The holidays at Holly Rood

Published 10:36 am Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Always interested in promoting historical learning and awareness, Holly Rood on Beckner Street had a busy and productive first weekend of December.

The historic former home of Kentucky Governor James Clark was the site of a Keeping Christmas at Holly Rood 1800s-themed dinner and tours that served for the benefit and education of the general public.

“It’s been said that this is the people’s house, and so I think there are generations of people in Winchester who drive by the house every day, who were part of the house in the past and would like an opportunity to experience it again,” said Jeffrey Hale, a local artist and antiques dealer who helped develop and participate in the two events.

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Initially constructed in 1813, the historic home – also known as the Governor James A. Clark Mansion – is a two-story brick-painted red house with a wide front porch and Ionic columns.

It was designed using Federal-style architecture, which was commonplace in the United States after the American Revolution.

Holly Rood was eventually added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Working together, Friends of Holly Rood and the Clark County Winchester Heritage Commission helped put on the events.

The Thursday, Nov. 30th dinner – which cost $100 per individual – included numerous well-known names from the community.

Among them were City Commissioner Kitty Strode, Mason on Main owner Mason Rhodus, Engine House Pizza Pub owners Chad and Jill Walker, External Affairs Manager with East Kentucky Power Cooperative Nick Comer and Clark County Public Schools Superintendent Dustin Howard.

“The dinner was wonderful and it was a fundraiser,” said curator Debbie Barnes. “The most important thing to me was we had a mixture of the people who know what Holly Rood is and have supported it through the years, along with a lot of young people that – until they were here that night – had no idea what it was.”

Less than twenty-four hours later, the Keeping Christmas at Holly Rood Tours began.

On Saturday, Dec. 2nd, and Sunday, Dec. 3rd from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., it was largely the idea of Betty-Jane Glasscock, Owner and Partner of Court Street Gifts.

“Betty-Jane came to [us] in early October and asked us if we would be willing to help with a tour,” Hale said. “In talking with her and [recalling] my own excitement about the event, it changed and became what it is today, which was a much more intimate event.”

In addition to a Christmas tree, many residents and businesses donated home decor items and more – some of which would later be auctioned – to give the interior a unique feel and appearance.

They included Court Street Gifts, Eve’s Uniques, Brown Proctor Hair Designers, Arts on Main, Lucinda Hougland, Holly VanMeter, Brett Cheuvront, Patti Columbia and Elizabeth Sainte.

“In my imagination, I was thinking, ‘what would the family have had at their disposal to prepare for the keeping of Christmas?’” Hale said. “I imagined that [Governor James Clark] would have brought Christmas with him to Holly Rood.”

To fit the time period and add to the festive atmosphere, which included Christmas music, Hale even dressed in historical attire with a top hat, ascot tie, and long coat.

Steve Justice, president of the Clark County-Winchester Heritage Commission, adds that they’ll look further to present history at Holly Rood.

“At some point, [we’d like] to be able to put a historical sign out here to talk about each [of] the four families that lived here a majority of the time,” Justice said.

However, its growth continues to be evident.

“Ten years ago, when I started, I heard people say, ‘Oh, I thought [Holly Rood] was an abandoned house,’” Barnes said. “We’ve really done a lot of work, and I think it reflects on the warmth of character in this house. It looks like a home now, and it is. It’s Clark County [and] Winchester’s home.”