Shelburne-Cox House, Taylorsville Kentucky

Date added: January 24, 2023 Categories: Kentucky House School Greek Revival

Deeds suggest that the house was built for Mastin B. Shelburne in about 1840. Shelburne bought the four lots (#29 -31) which became associated with the house between July 1838 and March 1839 for between $50 and $65 apiece. It is very doubtful the house was on the property before this date. In 1845 Shelburne sold "the houses and lots whereon I now reside" to his brother-in-law, Daniel Stephens, for $3400. By 1850 Shelburne was back in the house, renting it from Stephens in exchange for boarding three of his Stephens nieces and nephews. Shelburne, who is listed as a farmer in the 1850 census, was one of Taylorsville's early settlers, one of the county's first Justices of the Peace, one of Taylorsville's first Trustees, its postmaster for many years beginning in 1817, and a prosperous landowner. He is listed with seven slaves in the 1850 census, more than most other people in Taylorsville.

The house is an interesting exception to a pattern of antebellum house siteing in Taylorsville. Nearly all the early residences in Taylorsville were observed to be sited at the very front of their lots, close to the street. This pattern is also apparent in neighboring towns in the region such as Bardstown and Shelbyville. The Shelburne-Cox House, set back sixty feet from Main Street on what was originally one of the largest properties in town, does not conform to this pattern. Its commodious setting was no doubt an attempt, along with its relatively high Greek Revival styling, to identify it as an "important" property built by a very prosperous local citizen.

In 1853 the house was sold to Joseph B. Cox (1821-1894), a prominent local citizen who was County Clerk from 1851 until 1875, a practicing lawyer from 1860 until 1879, school commissioner, master commissioner, and, in 1882, an organizer and first president of the Bank of Taylorsville.

Cox sold the house in 1877 to the newly formed Spencer County Educational Association for use as a high school. By this time the property had grown to include 2.5 acres. The school was run for a few years as the Spencer Institute, a name taken from an earlier school across the street, but it soon ran into financial difficulties and in 1885 was sold to George C. Overstreet (1844-1911), minister of Taylorsville's Presbyterian Church. Overstreet and his wife, Texanna, ran the school very successfully into the early 1900s, and it became known unofficially as Mrs. Overstreet's school. Until a public high school was built in Taylorsville in 1907, this school was the principal provider of high school education in the community and the county.

The Mansard roof and the second story of the rear ell were added to the original house, probably in two stages, presumably so that the school could board students. Several facts suggest that the Mansard roof was added by the Educational Association when it bought the building.

One of the original signers of the Articles of Incorporation of the Spencer County Educational Association and the first president of the Association was John Eastburne Young, an important local builder who in 1868 built a new Spencer County Courthouse. Young, listing a Taylorsville address, was one of only 43 Kentucky "architects" cited in an 1887 national architects' directory. (Bryan and Company. Directory of Architects; 1887.) In 1894 he is listed in another national directory of architects, this time with a Louisville address. (Comstock. The Architects' Directory and Specification Index, 1894). About 1876 Young built a house for himself, the only other building in Taylorsville or Spencer County with a Mansard roof. It is highly likely that Young was responsible for adding the Mansard roof to the Shelburne-Cox House in the late 1870s. The second-story addition, stylistically, suggests a slightly later 1890-1900 date.

The property was subdivided and sold off beginning in 1919 by the Overstreet's daughter. and heir, Corneille Overstreet. In 1923, the house and the property presently associated with it was purchased by Mary Shepherd, wife of Dr. Will Shepherd. Dr. Shepherd had an office in the building and converted other areas to apartments. The house functioned as apartments until the early 1980s. Since then it has been vacant and deteriorating rapidly.

Building Description

The Shelburne-Cox House is a brick, two-story, single-pile, five-bay Greek Revival style house dating from about 1840. About 1880, it was topped with a Mansard-roofed third floor. A rear two-story rear ell was built in several stages. The house is presently vacant and in somewhat deteriorated condition, but it still retains a great deal of its rather extensive Greek Revival detailing on both the exterior and interiors The house is located on Main Street in Taylorsville two blocks east of the Spencer County Courthouse in an area of predominantly non-historic buildings. It is situated on a one-half-acre flat grassed lot with little landscaping that is only a portion of the more than 2.5 acres associated with the house in the 19th and early 20th century. Immediately to the west is a 1960s gas station. To the east is a small 1960s professional building.

The house sits on a low two-course limestone block foundation. The brick walls are laid in Flemish bond on the front facade and in common bond elsewhere. It has been painted white. A wide plain cornice board wraps around the house. The eaves are wide, and there is a boxed gutter. The Mansard roof is sheathed with asphalt shingles and has three dormers on both the front and rear facades. The house has four brick chimneys: interior end chimneys on each end of the main house (the west chimney has had the exterior portion of its stack removed); an interior chimney halfway back along the rear ell; and an interior end chimney at the rear of the ell.

The front facade has a finely detailed central main entrance. The paneled front door which is an early if not original feature has a three-light transom above and three-light sidelights flanked by fluted Doric columns on each side. A Victorian-era screened door is still in place. The sill is stone. Directly above the main entrance in the center bay on the second floor is a narrow door-height opening flanked by narrow sidelights suggesting that at one point there was access to a balcony. It is unclear whether this is an original feature. A full-width shed-roofed porch with a concrete floor and Tuscan columns runs across the front facade. This is not original to the house but was in place by 1916 when the house appears for the first time on a Sanborn map, thus dating it to some time between 1880 and 1916.

Windows throughout the house have wooden sills and lintels and double hung sash. Many of the windows are in extremely deteriorated condition with broken glass panes and deteriorating muntins. Lintels on the front facade are detailed with bull's-eye blocks at the corners. Windows on the first-floor front and east end (there are none on the west end) have two-over-two sash, which are no doubt Victorian-era replacements. On the second floor sash are six over six, probably original. Those on the first-floor rear ell are nine-over-six and probably similar to the originals on the first-floor font. Dormer windows have two-over-two sash with segmental arched tops. A bay window is located on the second-floor east side of the rear ell.

The rear ell is brick on the first floor and frame on the second. All but the northeast corner of the ell's first floor appears to have been built at the time of the main house. The foundation, brick, brickwork, and interior finish are identical to that of the main house. The northeast corner has been bricked-in at a later date suggesting the earlier presence of a small porch. The second-floor wooden portion has a shingled east wall and is weatherboarded elsewhere. It could date from c. 1877 to 1880 when the Mansard roof was probably added, or from ten or twenty years later. It was in place by 1916. A badly-deteriorated shed-roofed porch with chamfered posts runs along the west wall of the ell. This is clearly a 19th-century feature, but it is difficult to determine if it was original to the house. A small two-story frame addition at the center rear was in place by 1916. It is currently sheathed with asphalt siding.

The house has a central-passage plan with a wide central hall flanked by two parlors on the first floor of the main house. A dining room and kitchen are located in the rear ell. On the second floor two large bedrooms and a small central chamber are located in the original portion of the house. The second floor addition to the ell has a number of rooms whose original configurations are difficult to determine. The original large rooms throughout the house have been subdivided with a number of partitions which probably date from the 1920s when the building was first adapted for apartments. Nearly all the extensive interior detailing, including window and door surrounds, baseboards, mantels, doors, plaster walls, and wood floors, is still in place.

The woodwork is different in each room of the house. On the first floor, the central hall has a very deep baseboard with an elaborately moulded top. Door surrounds are fluted with bull-eye corner blocks, paneled reveals, and transoms. Doors, which are similar throughout the first floor, are very wide with three vertical panels below and three horizontal panels above. The open half-turn stair has a delicate Federal-style railing with thin, slightly tapered wooden balusters. It may be original, but it continues up to the third floor suggesting that it might have been installed when the building was adapted as a school. The east front room and the dining room have a slightly more delicate version of the fluted moulding and bull's-eye blocks found in the hall. The windows have paneled reveals with panels below. The mantel in the east room is a simple Federal style design. The west front room is detailed with much bolder, plainer Greek Revival trim. The window and door surrounds are plain battered boards. The mantel is a simple bold Greek Revival design with a wide unadorned breast piece.

On the upper floors, predictably, the trim is less elaborate. Door and window surrounds are pain boards with bull's-eye corner blocks. The doors have four panels. Mantels are smaller versions of the ones downstairs, Greek Revival in influence in the west room and Federal in the east room. The small chamber at the front of the house between the two large bedrooms is accessed from the stair hall and the east bedroom. Its trim is consistent with that found elsewhere on the second floor suggesting it is an original room. The third floor, laid out like the second with two large rooms and a small front central room, is finished with simple late 19th century trim which probably dates to about 1880 when the Mansard roof is believed to have been added to the house.

The dating of the interior detailing of the second floor of the rear ell is more problematic. Much of the work has the feel of Turn-of-the Century workmanship and materials suggesting that the second floor may not have been added until about 1900. Some of the walls including those subdividing the southernmost space in the ell into two rooms and a bath clearly date to the 1920s or later. The area at the rear with the polygonal rooms could have been designed originally as an apartment and date from about 1900.

The present site of the building is a flat, grassed one-half acre lot with almost no landscaping. One large shade tree is located behind the house in the angle between the main house and the ell. There are no outbuildings remaining on the property. To the east of the house along the property line is the remains of an old well which today is a tumbled-down pile of stones with a concrete slab laid across it. The house is set back 20 feet from Main Street. It is one of the very few antebellum houses in Taylorsville that was not located directly at the front of its lot.

An alley, created sometime after 1882 when the property appears in The Atlas of Nelson and Spencer County, Kentucky and 1916 when it first appears on a Sanborn map, runs along the rear of the property. Immediately to the west is a 1960s gas station. A concrete block wall built to give the house some protection from the station runs along the west property line only a few feet from the house. A one-story brick professional building dating from the 1960s or 1970s is situated directly to the east of the property. The south side of Main Street in this area is lined with small residential and commercial structures. Bordering the northwest corner of the property is an historic house, the George and Texanna Overstreet House which was located on the school property until 1919. It was built sometime between 1882 and about 1900 and because of its location and some aspects of its interior detailing is hypothesized to have had some direct connection with the school.

Shelburne-Cox House, Taylorsville Kentucky Front facade and east side looking west (1991)
Front facade and east side looking west (1991)

Shelburne-Cox House, Taylorsville Kentucky Detail of front entrance looking northwest (1991)
Detail of front entrance looking northwest (1991)

Shelburne-Cox House, Taylorsville Kentucky Rear facade looking southeast (1991)
Rear facade looking southeast (1991)

Shelburne-Cox House, Taylorsville Kentucky First-floor west front room looking east (1991)
First-floor west front room looking east (1991)

Shelburne-Cox House, Taylorsville Kentucky First-floor central hall looking west (1991)
First-floor central hall looking west (1991)

Shelburne-Cox House, Taylorsville Kentucky Mantel in first-floor west front room looking southwest (1991)
Mantel in first-floor west front room looking southwest (1991)

Shelburne-Cox House, Taylorsville Kentucky Second-floor west front bedroom looking south (1991)
Second-floor west front bedroom looking south (1991)