A cherished Lexington landmark and national historic treasure could be in financial trouble. It is the home of a most significant man in the history of our country.
A packed crowd was on hand in May for a book-signing and lecture by David and Jeanne Heidler. They spoke about this man who has been recognized as one of the five greatest senators in American history.
CSPAN recorded the event as cameras panned across beautiful shade trees surrounding the pleasure area of this grand estate where this great man once strolled under a canopy of redbud, dogwood, Norway spruce and ash trees.
He negotiated the Treaty of Ghent, was the author of the second Missouri Compromise of 1821 and the compromise Tariff Act of 1832, mended the Nullification Crisis, promoted the American system and authored the Compromise of 1850.
He was speaker of the House longer than anyone other than Sam Rayburn. President Abraham Lincoln called him his "beau ideal of a statesman." He was also recognized as a successful horse breeder and played a major role in Lexington becoming the Horse Capital of the World.
When he died in 1852, this great man of peace was the first in American history to lie in state in the Capitol rotunda. At the time, Lexington's population was only 9,000 but 100,000 American citizens came to this city to pay their final respects.
As you have figured out by now, his name was Henry Clay. The Heidlers' new biography is Henry Clay, The Essential American.
Despite all Clay's accomplishments, his home could be facing financial challenges.
Dick DeCamp is president of the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, which has taken the heavy burden of raising funds for the preservation of this national treasure during tough economic times. DeCamp said many harbor the misconception that the 17-acre estate is publicly funded. It is not. "This isn't public property, although the foundation urges the public to use and enjoy the grounds," DeCamp said. "The operation and maintenance of this historic land and buildings must depend upon the generosity of the citizens of Lexington to preserve it."
DeCamp said Ashland isn't in trouble financially now, but "it is a constant uphill battle as expenses are outweighing incoming donations." Of Lexington's 280,000 citizens, only 300 contribute the $50 or more to become Friends of Ashland.
Maintaining five 19th century buildings and 17 acres is expensive. "We have capital projects, such as the ice houses, that need brick work and the mansion's chimneys need extensive repair. Some of the rotting wood on the house needs to be replaced and it needs to be painted, which costs over $50,000."
Lawn and tree maintenance is another huge concern, DeCamp said. "Ashland was named after the beautiful ash hardwood trees that are now being threatened by the emerald ash borer. It's extremely expensive to treat each and every tree to prevent this insect invader from destroying them." It costs almost $20,000 a year merely to keep the grass mowed, he said.
DeCamp said "a shocking decline of attendance at this year's annual fund raiser" can probably be attributed to the poor economy. While the foundation is not yet in trouble, DeCamp said that if this trend continues "we won't be able to operate on the level we currently operate, and if private donations drastically drop off again we could be in financial trouble in the near future."
Ashland hosts several fund-raising events annually, including the Ashland Country Life Festival on Thursday. A wine festival, Vingtage Kentucky: A Toast to Henry Clay, will be held on Sept. 4 in partnership with the annual jazz concert at Ashland. The Urban County Government is a co-sponsor of this event to promote the wine industry.