PARIS — This year's Historic Paris-Bourbon County house tour Sunday is at the boyhood home of one of Kentucky's most interesting and least known Civil War generals, who ended his short life as an American diplomat in South America.
Nobody is sure when the Greek Revival mansion called Houston Dale was built. The best guess is around 1840, when the farm belonged to Henry Croxton, the son of a wealthy Virginia planter, and his wife, Ann.
For the past 36 years, Houston Dale has been the home of Thoroughbred breeder Phil T. Owens, who restored and added on to the mansion just west of the Paris bypass.
While building Houston Dale, the Croxtons probably lived in a circa 1790s log cabin now restored behind the mansion. The couple would have needed more room: they eventually had 12 children. They also had 20 slaves to work their farm.
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Slavery was a subject of disagreement between Croxton and his eldest son, John Thomas Croxton, who was born in 1836 and went off to Yale in 1854. They argued about it in letters, with the younger Croxton explaining that he favored the gradual emancipation and deportation of slaves.
Anti-slavery views were not popular among white people in Bourbon County then. Nearly half the population was enslaved blacks, whose labor produced a rich agricultural bounty for their owners.
After graduating from Yale and earning a law degree from Georgetown, Croxton returned to Paris in 1859 to practice law. The next year, he was one of only two men in Paris to vote for the Republican presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln.
Lincoln's election sparked the Civil War, and Croxton was quick to join the Union cause. He recruited troops for the 4th Kentucky Infantry, of which he was elected lieutenant colonel.
Over the next five years, Croxton's superiors repeatedly praised him as a skilled and fearless officer who fought despite several battle wounds. He was promoted to colonel at age 24, brigadier general at 27 and given an honorary promotion to major general for gallantry.
Croxton saw action at many battles, including Perryville, Chickamauga, Nashville and Atlanta. He led a daring raid across Alabama that captured Tuscaloosa and eliminated one of the Confederacy's last supply centers. After the war, he spent a year as military commander of central Georgia.
In 1866, Croxton returned to Paris, where he had built a house on Cypress Street. He practiced law, farmed, chaired the state Republican party and helped start a Republican newspaper, the Louisville Commercial.
President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Croxton as the United States minister to Bolivia. But a year after taking the post in 1873, he died in La Paz of tuberculosis at age 37. He is buried in Paris Cemetery.
After Croxton's death, Houston Dale was owned for many years by James Hall, a prominent farmer.
In 1979, Owens was planning to buy a horse farm and build a new "old" house. He had just gone to Colonial Williamsburg to study traditional architecture when his father told him Houston Dale was for sale. He bought it.
Owens renovated the mansion, which has foot-thick brick walls and most of its original floors and woodwork. He added a wing to each side for additional space and bathrooms. Owens also restored the log cabin, where his mother lives.
He also built a swimming pool, a pool house and a garage with an apartment that looks more like a colonial-style guest house from the front.
Between the mansion and Houston Creek is a stone wall along what appears to be an old road. Built into the wall with big limestone slabs are steps and a platform, apparently for stepping out of a carriage or stage coach.
Owens and his wife, Michelle, recently put the 9,665-square foot house and surrounding 31 acres on the market for $1,675,000. She said they want less house and more land to expand their broodmare stock and run cattle.
"It will be hard to leave," Owens said of Houston Dale, recalling the first time the late Lexington horseman and philanthropist W.T. Young visited.
"He said, 'If I lived here, I'd never leave home,'" Owens said. "It is a special house."