When an unusual mansion called Kenton Ash was built in 1801, it was conveniently located near Kentucky’s most important commercial highway and Ohio River port.
But it has been a long time since the adage about what makes real estate valuable — location, location, location — has worked in this property’s favor.
The Kentucky Trust for Historic Preservation is helping a nonprofit group in nearby Maysville sell Kenton Ash and 10 surrounding acres to someone willing to preserve this gem of Pennsylvania-style Georgian architecture.
The asking price is $299,000 — a fraction of what Kenton Ash, which has idyllic views of 500 acres of farmland in all directions, would sell for if it were closer to Lexington, Louisville or Cincinnati.
This happens a lot in Kentucky, which has a rich architectural heritage but has seen a lot of change since the first East Coast settlers arrived in the 1770s. The result is some amazing spaces in out-of-the-way places.
The Trust was founded in 1998 to help save some of those spaces in partnership with local preservationists. Since then, the organization has used a “revolving fund” to stabilize and sell for restoration about 15 properties that otherwise could have been lost.
Among the successes: The 1796 Governor Owsley House in Frankfort, the 1790 Dudley House in Flemingsburg and a block of 1800s commercial buildings in Millersburg. More information: Thekentuckytrust.org.
“We try to be there for the rural communities that don’t have resources,” said Eric Whisman, the Trust’s executive director. “We’re working on growing the fund and finding more properties to preserve.”
The biggest challenge, of course, is money. The Trust depends completely on private donations.
When the Trust helps arrange the sale of a building, it adds legal covenants or easements to keep it from being demolished, to prevent major exterior changes without permission or the removal of significant architectural elements such as original mantels and staircases.
“But we make plenty of room for modernization of homes to make them livable,” Whisman said. “We understand that you have to be flexible with historic properties to make them modern and useful.”
We understand that you have to be flexible with historic properties to make them modern and useful.
Eric Whisman, Kentucky Trust for Historic Preservation
If a property it sells falls into disrepair, the Trust has the right to buy it back at an appraised price, although that has yet to happen. The Trust also helps buyers qualify for state and federal tax credits to help pay for restoration.
The Trust also is marketing the 1911 Dulin Dry Goods Store, a three-story, 37,000-square-foot building on Madisonville’s Main Street square. The asking price: $49,900. It is one of dozens, if not hundreds, of vacant commercial buildings in small towns across Kentucky that could be renovated for new and useful purposes.
Kenton Ash’s architecture is unique in this region, although it resembles colonial English, Dutch and German houses many of this area’s early settlers would have left in Pennsylvania.
It was built on land purchased from pioneer Simon Kenton by Richard Durrett, a minister and farmer who also built Northern Kentucky’s first horse racetrack. (A local history book says Durrett’s son, Paul, held camp meeting revivals on the track.)
Two of the mansion’s features are especially unusual for early Kentucky: large, 12-over-12-pane windows, a solid wall down the middle of the house and two front doors. The house’s purchaser also gets a 200-year-old family cemetery, two stone outbuildings and an 1860s barn.
Durrett’s descendants lived at Kenton Ash and made few changes until 1963, when it became a tenant house. Washington preservationist Alice Shaw Garson bought it in 1986 and did a complete restoration.
Garson cut passages through the center wall to make the house more functional and added modern bathrooms and heat. She also built a kitchen in a period log cabin she connected to the house, boosting the total size to 4,300 square feet.
Garrison died at age 96 in October 2014. A Maysville doctor bought her house and donated it to Wald Park Inc., a nonprofit group that will use the sale proceeds to build baseball and soccer facilities at a Maysville park.
More than most historic homes, Kenton Ash might appeal to a wealthy out-of-state buyer looking for a private getaway. It is surrounded as far as the eye can see by farmland. (Whisman hasn’t approached George Clooney, who grew up in nearby Augusta — yet.)
“We’ve had a lot of success with out-of-state buyers,” Whisman said. “They realize they have an airport nearby and can get a house with all the history for a fraction of what it would cost in New York.”