Stylish South Hill condo blends city sophistication with Lexington history

When Tom and Bettye Jo Isherwood decided to retire to her Lexington hometown last year, they sought a home that would provide a new kind of adventure.

The Isherwoods were living in a private mountain community in North Georgia, having spent nearly two decades in the Peach State, where Tom served as president of Reinhardt University until retiring in 2015.

This time around, “we decided … we wanted an urban and/or historic experience,” Tom said.

To their delight, they got both. Their 1,850-square-foot condo, in Lexington’s South Hill Historic District, blends city sophistication with 200 years of Lexington history.

“I don’t think anything topped this in the sense of both its location for doing the kinds of things we wanted to do — walk to the arts, walk to restaurants,” Tom said, “and just the ambience.”

Within easy walking distance of local favorites such as Joe Bologna’s, the Kentucky Theatre and the Massage Center and Yoga Studio at Dudley Square, the location is perfect for grabbing a pizza, seeing an independent film or catching a yoga class without ever having to get behind the wheel. The Isherwoods also enjoy strolling to events at the Lexington Center, the Opera House and Gratz Park.

An important past

The Isherwoods’ three-story, three-bedroom condo, Unit 102, is one of six luxury condominiums at 333 South Upper Street, the home of the former Lafayette Academy. The building was constructed in 1817 for educator John P. Aldridge’s Lancastrian Academy, where such notables as Kentucky architect Gideon Shryock – who designed Transylvania University’s Old Morrison – studied.

In 1824, Col. Josiah Dunham bought the property for a girls’ academy. The next year, Dunham renamed his school the “Lafayette Female Academy” to honor the Marquis de Lafayette. Lafayette, the French hero of the American Revolution for whom Fayette County is named, visited the academy and was met with great fanfare during a high-profile tour of the United States in 1825.

The structure, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has had many lives and was extensively renovated several years ago, with the new luxury units unveiled in 2012. The Isherwoods’ condo was featured recently on a historic walking tour of the South Hill neighborhood hosted by the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation.

Hip and historic

When Bettye Jo first viewed the home, she was struck by its distinctive features. “I loved the door,” she said of their imposing front entrance with a fanlight window above. “That reminded me of Lexington so much.”

An exposed brick wall on the first-floor, antique hardwood floors and exposed ceiling beams original to the building also made the home unique. “It was this blend of very old with contemporary,” she said.

The showstopper, though, is the condo’s grand staircase, a broad, self-supporting structure that ascends three levels. “It’s very dramatic,” Tom said. When the couple’s grandkids visited from Northern Kentucky for the first time, they raced to the top for a spectacular view.

Wide landings provide ample room to display antiques, and the considerable wall space along the stairs makes a perfect gallery for the Isherwoods’ collection of works by Kentucky artists such as Paul Sawyier.

The third-floor loft houses a bedroom with an office and a reading nook, nestled next to a lovely palladian window.

The home’s contemporary touches include modern bathrooms with travertine tiles and a stylish galley kitchen with granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances and a large apron sink. The couple, who enjoy cooking, recently installed an extra section of base cabinets to provide plenty of storage and counter space.

A fun adventure

The Isherwoods have enjoyed their adventure. “It’s been absolutely great,” Tom said.

On their regular walks through the neighborhood, they make a point of saying hi to everyone they meet. “I have had more extended conversations with strangers since moving to Lexington … than I’ve had in the rest of my life,” Tom said. “And I just really enjoy that.”

Bettye Jo appreciates the friendliness and diversity of the South Hill neighborhood and the variety of people they meet. “It is totally eclectic, you see all ages and people from all walks of life.”

This week’s feature home is listed with Becky Reinhold of Bluegrass Sotheby’s International Realty.