Duncan Park in downtown Lexington celebrated its centennial last month. It’s a five-acre park located at North Limestone and East Fifth Street. I jumped at the chance to visit the park and take a closer look at the historic Morton House that sits in the center of the acreage.
The party in the park was sponsored by several neighborhood associations as part of an effort to take back the park for the people living in the area. In the recent past, the park has been in the news as the site of violent crime and people steer clear of it. And that’s a shame, because it’s a lovely green space in a historic part of the city.
The federal-style Morton House was built in 1810, one of Lexington’s first mansions, on land that William Morton bought in the early 1790s. Morton opened a store when he first arrived in Lexington in 1787, and later became quite wealthy as a merchant.
As if being part of Lexington’s very early history wasn’t enough, its next owner was emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay. While his main residence was White Hall, a beautiful mansion near Richmond, he purchased the Morton place in 1836 to serve as his family’s town house in Lexington.
Interestingly, the property had only two more owners before it was sold to the city in 1913 for use as a park. The city has always used the mansion for various social service agencies, including its present-day tenant, the Nest Center for Women and Children.
In segregated Lexington, Duncan Park was only for white residents. At the time official segregation ended in the 1950s. the neighborhood was already undergoing a change. Whites were moving to the suburbs; the neighborhood around Duncan Park deteriorated and crime became a problem.
Now the area around North Limestone is undergoing a revival and crime is starting to drop. Reclaiming Duncan Park is another step in that process.