Historic Structures

Scotland Mansion, Frankfort Kentucky

Date added: November 1, 2019 Categories: Kentucky House Mansion Greek Revival

The imposing Greek Revival mansion, located off Versailles Road, five miles east of Frankfort, was built between 1845 and 1847 by Robert Wilmot Scott, a prominent lawyer, politician, and innovative farmer and stock raiser. He as?as aisĀ© instrumental in establishing the Kentucky public school and constructed the first common school in the State on his estate. The land on which the house was built had been the estate of Martin D. Hardin (1780-1823), another eminent lawyer and politician. Later owners of the property include Horatio P. Mason, a famous contractor and engineer; and Colonel J. Swigert Taylor, a respected Frankfort distiller and thoroughbred horse breeder.

Scotland, as it is now called, is the largest Greek Revival house in Franklin County, and one of the largest in Kentucky. Its imposing bulk is well-known to motorists driving on Interstate Route 64, the present main connector between Louisville at the Falls of the Ohio River and Lexington in the heart of the Bluegrass region of Central Kentucky. The house, surrounded by aged trees, lies at the top of a knoll several hundred feet south of the highway just east of the Frankfort interchange. The extensive property is entered off the road between Frankfort and Versailles, Woodford County, where it passes under I-64 half-a-mile west of the house. The present rear of the property abuts on the Old Frankfort Pike, a narrow scenic road now seldom used but once a major thoroughfare linking the State capital with Lexington, the "Athens of the West." Before I-64 was routed across the north side of the property, the house was approached from the old Leestown Road (now 421), which has, however, changed its course several times in the last century-and-a-half. By the mid-19th century, the early L & N Railroad had already been located between the house at the Leestown Road. Thus the mansion has always faced at least one major transportation route and the property has been defined by others; the apparently unfortunate proximity of I-64 is, therefore, only an extension of a feature in fact boasted about by Robert Wilmot Scott, the builder of the house, in an advertisement for the sale of the property, he personally prepared in 1871. "The Louisville and Lexington Railroad, and the State road from Frankfort to Lexington, pass through it, under the same lines of fence affording a commanding front view of the principal dwelling-house and adjacent grounds; the Frankfort and Versailles Turnpike is on the western boundary; Ducker Depot is within a mile and a half, and thus easy access is had, from all directions, it being five miles from Frankfort, nineteen from Lexington, and seventy from Louisville".

The residence Scott built in 1845-46 on the site of an earlier house is a pre-eminent example of the Greek Revival predilection for the pure geometry of the cube and the square. The basic block of the house is almost square in plan; the great flat-roofed portico is almost exactly square in elevation; the very high entablature, continuous around the main block, gives a sense of blockiness that evokes the cube. Even such minor elements as the stone pedestals of the baseless shaped-brick Tuscan (unfluted Doric) columns are cubic. Ornament is absent from the exterior, except in the subtle play of structural textures the brick walls are laid in four different kinds of bond, including an unusual double-Flemish bond on the sides, and the surfaces of all the stone foundations, water table, and porch floor slabs are also varied; the interior woodwork and plasterwork is handsome, precisely classical, but charily disposed for architectonic affect, not lavishly profused for its own sake. Scotland, as it is now called, is an excellent example of the architectural power that can be achieved through fortunate siting, bold massing, good craftsmanship, and restraint in detail all characteristic of the "plain style" of American Greek Revival architecture at its best. The house must always have seemed a point of stability for travelers on whichever route they traversed, by road or rail. The house was also, of course, intended to be the focal point for a large working farm. Although only a few of the outbuildings remain, a unique stone overseer's house and at least one old barn, and the property has been truncated by the highway and other factors, it remains a working farm. Since it was built, the house has been inhabited by members of only three families, most of them living there full-time, and all three of exceptional prominence in the history of the area.

Robert W. Scott, born in November 1808, was the son of Joel and Rebecca Ridgley Scott. A contemporary (1878) biography of Robert Wilmot gives information on his parents and enumerates his extensive contributions in law and agriculture:

Scott, Robert W., Lawyer, Politician, Farmer, and Stock-breeder, was born November 2, 1808, at the home of his grandfather, Col. Robert Wilmot, in Bourbon County, Kentucky. His parents were Joel and Rebecca Ridgley Scott. His father came from Madison County, Virginia, when a boy, with his parents, John and Hanna (Earle) Scott, and settled on a large tract of wild land of the best quality, on the waters of the North Elkhorn, in Scott County, in 1785. He was an extensive farmer and manufacturer, and, after the war of 1812, was a merchant and manufacturer of Georgetown, Kentucky, for many years; and was one of the most upright, public-spirited, and influential citizens of his county. He was, for seven years, keeper of the State Penitentiary, and, doubtlessly, with greater and better moral and financial results to the State than has ever been attained under any other management. His last years were spent in the retirement of his farm, in Woodford County, where he died, several years ago, at the age of seventy-nine years. The farm referred to is Valley Farm, Franklin County (now a ruins). His father, John Scott, was of Scotch origin. Rebecca Ridgley Wilmot Scott, the mother of Robert W. Scott, died while he was a small boy; and she was the daughter of Col. Robert Wilmot, who was a lieutenant of artillery from Baltimore County, Maryland, throughout the Revolutionary War; came to Kentucky before the organization of the State; settled, with his family, on a large tract of land in Bourbon County, in 1786; was first elected to the Legislature in 1796, and was several times re-elected; and was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1799, that frames the second Constitution of Kentucky; and was one of the most worthy and valuable of the pioneer settlers of the State.

Robert W. Scott received a regular collegiate education at Transylvania University, in its palmy days under Dr. Horace Holley; and when that worthy and able educator retired from the presidency of Transylvania, he was selected by his fellow-students to prepare an address of regret, sympathy, and respect to the departing president, which was duly performed; and the address was published, with the response, in the "Observer and Reporter, " at Lexington at the time. He studied law in the office of Haggin & Loughboro at Frankfort, and afterwards under Judge John Boyle, in Mercer County; and was licensed to practice, by Judges Daniel Mayes and Thomas M. Hickey, in September, 1829, before reaching his twenty-first year. In the following Winter, he visited different parts of the country, and, while in Washington City, had the pleasure of hearing the famous debate between Webster and Hayne; attended the debates in the Second Constitutional Convention of Virginia, at Richmond, where he enjoyed the acquaintance of Ex-Presidents Madison and Monroe, Chief-Justice John Marshall, the famous John Randolph, of Roanoke, and others; and at Baltimore, was a passenger, with Charles Carroll and others, on the first trial trip on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, to Ellicott's Mills.

In the Spring of 1830, he began the practice of the law, at Frankfort, in partnership with Judge Haggin, one of his law preceptors; but, after a successful practice of several years1 duration, he was compelled, by failing health, to abandon his profession, and turn his attention to farming. He at once purchased the farm which had been owned by Hon. Martin D. Hardin, in Franklin County, five miles from Frankfort, and on the Louisville jind Lexington Railroad and the turnpike to Versailles, where he has since resided. Martin D. Hardin was born in June 1780 in Pennsylvania. Hardin moved to Kentucky and attended Transylvania University in Lexington where he studied law. In 1805 he was elected to the State legislature. During the War of 1812 he served as a major under General Harrison. At the outbreak of the war, Hardin had been appointed Secretary of State under Governor Shelby, and he served in this position until 1816, when he was elected to the U. S. Senate. Hardin has been described as "among the most eminent and eloquent lawyers of his day". This farm at first contained two hundred and five acres, but, at various times afterwards, he purchased additions, increasing it to nearly a thousand acres; lately, however, reducing its size. The spacious dwelling on this estate was erected by him, and is one of the most elegant country houses in the rich Blue Grass region of the State.

He soon turned his attention to stock-raising; and in 1835, purchased, at the sale of the late James Haggin, several of his best cattle, of the Improved Short-horn Durham breed, of the importation of 1817; subsequently, made other purchases, and established one of the largest and finest herds then in the State; and was one of the first, if not the first, to sell a native-bred animal as high as sixteen hundred and ten dollars. He still has many of the silver premiums awarded to his stock; and his cattle register shows an unbroken record of herd-book pedigrees up to the present time. He soon began to direct his attention to the raising of sheep; and, by careful selection of the best natives of the common breed, and by judicious crossing with the best of the various imported breeds, he has produced what is known as "The Improved Kentucky" sheep. He has widely circulated, and has long had an extensive sale for, these sheep throughout the country. In 1866, their history was published in the Government Agricultural Report; and premiums were awarded him, for them, at the Kentucky State Fair, in 1856; at the Fair of the United States Agricultural Society, held at Louisville, in 1857; and at the great Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia, in 1876, as represented by various samples of their wool, and their skins with the wool on them.

In 1860, he was the first to introduce into this part of the State the Cashmere, or Angora goat, as a practical farm stock for wool-bearing. With these, too, he has, been very successful, and now has a large flock of them, and of his best sheep, on hand; and probably no man in the State of Kentucky has devoted more time, and with better results, to the improvement of the stock of the country.

In 1837, he assisted in establishing the "Franklin Farmer," at Frankfort, the second agricultural paper ever established in the West; wrote the first article in its first number, and afterwards contributed largely to its columns, in favor of State aid to agricultural societies, agricultural education, geological surveys, and on other subjects then new and interesting in the State. He still continues to contribute occasional articles to the agricultural journals of the country. In 1837, he, with others, was appointed by a public meeting to prepare the pedigrees of cattle for the "Kentucky Stock-book," which had been projected in a meeting of stockraisers, at Lexington; and many of the prepared pedigrees for that work were published in the "Franklin Farmer" at the time, and, subsequently, in the American "Short-horn Herdbook." In 1834 or 1835, he was instrumental in organizing the Franklin County Agricultural Society, the second or third which had then been organized in the State, and was its first president. This Society was afterwards merged into one with Woodford and other counties. In 1838, he was prominently concerned organizing the Kentucky State Agricultural Society; and was its corresponding secretary, until after he had published the first large volume, containing full reports of all its proceedings, and of all the county agricultural and mechanical societies in the State, in 1857, when he declined to serve longer in that capacity; and, on retiring from the office, received some flattering testimonials, and a silver pitcher from the Society, which was the second State organization of the kind which went into operation in the United States.

In 1838, he received the appointment of School Commissioner for Franklin County from Rev. Joseph J. Bullock, Superintendent of Public Instruction of Kentucky; and, in 1841, had his appointment continued, under the superintendence of Bishop B. B. Smith. He divided the county into school districts, and, as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Thirteenth District, in which he resided, memorialized the Legislature as to taking action in the organization of the common-school system of education in the State, and asking for the enactment of a general law for raising, by taxation, a common-school fund for the whole State, and succeeded in removing the former impediments to the law provided in general statute; built, a house, established and carried on, with great success, a school for ten months in the year, as early as 1841; that being the first school put in operation in the State under the common-school law.

He was appointed, by Gov. Magoffin, a commissioner of the State institution for training and educating feeble-minded children; was also elected President of the Board of Commissioners, and for a long time took an active and leading interest in that institution. To him probably more than any other man in the State is due the credit of practically demonstrating and establishing the common-school system of education in Kentucky.

Mr. Scott has been a successful and systematic farmer; and he was the first in his county to introduce the grain threshing-machine, the roller, and the revolving harrow; and was the first agent of the United States Government Agricultural Department for his county.

In 1843, he became a member of the Baptist Church; and is now deacon, licentiate, and moderator of his Church, of the "Forks of Elkhorn;" was several times Moderator of the Franklin Association; in 1850, organized and superintended the first Sabbath-school of that Church; had been, in 1827, a teacher in the first Sabbath school established by the Baptists in Frankfort; was sometime elected a Trustee of Georgetown College, under the control of that denomination; and was for several years President of the Board of Trustees of the Western Baptist Theological Institute, while it was located at Georgetown. He was appointed to settle up the affairs, and to free from debt, the estate of the late Rev. John L. Waller, an able and worthy Baptist minister, who had become involved through the publication of "The Baptist Banner," a religious journal; and fulfilled the trust to the great satisfaction of the parties concerned, and had a cash balance for the benefit of the family.

Mr. Scott was a candidate for election as a delegate to the last State Constitutional Convention, in 1849, but was defeated, owing to his opposition to making all office holders elected by the people, and especially of the judiciary department of the State Government; and belonged to the Whig party until after the Presidential election of 1860, since which he has been identified with the Democratic party. He was President of the Southern Rights Convention held in Frankfort, in 1861; united in the call, soon after the civil war, for a State Convention at Louisville, to reorganize the Democratic party; was appointed, by that convention, a member of the State Central Democratic Committee, at Frankfort; was subsequently made chairman of that committee; was largely instrumental in the thorough organization of the party throughout the State, resulting, finally, in passing all the affairs of the State Government into the control of the Democracy; and, when he declined re-election, received a vote of thanks from a State Convention.

In early life, he united with the temperance movement of the day, then in its beginning; made many public speeches in favor of the cause; and has lived, throughout his long, active, and eventful career, in accordance with the principles espoused in the beginning, and so trained his family; and has been one of the most energetic, upright, and useful men who have ever lived in Franklin County. His house has always been noted for its hospitality, and many noble acts of charity.

Mr. Scott was married, October 20, 1831 to Miss Elizabeth Watts Brown, daughter of Dr. Preston W. and Elizabeth Watts Brown, of Frankfort, Kentucky. She is still living, at the age of sixty-five, and has been a pillar of intelligence and strength by his side, for nearly half a century. Her father was a son of Rev. John Brown and Margaret Preston (daughter of John Preston and Elizabeth Patton, of Virginia, from whom descended several of the distinguished families of Kentucky and Virginia), and the youngest brother of Hon. John Brown Hon. James Brown, and Dr. Samuel Brown; and was himself one of the first physicians of Kentucky. He died at Louisville in 1826."

In his later years, Scott suffered a decline in health and spent the last several years of his life in Florida. Apparently in 1871 R. W. Scott sought to sell the property, as indicated by the handbill he wrote at the time, which provides a firm date for the erection of the house and much additional fascinating information on the house, grounds, and farm. Scott did not, however, sell the property, but continued to farm "the favorite herds and flocks" while spending the winters in Florida. The property remained in the Scott family until to 1886 it was sold to Horatio P. Mason.

Horatio Pleasants Mason (1840-1906), a prominent contractor, was the son of General Claiborne R. Mason (1800-1886), the chief engineer on General Stonewall Jackson's staff. Horatio Mason moved to Kentucky from Virginia in 1886. In addition to being a successful farmer, Mason's firm, Mason & Hoge Company, was the builder of the Louisville & Nashville, the Cincinnati and Ohio, the Queen and Crescent, the Baltimore and Ohio, and other railroads. The company later became the Mason and Hanger Company, which was responsible for the construction of the Hudson River Tunnel, the Grand Coulee Dam, and innumerable other major projects.

In 1924 the house and land were sold to Colonel J. Swigert Taylor, the son of Colonel Edmund H. Taylor, a Frankfort financier, and founder of several distilleries, including Old Crow and Old Taylor whiskies. He was also well known for his success as a breeder of Hereford cattle. Taylor renamed the property Scotland in honor of the builder of the house.