Pleasant Retreat was the cherished family home of Kentucky’s 16th Governor, the Virginian born, William Owsley and of his daughter, Amelia & son in law, the Congressman, Simeon H. Anderson.

Located on a hill off Stanford Road (US 27) in Lancaster, this beautifully restored 1804 home, with 13 rooms, two hall ways, and two stairways, enjoys spectacular scenic views of the surrounding country side and Lancaster Public Square. 

During the early 19th century this Federal-style house was the center of prosperous farm, aided by the help of enslaved labor.

William Owsley & his wife Elizabeth Gill, purchased the 150 acres of land with a log house from John Jackman in 1804, the year they married.  The young couple built their new home in phases. The brick house grew with the family and reflected the fortunes of an up-and-coming lawyer and rising politician.

The earliest segment of the house, begun in 1804, was the old kitchen, a two story log structure, with sleeping quarters over a large room containing two huge service fireplaces.  During the 1820s, the Federal Section was completed, with a third story ball room.  The third section was added by Andersons in the 1840s. Over the succeeding years, the William Owsley added another 150 acres bring the total to 300 by 1837.

       
                      

Pleasant Retreat was not built as country show place of an ambitious politician, but as a working farm of eventually 700 acres, managed by Elizabeth Gill Owsley, and home to their six children:  Amanda M. Owsley b:1805,  Amelia Gill Owsley b: 1806,  Almira Owsley b: 1808,  Marie Elizabeth Owsley b:1813  and Erasmus Boyle Owsley b:1811.

Pleasant Retreat’s main crops were corn, wheat, and oats with some tobacco & hemp cultivation. In addition to their horses, the Owslys had Shorthorn cattle and hogs, and relied on their oxen for “motive power” of heavy farm equipment.

During the time William Owsley and his family lived at Pleasant Retreat, he was elected to two terms in the Kentucky House of Representatives; named to the state Court of Appeals, where he served for 15 years and helped to settle the “Old” & “New” court controversy; and sent back to the House by the Governor and then to the Senate.

Owsley moved his family to Frankfort around 1834, when Gov. James T. Morehead named him secretary of state. Soon Owsley being promoted as a possible gubernatorial candidate. In 1843, he had a new county named for him, a feat, considering he was yet to be governor.

As Owsley became more involved in government on the state level, he and Elizabeth found themselves spending the majority of their time in Frankfort, Kentucky’s capitol.  Franklin County Records show that the Bank of Kentucky sold a house at 314 West Main Street in Frankfort to Owsley in 1835. The Federal style house, built in 1813 by William Waller then sold to a justice on the Court of Appeals, Thomas Marshall.  Marshall sold to the Bank of Kentucky who held it for 13 years before selling to Owsley. This home still stands today.

Nominated for governor by the Whigs in 1844, Owsley won a close election against Col. William O. Butler, a hero of the War of 1812. Governor Owsley quickly found life in the governor’s mansion not as pleasant as home sweet home. His successful tenure was due to judicious and balanced thought. Owsley championed public education, despite being fiscally conservative. While being personally against the Mexican War, he raised & provisioned 13,700 volunteers; and as a former slave owner, Owlsey, pardoned Delia Webster, who had been convicted of aiding and abetting runaway slaves.
He suffered a bitter and very public dispute with his own secretary of state, Ben Hardin over political patronage, thus upon leaving the governor’s office in 1848, Owsley said, caused him “no emotions of regret.” 

Gov. Owsley spent his retirement in Boyle County, where he died in 1862.  During that time his daughter & son in-law, Amelia & Simon H Anderson took over the family home.  As noted in “Deed Book M, Deeds Recorded January 1836 to October 1838” On page 285, it reads as follows:

Deed of 26 July 1837 from William Owsley and Elizabeth, his wife, of Franklin Co. to Simeon H. Anderson, of Garrard Co. For $4500.00, about 300 acres in Garrard Co. about 1/2 mile south of Lancaster lying on the west side of the road leading from Lancaster to Stanford, now occupied by Anderson, as a residence, and for many years previously occupied by Owsley. The land is known by the name Pleasant Retreat. No witnesses. Reg. 26 July 1837.

Simeon H. Anderson, (left portrait) born 1802, was a rising politician, he was a member of  the State House of Representatives; in 1828-1829, 1832, and 1836-8., and a became a U.S. Congressman in 1839.  It was during his first year in Congress that he contracted “Potomac Fever” in Washington, DC and was brought home by Henry Clay.  Rep. Anderson died at Pleasant Retreat on  August 11th, 1840, at the age of 39 and was buried in the Anderson Family Cemetery in Garrard County with two of his daughters, Amanda and Almira, who both died in infancy.

His son, William Clayton Anderson, like his father was a rising politician and was a congressman from 1859-1861. And, like his father, he too, died unexpectedly young, just shy of this 35th birthday.
Farra_Album.html

After the younger Anderson’s untimely death, Pleasant Retreat was sold to John P. Hart. By 1855 it was the home of John Y. Meyers and his descendants until 1974, when it was acquired by William Teater Kirby who later sold it Deer Run Development Co.

Incidentally, Pleasant Retreat has the portraits of Elizabeth & John Y. Meyers.  Their daughter, Mary Francis Meyers, inherited the house, and she married Charles Farra, who received a Presidential appointment of postmaster of Lancaster.  The last members of the Meyer-Farra family to reside at Pleasant Retreat, was the Meyers’ grand daughter, Johnetta Farra, and her husband Samuel Haselden, who was mayor of Lancaster.

The National Park Service placed Pleasant Retreat on The National Register of Historic Places in 1975 as this structure recalls Kentucky’s transition from Frontier to Federlist-Period

In 1991 a spirited campaign was launched to purchase and restore this historic mansion. The Garrard County Historical Society and a group of concerned citizens led by Mrs. Pat Ballard, Rose Holtzclaw, and Margaret Simpson as well as The Owsley Family Historical Society, all joined forces to rescue this historical abandoned homestead from bulldozers.

Danny Irvin, Bob Noe, and Kenneth Yeakey sold Pleasant Retreat to The Garrard County Historical Society’s Historical Society Owsley Fund for $65,000 in April 1994, and they also donated $5,000 towards the restoration.  Brown-Forman Corporation and Messers, Owsley Brown II,  and Owsley Brown Frazier, who are both co-chairman of the board, and
life members of the Owsley Family Historical Society donated $55,000 and because the community raised $105,000, Pleasant Retreat received a $420,000 federal grant in the fall of 1993.

In addition to having the tireless support of community preservationists, Pleasant Retreat is very fortunate to have received much needed stewardship from Hon. John Wilson, The County Judge/ Executive and whose office takes care of the utilities, heating & grounds,  State Representative, Lonnie Napier,   Ms. Judy Clark Adams, the Executive Assistant to the President of Farmers National Bank in Danville,  The Kentucky Heritage Council,   Kentucky Historical Society,   Kentucky Humanities Council,  Ms. Susan Ledford then secretary of Garrard County Chamber Of Commerce and The Secretary of The Lancaster Garrard County Industrial Development Authority and finally but not least,  The Garrard County Fiscal Court which holds the title.

The Governor William Owsley Foundation Inc. formed  in 1998 , is a non-for-profit organization which runs Pleasant
Retreat, with the following founding trustees in 2001,     Local business leaders and community members, plus two Owsley descendants, volunteer their time on the board, and their function is to preserve the historical, architectural, and cultural aspects of this significant Federalist landmark; they also are in charge of hiring director and staff as well as developing educational programs on 1800s-40s Kentucky transformative bygone days and traditions.

Pleasant Retreat held its grand opening on 8th June 1997 and enjoyed over 3000 visitors in its first year as a historic house museum. A restored Carriage House was opened in 1999 containing dinning facilities, catering kitchen and handicap accessible bathrooms.

Today, the three-story Federal-style mansion and its manicured 2.2 acre grounds are open to the public for tours.

Visitors can see 14 beautifully restored period rooms, which have been made complete by the generous donations of:

  1. Bullet    Unique assemblage of loaned & gifted collection of local antiques made by Kentucky craftsmen,

  2. Bullet    Vintage textiles, coverlets and quilts,

  3. Bullet    Period garments and accessories,

  4. Bullet    Rare books, & Owsley ephemera,

  5. Bullet    Historical portraits, paintings, & photos, such as oil portraits of the Owsley family & of the other two governors from   Garrard County, The Honorables Robert Letcher & William O. Bradley.

  6. Bullet    A toy collection,

  7. Bullet    Priceless example of 1818 French scenic wallpaper called "Les Chasses De Compiegne" which depicts French aristocrats on a stag hunt & picnic.

  8. Bullet    A period kitchen with its frontier accessories such as a copper bath tub

  9. Bullet    Heirloom plants and cultivars

All the above were generously donated either by Owsley descendants or local families.


Further Reading:

  1. http://kybackroads.blogspot.com/2008/11/blog-post.html

  2. http://www.garrardcounty.ky.gov/tourism/

  3. www.ofhs.org

  4. http://www.ofhs.org/id20.html

 
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History Of Pleasant Retreat