessman Thomas Hart. John Bradford, another resident, was Lexington's first newspaper publisher.
John Hunt Morgan once lived in that house and crossed the street each night to what would become the Hunt Morgan house to kiss his mother, Henrietta, good night, said Ferrell. The Hunt Morgan house had also been targeted for demolition before the intervention of the Trust.
The Bodley-Bullock house was named for the first person to live there, Thomas Bodley, a hero in the War of 1812, and the last couple, Dr. Waller Bullock and his wife Minnie, who left the house in trust to Transylvania University.
Waller Bullock was a founder of the Lexington Clinic; Minnie Bullock was a founder of the Garden Club of Lexington.
The Junior League leased it 30 years ago. It is open for parties, meeting and weddings, and by request for tours.
Tracy Coble, the Junior League's headquarters chairwoman, said that the league painstakingly restored the ornate old house, where a cantilivered staircase leads to two upper floors, and brass and crystal fixtures abound. Nearby the staircase landing on the first floor and almost unnoticeable is the tiniest of bathrooms — airplane toilet-sized, but greater on amenities and lesser on stainless surfaces — built for Minnie Waller.
In the library of the Bodley-Bullock house is a portrait of William "King" Solomon, a drunken well-digger who became a Lexington hero during the cholera outbreak of 1833 when he worked incessantly digging graves for the dead. When he died in 1854, ironically of cholera, he was buried in Lexington Cemetery.
One unexpected item in the Bodley-Bullock house is Minnie Bullock's collection of snuff boxes, unusual for a woman of ascetic habits who was not known to be fond of the pulverized tobacco usually contained within the boxes. The collections include one delicate item that looks like the tiniest of ginger jars, while another is an Oriental figurine.
Waller Bullock was a sculptor, and some of his work is still at the house including a rendering of his pet spaniel Bozo, mouth agape as if waiting for a head pat.
Upstairs is an elaborately carved chest and Minnie Waller's bedroom, with reproduction yellow floral wallpaper with blossoms the size of dinner plates and a nearby sunroom with a pair of chaise lounges.
Upkeep on historic houses isn't cheap. Though the Bodley-Bullock House does some business being rented out for meetings, weddings and parties, and the Hunt Morgan house is regularly open to tourists and operates a gift shop, it's never enough.
Any proceeds from the Sept. 13 event will go to the Bluegrass Trust and Junior League, Ferrell said.
Added Coble: "What we take in, we spend on the house."