Those Haunting Antebellum Basements


The slave kitchen in the basement of Ward Hall, Georgetown, Kentucky.

I am fascinated by the basements in the antebellum homes I visit in Kentucky.  It’s always a disappointment if a basement is closed to visitors, since it’s just as much a part of a historic site’s story as the elegant rooms above it.  The story of the African-American slaves who worked or were held in those basements is every bit as important as that of their owners upstairs.

20150808_145130This first set of photos was taken at the 1812 Coleman-Desha Plantation, Cynthiana, Kentucky.  This home, an adaptation of the Georgian house plan, is privately owned, but was opened to the public as a one-day fundraiser to save the nearby Handy House (see below).


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20150802_172448In Georgetown, Ward Hall, the grandest Greek Revival home in Kentucky, dates to 1857.  The home is still being restored and that makes a visit to the basement kitchen and storage/work areas even more poignant.  The head tour guide didn’t realize our tour was still in the basement at closing time and turned the lights off while we were downstairs.  Viewing the basement in the gloom of late afternoon gave me a sense of what it must have been like to work down there in the 1850s.

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Handy HouseThen there’s the 1818 Handy House in Cynthiana, Kentucky.  This federal-style house is boarded up and under threat of demolition by its current owners, the city and county governments, following years of deliberate neglect by those bodies.  A grassroots effort is underway to save the house and that effort has now moved to a legal battle in court.

Entrance to basement where slaves were kept on first arrival

Entrance to basement where slaves were kept on first arrival. Handy House, Cynthiana, Kentucky.

Enough for now.  :- )

To be continued….







10 thoughts on “Those Haunting Antebellum Basements

  1. I enjoy your blogs a lot. Like I have said we love history and old houses and anything to do with history. We were doing research on some of my wife’s ancestors in Logan county, a couple of years ago and we drove up a drive to an old house that was owned by some Lintons. I was a bit reluctant driving up a private drive, but when we got up there, a gentleman came out and asked if he could help up. It turned out he was a Linton and he had recently bought the house and was restoring it back to to the way it was originally. He took us on a tour through the house and another building on the property. He has since given us some genealogy papers, his aunt left him, so we could document it. There is a line of cedars on the property that one of the earlier Lintons planted, after the civil war, one for every soldier in his unit that died in the war. Genealogy and history are so fascinating, and I am glad you posted the houses in your blog! I sure hope they can restore the house you mentioned.


  2. I loved reading this story! Aren’t you glad you took a chance and drove up to that house? (Wish I’d been with you!) So much good came from it. Thanks for your kind words about my blog. I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog, too. 🙂


    1. We’re starting to see more efforts to show the African-American slave experience, but still not nearly enough. I follow Joseph McGill’s Slave Dwelling Project on Facebook–are you familiar with that? Very interesting. I only recently discovered that I have Kentucky ancestors and that they were slave owners. It was a shock to discover, since we are from a family of abolitionists who immigrated to Kansas to help keep it a free state before the Civil War. I was really sad to learn about our Kentucky roots.


  3. WOW, thank you so much for this blog. I learned so much and I enjoy history and love your pictures of these old homes! So much of black history involving slavery has been hidden, that whenever I have a chance to read, hear, or see pictures about history, especial Kentuckians history since I am an native, I am quick to read and learn!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Latanya, thanks for stopping by! It’s all new to me since I’m not from Kentucky. Coming from Kansas, the history of slavery seemed very distant to me….but living here in Kentucky, reminders are wherever you turn (if you choose to see).


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