PARIS — Some families dream of still having the "old homestead" — a place where many generations could gather for holidays and special occasions to keep in touch with one another and their shared heritage.
Walker Buckner's descendants have always had such a place, hidden within more than 1,000 acres of rolling Bourbon County farmland.
Buknore is one of Kentucky's most beautiful antebellum mansions, especially after a recent renovation made possible by a relative's generous bequest and the talents of several family members and their contractors.
The house will be open for a rare public tour Sunday at the Summer Box Supper benefitting the preservation group Historic Paris-Bourbon County. The event is sold out.
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"We feel so fortunate and blessed that we still have this house," said Susan Combs of Lexington, one of seven cousins in the Buckner-Hinkle family's sixth generation. "It was where we would go to be with our grandmother. It was something each of our parents loved so much, and they kept that love alive."
Buknore, originally called Locust Grove, was completed in 1841 for Walker Buckner (1781-1855). He came from Virginia with two brothers who also built mansions in Bourbon County.
The master builder was Matthew Kennedy, Kentucky's first professional architect. Buknore bears his signature style: four large, two-story pilasters across the front of the house topped by a pediment with a half-round window.
Kennedy — or, perhaps in a couple of cases, his imitators — built several similar Federal-style houses in Central Kentucky. Other notable examples include Auvergne (1837) in Bourbon County; Grassland (1823) on Shelby Lane in Fayette County; and Kennedy's own home (1813) on North Limestone at Constitution Street in Lexington, which now houses the shop Mulberry & Lime.
Buknore is one of Kennedy's later houses, and its interior woodwork reflects the Greek Revival style that became popular in the 1830s. Built a mile off Cane Ridge Road, the house has always been in the family and never suffered serious neglect.
Still, the mansion needed a lot of work, structurally and cosmetically.
"The last time it had really been renovated was, I guess, my great-grandmother in the 1880s," Combs said. "And it felt like the 1880s. You couldn't sit on the furniture."
Nancy Hinkle Holland, a Lexington physician, realized that, too. She had no children, and when she died in 2010 at age 88, she left a substantial sum for Buknore's preservation and upkeep. The house is owned by Hinkle Family Properties.
That bequest enabled the family to do a top-to-bottom renovation, which was just completed. It included new wiring, plumbing, structural and foundation work. Later additions were removed, an original stone back porch was repaired, and all of the brick was cleaned and re-pointed. Original green ash floors were restored. Some furniture that has been in the house for generations was refinished.
The old, separate kitchen was converted into an apartment and connected to the main house with a living and dining wing. A new kitchen was added between it and the formal dining room.
Playing big roles in the project were Combs and two other family members: Sally Brown Thilman, an interior designer in Chicago, and Estill Curtis Pennington of Paris, a noted art historian, scholar and author.
The professional team included project manager Ronald Little of Coppinger & Associates and architects Charles Jolly and Carol Myers, all of Lexington.
"I think we got the wonderful result we did because we had such a great team," Thilman said. "From a design perspective, our goal was to respect the past and bring it into the present in certain ways, like building a new kitchen."
Combs, Thilman and Pennington worked closely with their relatives to try to achieve consensus on most major issues. That mainly involved the sixth generation, all of whom live in Central Kentucky. But it also included 18 members of the seventh generation, who are scattered from New York to Portland, Ore.
The family now keeps a Google calendar to track who is using the house when. The entire family will gather at Buknore on major holidays.
"We're just trying to take care of what we've been given, but also keep the family together," Combs said. "Luckily we all get along pretty well. If we didn't, this project would have been a lot harder."