Historic Harrodsburg mansion restored to its roots

The luxurious 7,019-square-foot mansion at 685 Handy Pike in Harrodsburg gives no hints about its true age — a testament, perhaps, to its owner’s attention to detail in restoring it to its Civil War-era roots.

“This was once the home place of John Adair, the eighth governor of Kentucky,” said David Crockett, a history buff and direct descendent of the famous frontiersman and fellow Tennessean Davy Crockett.

That structure burned. Around 1870 — 50 years after Adair became governor and 30 years following his death — a family with the last name of Handy bought the 1,000-acre farm and built the house Crockett lives in. Passed down through three generations, White Hall, as it’s called, stayed in the Handy family for 100 years. In 1970, the legendary Saddlebred horseman Tom Moore purchased it and turned it into a Saddlebred breeding and training operation.

I used to come up here and see Tom,” said Crockett, who had his own horse business in middle Tennessee. “I was so impressed with his farm, with the antebellum home with big columns on it. After Tom’s death, his family put it up for sale.”

A few years later, when a developer bought Crockett’s 400-acre farm, the opportunity to fulfill a dream presented itself. “Being in the horse business, I wanted to be closer to the horse people,” he said. Crockett took possession of the four-bedroom, five-bathroom house and 95 acres in 2007. His horses settled in quickly to the 38,000-square-foot horse barn and 15,000-square-foot riding arena with 60 stalls that Moore built.

Then he immediately turned his attention to restoring the mansion on Crockett Springs Farm. Before any demolition began, however, he spent hours poring over books and staring at the computer screen to learn all he could about antebellum houses. It was obvious that in the course of 137 years, the home’s various inhabitants had made changes to the original structure. Crockett’s first order of business, then, was figuring out the original floor plan —without the benefit of plans or drawings.

No big deal for Crockett, who loved doing research and digging for information. As CFO of then-Nashville-based Surgical Care Affiliates, one of the nation’s largest outpatient surgery providers, he oversaw construction and renovation of approximately 70 freestanding surgery centers throughout the U.S., including the Surgery Center in Lexington and another one in Louisville.

Crockett, who retired when HealthSouth acquired Surgical Care Associates, oversaw the project himself. “I could build a hospital in four months. Doing this house in 12 was a cake walk,” he said.

When demolition began, he encountered something rarely seen these days: true-size lumber. “A 2x6 piece of lumber that’s actually two inches thick and six inches wide,” he explained. Built of true green poplar from trees cut on the farm, the house was structurally sound. It was the floor plan that didn’t make sense. “The house was very chopped up,” he recalls. “I wanted to put it back to its original floor plan. Once I gutted the house, I could feel what it used to be.”

Crockett went to great lengths and spared no expense to preserve or replicate the home’s historic character. “The windows were 110 inches tall and a hundred and some years old. They weren’t very functional, but I still wanted to keep that style. Unfortunately, window companies didn’t make that size window,” Crockett said. Eventually, however, he found a company in Kentucky to custom-build them.

The home’s big rooms and high ceilings lend themselves to unusual wall coverings that would overwhelm smaller spaces. “Every wall in the house has wallpaper,” Crockett noted. “The wallpaper in the living room is from France, and it’s made out of chicken feathers.”

“We probably spent over $100,000 for chandeliers,” Crockett continued. “I hand-picked five Venetian chandeliers and had them shipped here.” The one that hangs in the entry hall has 90 lights and 290 pieces of crystal, he said.

Crockett also tore out the home’s seven fireplaces and built them back with marble mantels.

Some of the original oak floors only needed to be refinished, but some had to be replaced. He was able to save banister newel posts made of six different types of wood and the handrail.

The feature he’s most proud of, however, is the crown molding. “I found a finish carpenter, and he spent three weeks doing nothing but crown molding throughout the house. I have some unique molding,” Crockett said.

After pouring heart and soul into restoring the house, it will be hard to walk away when Crockett Springs Farm sells. “I will miss birthing and training the young horses the most,” said Crockett, who is down to just four. “I love this home and the quality of the dirt here. Yet you get to the point in your life that you want to downsize and do something different. That’s where I am.”

This week’s feature home is listed with Clarissa R. Barber & Doreen Taylor of Berkshire Hathaway de Movellan Properties.