Tom Eblen: House in Bourbon County a mix of glorious and notorious

The Grange, which was built in Bourbon County north of Paris between 1800 and about 1816, is considered one of the finest examples of Federal-style architecture in Kentucky.
The Grange, which was built in Bourbon County north of Paris between 1800 and about 1816, is considered one of the finest examples of Federal-style architecture in Kentucky.

PARIS — Every house has a story, but few have one as glorious and notorious as The Grange — from its opulent architecture to the dungeon in the cellar.

Owners Phil and Lillie Crowley were living in Lexington in 2003 when a Realtor told them The Grange was for sale. At first, it was beyond their means. But they couldn't stop thinking about it. They bought it that same year.

"I walked in here and dropped my jaw; then the next day Phil came to see it and dropped his jaw," said Lillie Crowley, a former math professor at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

"I thought it was spectacularly beautiful," said Phil Crowley, a biologist and ecologist at the University of Kentucky. "And the history was fascinating — it wasn't all good, but it was fascinating."

The Crowleys will open The Grange for a public tour Sunday to benefit the preservation group Historic Paris-Bourbon County.

Edward Stone began building the home that he called Oakland in 1800 on land his father received for Revolutionary War service. Construction took nearly 20 years, and Stone spared no expense. One of his professions was builder, and he apparently wanted to advertise his workmanship.

The Grange is considered one of Kentucky's finest Federal-style homes. The five-bay front façade is flanked by pavilions with elaborate Palladian windows set in gently curved brick. The main floor has 14-foot ceilings and is trimmed with lavish woodwork and mantles. A leaded-glass fanlight and sidelights around the front door illuminate the main hall's grand staircase.

But Stone was better known for his other profession: slave trader. Even many slave owners of that era looked down on slave traders because of their cruel methods. Few were more infamous than Stone, who might have been the inspiration for Mr. Haley, the unscrupulous slave trader in Harriet Beecher Stowe's influential 1852 novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Stone marched long lines of chained men and women nearly 40 miles to Maysville, where he literally "sold them down the river" to Deep South cotton plantations. He also kept slaves chained to the walls of a dungeon beneath The Grange's elegant front hall.

Manacles were removed from the walls and bars from a small window just a few years ago, Crowley said as he took me down to see the dungeon. All that remains of the room's evil past are iron hinge posts for what must have been a heavy door.

Stone's business eventually caught up with him. On a trip down the Ohio River in 1826, some of the 77 slaves he was taking to New Orleans overpowered and killed him near Owensboro.

Oakland was sold in 1832 to Hugh Brent, who renamed it Brentwood and left doodles on the walls of an upstairs bedroom for the Crowleys to find more than 170 years later, when they removed several layers of wallpaper.

The mansion, renamed The Grange about 1900, would have 11 more owners before the Crowleys bought it and the surrounding 33 acres.

"We've really tried to maintain the historic integrity of the architecture and still make the place livable," Phil Crowley said of the 4,600-square-foot house, which didn't get indoor plumbing until 1906. "Heating and cooling have been an issue, but our new geothermal system has made a big difference."

Restoring and furnishing The Grange has become an expensive hobby.

"I needed a new car, and I got this instead," Lillie Crowley said, pointing to a huge, circa 1800 English mahogany breakfront cabinet they bought for the dining room. A massive antique bed in the guest room came with the house — probably because it was too big to move.

The most challenging project has been remodeling the kitchen. It is in the home's oldest wing, and contractor Jim Hodsdon found a shriveled shoe while gutting a former sleeping loft there. The shoe probably belonged to Stone.

The Crowleys have collected a pile of artifacts during renovation, from pieces of pottery to the bars from the dungeon window. Thankfully, though, they haven't encountered any ghosts of people who were once chained below their front hall.

"Talk about a place with a rotten soul," Phil Crowley said. "It's hard to wrap your head around."