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A Charming Garden: Liberty Hall Grounds in the Early Years

By Vicky Middleswarth, Educator

Spring Bluebells 2015Spanish bluebells in the Liberty Hall Historic Site gardens

When spring arrives at Liberty Hall Historic Site, the daffodils and bluebells make it easy to forget that the grounds once served a different purpose.  Margaretta Brown may have brought New York roses to her Kentucky home, but her letters reflect a more practical use of the land.

Benjamin Gratz Brown

By Sara Elliott, Director

Gratz Brown Blog imagePortraits of Benjamin Gratz Brown by Oliver Frazer, oil on canvas, ca. 1835 (left) and ca. 1845 (right), Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections

“Called Ben Gratz!!!” exclaimed John Brown on the name of his first grandchild[i]. Benjamin Gratz Brown was the only child of Mason and Judith Ann Bledsoe Brown and therefore the first grandchild of John and Margaretta Brown. Born on May 28, 1826 at the home of his namesake and great-great-uncle, Lexington businessman Benjamin Gratz, the infant would soon take up residence in the heart and home of his paternal grandparents in Frankfort.

A Rare Kentucky Book: Kentucky; A Poem by Isaac W. Skinner

By James D. Birchfield

KY a poem pic 1

On the shelves of the Brown family library at Liberty Hall there is a very rare Kentucky book – Kentucky; A Poem, by Isaac W. Skinner.[1]  It truly is a rare book, because there are only four known copies: the Liberty Hall copy, two copies in the Special Collections Research Center at the University of Kentucky, and a fourth copy owned by the Millbrook Public Library in Millbrook, Alabama.

Frankfort Friends: Paul Sawyier and the Browns

By Kate Hesseldenz, Curator

Another View of Frankfort photo by Gene BurchAnother View of Frankfort, Paul Sawyier, watercolor on paper, ca. 1895, Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections

Liberty Hall Historic Site owns eight Paul Sawyier paintings.  Six of these were likely collected by Brown family members.  Though not born in Frankfort, Paul Sawyier (1865-1917) and his family moved to the capital city in 1870.  While living in Frankfort, Sawyier created watercolor landscape paintings of his central Kentucky surroundings. He also painted portraits and worked in oils. Sawyier was influenced by American Impressionism and studied with Impressionist artist, William Merritt Chase, in New York City in 1889.  

Holiday History at Liberty Hall: Clues from the Library

By Vicky Middleswarth, Educator

Holiday plate optHand-painted plate, Haviland & Co. Limoges, porcelain, France, ca. 1880, Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections.

“There never has been a more delightful Christmas” wrote Margaretta Brown to her son Orlando in 1828.  But what exactly did she mean?  She went on to describe warm weather that was expected to last until New Year’s day and she implored Orlando to “be born to the newness of life” through his faith.[i]  What she did not mention was how they celebrated December 25. 

In fact there are few references to Christmas in Brown family letters we know of, even later in the nineteenth century. No one wrote about hanging a wreath, trimming a tree, or expecting a visit from Santa.  A plate decorated with a winter scene is one of our only artifacts with a holiday theme. The library at Liberty Hall probably holds the most clues to how the Browns may have observed the winter holidays.

Scenes from a Western Journey: Excerpts from John Mason Brown’s 1861 diary

By Sara Elliott, Director

Map RouteMap showing the route taken by John Mason Brown on his trip to the Northwest in 1861, The Filson Club History Quarterly, 1950.

John Mason Brown, the son of Mason and Mary Yoder Brown, was born at Liberty Hall in April 1837. A graduate of Yale, Brown taught school in Frankfort, worked for the Kentucky Geological Survey, studied law and shortly after being admitted to the Kentucky bar, followed his half-brother, Benjamin Gratz Brown, to St. Louis in 1860.

Brown was interested in history, geology, geography, and languages. Therefore, it is not surprising that the lure of the west—the west that Lewis and Clark had seen a little over 50 years before—would lead him on a six-month adventure that, fortunately for us, he chronicled in his diary.

Collections Spotlight: Sunday Night at Chickamauga

By Julie Payne

Chickamauga Painting image 1Sunday Night at Chickamauga, attributed to Samuel Woodson Price, oil on canvas, ca. 1870, Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections.

When my husband, Warren, and I were asked to join the Liberty Hall Historic Site’s Collections Committee, we never dreamed it would result in finding a treasure.  Our first assignment, to evaluate a standing plate warmer, was interesting, but not exactly in our area of expertise. Since our area of expertise is Kentucky antique art, we asked, might there be a print we could evaluate?  The answer was yes.

Old-fashioned Election Cake

By Vicky Middleswarth, Educator

Cake 4Election cake loaf made with a recipe developed for the Old Farmer’s Almanac based on the one in The American Frugal Housewife.

What special days do you assoicate with special foods? Is Election Day on your list? In some parts of early New England, Election Day was observed with a yeasty cake thought to be an American original.  Sometime after 1829, Margaretta Brown copied a recipe for “Election Cake” in a small oblong journal, one of several family receipt books in Liberty Hall’s archival collection.

Collections Spotlight: French Fashion

By Kate Hesseldenz, Curator

French Fashion Blog Image 1House of Worth gown, ca. 1906; Weeks gown, 1910-1915; Cheruit gown and suit, 1910-1920, Liberty Hall Historic Site Collections

Among the fifty pieces of historic women’s clothing in the LHHS collection there are four early 20th century Parisian garments, three gowns and a suit.  Who in the family owned these clothes and did they travel to Europe to acquire them?  It seems that someone in the Brown family knew that Paris, France, was (and still is) the fashion capital of the world. American women who wished to be in style in the early 1900s bought French clothes.[i] 

Slavery at Liberty Hall: The Stepney Family, Part 4

By Sara Elliott, Director

Stepney Family blog

This is the fourth and final installment in the blog series about the enslaved Stepney family. These biographical sketches may have contained information that seemed contradictory or confusing. As has been said before, African American genealogical research can be very difficult. We have collected information on people we believe are the Stepneys who worked and lived at Liberty Hall. Without corroborating documents, it is hard to confirm which individuals with the surname Stepney, found in post-Civil War public records, were enslaved by the Browns.