Old Morrison, designed by the
father of Greek Revival architecture in Kentucky, Gideon Shryock
Photograph by Eric Thomason, courtesy of the Blue Grass
Trust for Historic Preservation
The earliest building designers of Kentucky were not professionally
trained architects but were amateur builder-architects or builder-designers.
Most of the builders were house joiners, carpenters, and bricklayers
who conveyed the traditions of their immediate environment. By
the late 1700s, Matthew Kennedy came to Kentucky from Virginia
and Mathias Shryock came from Maryland, bringing with them traditional
building skills from their home regions.
In addition to their traditional building methods, these builder-designers
relied on regional materials. Stone was the predominant building
material because of the availability of limestone and marble,
a metamorphosed limestone. Stone was used in the foundations of
early log cabins and for simple and complex building forms because
it was durable, flexible, and could be used for architectural
ornamentation. Kentucky clay provided a good quality of brick
that could be fired into a hard brick. John Bob's was a local
brickyard in Lexington in 1791.
Early builders, unable to be trained by English and Italian
masters, relied on architectural treatises and builder guides.
The first of the guides to appear in America were reprints of
guides of the English carpenter-architect Abraham Swan, The
British Architect and A Collection of Designs in Architecture,
first published in Philadelphia in 1775. Other books available
in the period were William Pain's The Builder's Pocket-Treasure
and Practical Builder. John Norman's Town and Country
Builder's Assistant was printed in Boston in 1786. Owen Biddle's
The Young Carpenter's Assistant was printed in 1805 to
be sold in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Richmond, Virginia; and
Lexington, Kentucky, demonstrating the national recognition of
Lexington. Asher Benjamin's The Builder's Assistant (1800)
was published in Massachusetts as the third edition of The
Country Builder's Assistant, and was part of Mathias Shryock's
personal library. [Clay Lancaster, noted Kentucky architectural
historian, identified Kentucky buildings and interiors which were
adapted from the early builder's guides in his book, Antebellum
Architecture of Kentucky.]
Three distinct architectural styles emerged in Kentucky in the first
half of the 19th century. Gradually replacing the Federal style
during the first quarter of the 19th century, Greek Revival becomes
the new national style, ever present on public buildings such as
churches, schools, and government buildings. Religious buildings
became the prime examples of the Gothic Revival style by 1830, supported
by clergymen as economical to build and excellent examples of ecclesiastical
architecture reaching to the heavens. Gothic Revival was also an
exuberant, romantic design that promoted country living and connecting
to the land through landscaping and horticulture. While the Renaissance
Revival style was beginning in upstate New York by the 1840s, local
builders chose the less formalized Italian villa style (Italianate)
that related to the agrarian lifestyle of Kentucky.
The Gothic First Presbyterian
Church was designed by another member of the Shryock family--Cincinnatus
Courtesy of J. Winston Coleman, Jr., Transylvania University
Architecture was not recognized as a profession in America until
the construction began for the U.
S. Capitol. Benjamin Henry Latrobe introduced the Greek Revival
style for public buildings to America. English born and trained
by an English architect, Latrobe is often credited as the real
founder of the architectural profession in the United States.
While Latrobe was engaged in the construction of the U. S. Capitol,
he became acquainted with U. S. Senator John Pope. In 1810, Pope
commissioned Latrobe to design his suburban villa at Lexington.
Three sheets of drawings for the house filed with the Library
of Congress reveal that two- and three-story elevations were proposed
for the elegant house. The two-story elevation was chosen by Senator
Pope and built by Asa Wilgus.
Latrobe was also a friend of Henry Clay when he was Speaker
of the U. S. House of Representatives from 1811-1820. Latrobe
offered free drawings to Clay for construction of the main building
at Transylvania University but his plans were not chosen due to
expense or difficulty in execution. Clay did ask Latrobe to design
the wings and additions to his residence, Ashland,
which Latrobe completed before his death in 1820. The influence
of Latrobe is evident in his buildings and successors: two of
his best students were William Strickland and Robert Mills.
Gideon Shryock, one of Mathias Shryock's 11 children born in Kentucky,
was educated in Lexington and apprenticed with his father. When
he was 21, he went to Philadelphia to study under William Strickland
who was designing the second Bank of Philadelphia, patterned after
the Parthenon. Shryock also purchased a copy of the American edition
of Swan's British Architect that he brought back to Lexington.
When he returned, he submitted plans for the third state house in
Frankfort that were accepted. The building is constructed with a
hexastyle portico of polished marble taken from local quarries on
the banks of the Kentucky River near Frankfort. Not only is the
building as nearly fireproof as possible, but the stairway is also
an engineering feat.
Old State Capitol in Frankfort,
Kentucky, designed by Gideon Shryock
National Historic Landmarks photograph
Gideon also received a commission for Morrison
College of Transylvania University to replace the main building
that was lost to fire. His plans were amendments to an earlier
plan, creating a porticoed central pavilion and wings. This set
the precedent for simplicity in the Greek Revival movement in
Kentucky. Shryock was the State's most prominent architect from
1827 to 1837, designing public and residential buildings in Frankfort
One of Gideon Shryock's apprentices was John McMurtry (1812-1890),
also from Maryland parents but who was born on a farm outside Lexington.
McMurtry was a builder who sought the training and guidance of Shryock
in 1833 and within a year, Shryock decided to let McMurtry sublet
a building contract for the new dormitory at Morrison College. McMurtry
and his brother completed the carpentry work and his building career
began. McMurtry designed and built many public buildings in the
Greek Revival Style in Lexington, such as The Medical Hall and dormitory
at Transylvania University. McMurtry combined Greek Revival with
Gothic on the Catholic Church of Saint Peter (1837) that stood on
North Limestone before it was demolished in 1930. This combination
of Greek Revival with pointed windows and doors and Gothic spire
was unusual, but shows that English influences, such as the Gothic
Revival, were on their way to Kentucky. McMurtry was the builder
for Major Thomas Lewinski's design for Christ Church in 1848 and
the architect for the McChord Presbyterian Church on Market Street,
which contained the first stained glass windows directly imported
Floral Hall, designed by prominent
Lexington architect John McMurty
Photograph by Eric Thomason, courtesy of the Blue Grass
Trust for Historic Preservation
By 1831 a national interest in open space and parkland emerged
from the first rural cemetery, Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge,
Massachusetts. The cemetery was no longer a somber graveyard,
but instead was a place for reflection, strolling, and family
picnics, with the intent to improve the health of urban residents.
The setting favored an English park with monumental architecture.
John McMurtry designed two Gothic Revival gateways for the Paris
Cemetery Company and the Lexington Cemetery
(torn down in 1890). An outstanding example of one of McMurtry's
Gothic Revival residences is still visible today in Elley Villa,
built on Maxwell Street. The construction is an adaptation of
design 25 in Andrew Downing's The Architecture of Country Houses.
The house has changed uses now and is known as Aylesford, a private
residence. Another excellent example is Loudoun,
designed by A. J. Davis (New York architect), and called by Clay
Lancaster, "the first and foremost castellated villa in Kentucky."
Built by John McMurtry, the villa is now Castlewood Park.
Thomas Lewinski arrived in Lexington in 1842 about the time Gideon
Shryock was moving to Louisville. Lewinski was English born and
trained as a Roman Catholic priest, served as a soldier in the British
Army and taught at the University of Louisville. In 1848 Lewinski
designed Christ Episcopal Church, the fourth
Episcopal Church to occupy the site. Major Thomas Lewinski was the
architect, John McMurtry was the builder. When Henry Clay died in
1852, his son purchased Ashland from the estate. Apparently damaged
by the 1811-12 earthquakes, the foundation was badly damaged and
Clay decided to rebuild Ashland. Lewinski was hired to design the
new Ashland which follows the basic design of the original but with
more elaborate detailing. Ashland was completed in 1856 and is now
open to the public through the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation.
Historic image of Christ Church
Episcopal, c1943, designed by Thomas Lewinski and built by
Photograph by J. Winston Coleman, Jr., courtesy of Transylvania
University Special Collections, Lexington, KY
Cincinnatus Shryock, younger brother of Gideon, studied medicine
at Transylvania University until the final term when he left school
to work on a construction project. Apparently somewhat of a renaissance
man, Cincinnatus was a mathematician who designed his own telescope,
was an avid reader, musician, and builder who embraced the Gothic
Revival style. In 1872 he built the First Presbyterian
Church on North Mill Street with a 150-foot spire. His work
is evident in the South Hill Historic District.