When Dill Johnson moved back to her family farm on Bryan Station Road, she wasn’t looking to live in a big house.
The three-room log cabin built in the 1950s on Clarkland Farm by her father, Thoroughbred horseman John Wesley Marr, would be just fine.
Marr built the cabin for John Wesley Hanes II, a New York investment banker and Thoroughbred owner and breeder, and the son of the founder of the Hanes clothing company.
“When Mr. Hanes and his wife came to town, several times a year, that’s where they stayed,” Johnson said recently. The men’s matching first and middle names are just a fluke, she said.
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Marr had bought two old log buildings, and one of his farmhands, John “Boss” Carter, built the cabin out of those logs. Stonemason Obie Trumbo built the two stone fireplaces.
Johnson lived in the cabin for a year before doing any work to it, “just to decide what I wanted to do.”
After that year, she raised the roof to make room for a second bedroom and bath, and had the first floor bathroom enlarged, the kitchen modernized and a screened-in porch added. The living room and bedroom with the original log walls and stone fireplaces were unchanged.
All that work was in the mid-1980s. And 35 years later, that’s the way the cabin remains.
When you see this sweet little place, you understand why Johnson never wanted a bigger house. Here’s a sunny four-room house with charming furnishings, on a farm that’s mowed and clipped like a park, and just minutes from downtown Lexington.
“It was never meant to be lived in year-round, so I don’t have a furnace or air conditioning,” Johnson said. Rooms are warmed with electric baseboard heat and radiant heating coils in the ceiling and are cooled in the summer with ceiling fans.
The stone fireplaces were built without dampers, so they don’t do much to chase the chill, but a crackling fire adds a cheerful note on cool fall evenings. After 50 years of burning in the fireplaces, the house is impregnated with a woodsy smell, like that of a campfire.
Clarkland Farm has been in Johnson’s family since the 1700s, when it was part of a land grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia to an ancestor, Lt. James Clark, for his service in the French and Indian War.
Marr died in 1975, and his wife, Mary Dillard, died the following year. The farm was then divided among his three daughters.
“I inherited this house and part of the farm. My sisters live on the other part of the farm across the road, and we all get along,” Johnson said. All their land was put into Lexington’s Purchase of Development Rights program for protection against future development.
Clarkland Farm is in the Thoroughbred breeding business, as it was when Marr was alive. Johnson’s sisters — Nancy and her husband, Fred Mitchell, and Martha and her husband, Chuck Mooney, bred Beholder, the American champion 2-year-old in 2012 and champion 3-year-old in 2013.
Beholder ran second in the 2013 Kentucky Oaks and was a favorite to run against American Pharoah in the 2015 Breeders Cup Classic, but she was scratched because of a fever. Clarkland still owns Beholder’s dam, Leslie’s Lady.
Johnson raises hay and soybeans, and she sounds almost apologetic for not having a garden. “A hoe doesn’t fit in my hand,” she said.
Johnson is a familiar face at L.V. Harkness gift and interior design store on East Short Street, where she works during the Christmas season. She also works at the monthly Athens Schoolhouse Antiques Show, which is this weekend.
Reach Beverly Fortune, former Herald-Leader reporter, at email@example.com or 859-948-7846.