Homeseller

Many notable Kentuckians called this house home over the 100-plus years

Dr. Gabby Castro’s Victorian home on Lexington’s Central Avenue began attracting people the day it was finished, and more than 130 years later it still does.

“The house invites people,” Castro says. “I can hold a brunch on a Saturday morning, and within an hour there’ll be 20 people here, relaxing, hanging out and enjoying the beautiful morning. People just feel comfortable here.”

Built in the mid-1880s, the two-story frame house sits on the south side of Central Avenue, just off South Ashland Avenue, with an attractive blend of old and new.

Outside, there’s an unusual, angled front porch, which might have been built that way because the house once was on a corner. Inside, large rooms are bathed in sunlight from huge windows that reach almost from the floors to the 11-foot ceilings and boast custom-made shutters. Most windows in the house still have wavy 19th-century glass.

Balancing such traditional features are many modern touches, including a modern kitchen and bathrooms with walk-in showers. One bath still boasts an antique tub.

And while many older homes have had their large rooms sliced up into smaller spaces over the years, that never happened here. The result is a home that’s both family cozy, and welcoming for large gatherings, Castro says.

“Even when it’s winter and you’re stuck inside, you always feel like you have space,” she said.

A centerpiece of the home on the first floor is a large, original slate mantel and fireplace that have been modernized with a wood burning stove insert. The ground floor also offers a living room, family room, dining room, and kitchen, plus a large study with custom-made shelves and cabinets. There are three bedrooms upstairs.

Out back, there’s ample room for gardening. Castro had plans drawn up for a garage, but says she never got around to building it.

Though just off East Main Street, Central Avenue has modest traffic, offering a mix of older homes and condos. Amenities are close by and downtown is within manageable walking distance.

Castro particularly savors quiet spring mornings when sunshine floods her bedroom and the big windows give wide views of the street, the trees and the neighborhood.

“It feels like you’re in a treehouse,” she said.

The house encompasses just under 3,400 square feet, its footprint essentially unchanged since it was built.

The builder was Confederate veteran J.E. Keller, who was president of the Woodland Park Association and helped open Central Avenue. His creation attracted notable people immediately.

In the 1890s, it was owned by Thomas Hart Shelby and his wife, the former Florence McDowell. He was a grandson of Isaac Shelby, Kentucky’s first governor and a veteran of three wars. Florence was a granddaughter of pioneering Kentucky physician Ephraim McDowell, who performed the world’s first successful abdominal surgery in 1809.

In the 1990s, the home was owned by noted Lexington artist, Helene Steene, who still has fond memories of living there.

The house has changed hands only about six times since it was built, according to Castro.

Over a century ago, it was moved to its current location from the corner of Central Avenue and South Ashland, apparently to make way for more development. A photograph supposedly exists showing the house up on logs, being pulled by teams of mules during the move.

“I’ve never found that picture, but I’ve heard the story from multiple sources,” Castro said.

Castro, a family medicine physician, came to Lexington a decade ago to do her residency at the University of Kentucky, then stayed to join UK’s medical faculty. She bought the house in 2013.

“My daughter and I can walk to the park, walk to Kroger, to Starbucks, to restaurants,” Castro said. “Most weekends I never have to use my car.”

Castro is selling the house because she’s taking a new job at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she’ll help start a program assisting medically underserved people.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. But leaving will be difficult. You don’t find this kind of house and location just anywhere. If I could get the house up on logs I’d take it with me.”

This week’s feature home is listed with Whitney Durham of Bluegrass Sotheby’s International Realty.

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