Liberty Hall Historic Site celebrating 75 years

Site offering new tours, displays and a bigger staff

By Julienne Foster/Executive Director Liberty Hall Historic Site, Published:

On April 6, 1937, Liberty Hall Inc. was created to preserve the 1796 home of Kentucky’s first U.S. Senator, John Brown.

The home was purchased from the Brown family after the death of Mary Mason “Mame” Scott. It had been Mame’s wish for the home and its furnishings to be preserved. Today her family’s home is not only surviving, but also flourishing with new programs and new exhibits, including her recreated bedroom, also known as the room of the infamous Gray Lady.

Today, the Liberty Hall Historic Site (LHHS), as it is now called featuring Liberty Hall and the Orlando Brown House, is operated through a management agreement by a board consisting of members of the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Kentucky (NSCFDA-KY)  

To kick off the 75th year, LHHS is hosting “Bourbon & Browns” Friday. This is the event’s second year and the price has been reduced to encourage the Frankfort community to attend. The highlight of the evening will be a special bourbon tasting.

The local band Hot Chocolate and the Marshmellows will be joined by fiddle great John Harrod. Holly Hill Inn, Midway, will make the hot browns and their will be items for a silent auction.

Tickets are $50 per person and all proceeds benefit LHHS.

New exhibits

There are many changes at Liberty Hall this season. For those interested in things rarely seen, visit the new “Kentucky Made” Decorative Arts exhibit.  Featuring items from the collection that were previously in storage, the exhibit explores the social and cultural landscape of 19th century Kentucky through the work of silversmiths, weavers, furniture makers and painters.

Some of the artists represented include: Asa Blanchard, Matthew Harris Jouett, Oliver Frazer and Paul Sawyier. Located on the second floor of Liberty Hall, the exhibit is accessed only through a guided tour.

Patrick Kennedy of Frankfort fabricated the exhibit and collectors Sharon and J. Mack Cox, who serve on the boards of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and Colonial Williamsburg, provided assistance with scholarship.

The exhibit will be part of Downtown Frankfort’s ArtWalk, 5-8 p.m. May 16.

Curator Kate Hesseldenz will be on hand to discuss the exhibit and light refreshments will be available. Starting this summer, a new decorative arts group tour will explore Kentucky-made pieces throughout the house. Contact Hesseldenz (curator@libertyhall.org) for details.

As the best preserved example of Federal-era architecture in Kentucky, Liberty Hall is an authentic early Kentucky setting. Visitors can climb the 220-year old stairs and look through wavy glass on the second floor at trees planted in the early 1800s.

New to the house this spring are parlor curtains just installed on the first floor. One of the last improvements in an $1 million eight-year project to restore the home, the 1820s-style curtains transform the room into what was once one of the most formal settings in Frankfort.

Also on display are six dresses from the Brown family, including wedding gowns from the 1820s through the 1860s. These unique and fragile textiles are rarely on display. 

More staff

Vicky Middleswarth has been hired as the new part-time education coordinator and is developing programs for children, families and school groups. She worked for more than 20 years at the Kentucky Historical Society and prior to that was a history museum educator at Western Kentucky University’s Kentucky Museum. She also currently works for the Mary Todd Lincoln House in Lexington.

LHHS is also seeking a part-time marketing and special events coordinator.

As part of the effort to connect with the community, LHHS is seeking volunteers for diverse jobs from greeter to gardening assistant. In addition to the satisfaction of being part of this special Frankfort place, volunteers receive a free membership, discounts, invitations to special programs and other benefits.

New projects

LHHS has been awarded a Conservation Assessment Program (CAP) grant.  The grant will provide funding to hire an objects conservator and a preservation architect to perform a general conservation assessment of the site’s collection and historic buildings.

The professional conservators will spend two days in late May conducting the assessment. Their prioritized recommendations will provide LHHS with a tool for long-range planning and fundraising. Administered through Heritage Preservation, the CAP program is funded through a cooperative agreement with the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

CAP conservators will place special emphasis on Liberty Hall’s extensive library and archives. There is a library at Liberty Hall housing more than 4,000 books collected by the Brown family in the 19th century, as well as photographs, letters and journals kept by the family. Many of these books are rare, including Brown’s personal copy of the constitution from 1799. 

LHHS is currently seeking grant funding to open the library to the public. This summer, initial efforts to improve the library’s infrastructure in preparation for future funding will begin. Patrons will be able to adopt a book in the library.

A new feature opening at Liberty Hall this summer will interpret the activities of enslaved members of the household. An anonymous foundation is funding the restoration of the original laundry room below the kitchen.

Laundry furniture and equipment will illustrate domestic technologies of the early-to-mid-19th century and show how slaves helped to support the Brown family’s lifestyle. Plans are also underway for a hands-on workshop that will give visitors a chance to experience laundry chores firsthand.

New in the garden

LHHS has the largest privately-owned public garden in the capital city. Open daily from dawn to dusk, the garden’s features range from its 200-year-old catalpa tree to an arbor where grapes from the first vineyard in the United States were once grown. Several projects and programs are scheduled for the garden this spring and summer.

A Monarch Way Station of milkweed, blueberries and other plants will be established in May between Liberty Hall and the Orlando Brown House. Each fall hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to overwintering sites in Mexico and California. 

The loss of habitat to support this migration has led to the establishment of way station gardens where monarchs can breed and feed on nectar-rich plants. Garden enthusiast and LHHS neighbor Richard Rosen suggested creating a registered way station in downtown Frankfort.

What could be a better gift for Mother’s Day than to donate a flowering plant in your loved one’s name?

Liberty Hall’s “Continue to Love Me Mother’s Garden,” located on the Orlando Brown House lawn, is a memorial garden that offers community members the opportunity to honor mothers and grandmothers with a flowering plant. 

The garden features annuals and perennials that evoke love and remembrance.

Culinary and decorative herbs, trees and flowers from the Liberty Hall gardens will be on sale at the annual plant sale from noon-4 p.m. May 17 on the back porch of the Orlando Brown House. An admission fee is not required to attend the sale. Plants available include: Northern Catalpa, yellow flag, interrupted fern, foxglove, vegetables, herbs, asters and day lilies.

“Seeds, Weeds, and History,” LHHS’s half-day summer camp for children entering second through fifth grades, is scheduled for Monday-Friday, June 23-27. Campers will explore the house and garden and sample hands-on activities that show how families in 19th-century Kentucky relied on their gardens for food and inspiration. The registration fee is $70.

New tours

“Our Beloved Ghost” evening tour is offered once this spring, April 18. Liberty Hall is famous for its Gray Lady and other ghosts said to haunt the house and grounds. The tour explores the origins of these stories and 19th century attitudes about death and the spirits. Reservations are required and tickets are still available for $10. 

On July 5, visitors to Liberty Hall can sample a new tour program, “Life and Liberty.” The tour will explore how the Brown family embodied the struggle to define and bring to life the concepts of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

A delegate in the Continental Congress and advocate for Kentucky statehood, John Brown valued the ideals of the new nation but enjoyed a lifestyle that relied on slave labor. Visitors will probe these issues by examining objects and excerpts from Brown family writings. 

May is Preservation Month and to celebrate, “Senator Brown’s Neighborhood,” a walking tour that features buildings and sites from the years John and Margaretta Brown lived at Liberty Hall, is scheduled for May 22.

Reservations are required, and the $10 fee includes light refreshments after the walk. Beginning May 12, families are invited to discover the buildings and gardens of Liberty Hall Historic Site in a self-guided scavenger hunt, “Questing at Liberty.”

Rhyming clues will lead participants through the site, and those who complete the quest will get a chance to win a prize.

About Liberty Hall Historic Site

Liberty Hall Historic Site consists of Liberty Hall and the Orlando Brown House, 202 Wilkinson St. Tours are offered Tuesday through Saturday at noon, 1:30 and 3 p.m. Admission is $2 for students, $5 for adults and $6 for seniors. For more information, call 502-227-2560 or visit www.liberthyhall.org or
info@libertyhall.org.

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