A Walk in the Park: Gratz Park History

2 blocks North of Main Street in downtown Lexington sits a beautiful bit of green-space between Transylvania University and West Second Street. Originally dedicated as Centennial Park in 1876, Gratz Park was renamed for Benjamin Gratz, a prominent hemp grower who made his home amongst the Federal and Greek revival homes surrounding the park. And trust us, if ever you win the lottery, you’ll want to buy one of these houses- beautiful architecture in Lexington’s first historic district, and only 2 blocks away from downtown (where all the fun is if you ask us).

Between the beautiful, historic homes, the mirrored facades of Transylvania University and the Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning (more on these later), the views of the Lexington skyline, and the peace and quiet, Gratz Park might be my favorite place in Lexington (C).

Probably the main reason Gratz Park is so cool, is just how much history you’ll find in a small, 1-block radius. Standing in the middle of the park you can see the oldest University west of the Allegheny Mountains, Lexington’s first public library, the John Hunt Morgan House, the birthplace of the Lexington Clinic, the headquarters for both the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War, and the home of the founder of the Lexington Leader newspaper (later incorporated with the Lexington Herald to create the Lexington Herald-Leader).

The Three Ugly Sisters

Officially known as the Goodloe Houses, The 3 Ugly Sisters are one of the more popular Lexington history stories.  Originally built by the widow Mrs. William Cassius Goodloe for her 3 daughters around 1901, were the last homes built around Gratz Park. Now, I haven’t found any pictures of the Goodloe daughters while trolling about the internet, but I wonder how the popular nickname for the houses: “The Three Ugly Sisters” got started?

The Bodley-Bullock House

The Bodley-Bullock House is a sweet little mansion that sits right at the corner of Market Street and West 2nd. Originally built for former Lexington Mayor Thomas Pindell, it was soon sold to Thomas Bodley for whom the house is now named. During the Civil War, both the Union army and the Confederacy occupied Lexington, and where do you think they established their headquarters? Both factions requisitioned the Bodley-Bullock House for their use! Dr. Bullock, who’s claim to fame is as the founder of the Lexington Clinic, eventually bought the house in the early 20th century. The house is currently used by the Junior League of Lexington, is open with exhibits during GalleryHop, and one can often spy on weddings in the back garden during the warmer seasons.

The Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning

Its pretty tough to miss the Carnegie Center when you go to Gratz Park- just look for the big, white building staring down Transylvania University from the other end of the park. Full disclosure: I have a very special place in my heart for the Carnegie Center both as a book nerd (the Center was Lexington’s first public library) and because I tutor there during the school year. Between 1883 and 1929, 2,509 libraries were funded and built by bleeding-heart industrialist and fellow book nerd Andrew Carnegie. Opened in 1905, the Carnegie Center has also served as a school, and now as Kentucky’s premier center for learning and the literary arts. The best part? Every time you visit the Carnegie Center you’re encouraged to take a book from the large selection donated  by like-minded book lovers!

The Fountain of Youth

Unfortunately, I don’t think you’ll find the secret to staying young by drinking from this fountain, in fact we discourage you from drinking from ANY public fountain… Donated by beloved Kentucky author James Lane Allen (NOT Ponce de Leon) in 1933, the fountain is a “gift to the children of Lexington” (or anyone who needs a reminder to stay young at heart).

The Hunt-Morgan House

Not quite on Gratz Park, but still on Gratz Park, the Hunt-Morgan house is one of the better known Lexington historic homes (along with Ashland, the Mary Todd Lincoln House, and the Pope Villa). Here’s the family story: John Wesley Hunt, the 1st millionaire west of the Alleghenies built the house in 1814, and in case you were wondering, $1 million in 1814 is worth almost $13 million today! He liked to do business with people like Henry Clay and John Jacob Astor. His grandson, John Hunt Morgan was the famous Confederate Civil War general known as the “Thunderbolt of the Confederacy” who led Morgan’s raid in 1863. But the best story about John Hunt Morgan was his leap over the garden’s brick wall on horseback to kiss his mother goodbye. Now John Wesley Hunt’s (remember he built the house) great-grandson was Dr. Thomas Hunt Morgan born in 1866. His pioneering work in genetics earned him a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1933. Whew! Try living up to that legacy!

Some Other Cool Places You’ll Find in and Around Gratz Park:

For more information on Gratz Park and ALL the buidlings/history you can find there, check out the Gratz Park Neighborhood Association webpage



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