Keene Place in Lexington, Kentucky, was built in 1805 by a Keen (yes, the spelling is different) whose father-in-law was friends with both Washington and Lafayette. Lafayette stayed here in 1825; his troops bivouacked on the grounds–in rainy weather just like the day I visited. It’s tucked away on a slight hill on the grounds of present-day Keeneland racetrack.
…one of Keeneland’s oldest buildings. The recently renovated Keene Place is a historic home sitting away from the racetrack and surrounded by beautiful trees as old as the home.
It stayed in the Keene/Keen family for nearly 150 years, until it was sold out of the family in 1948. Keeneland acquired the property in 2003 and a restoration process spanning 6 years began. Keeneland Place was opened to the public as an event space in 2009. If you’ve ever visited the grounds of Keeneland race track, you know that they spare no expense to do things right.
The parking is new, but the trees that shade the house are not. The tulip poplar at the entrance of the house is the same one that greeted Lafayette. And the American beech, the elm, the holly and the basswood, the sycamore and the monstrous black ash are the very same that shielded the French military escort he brought with him from whatever raged or stilled in the new American night.
Restored Keene Place now a showplace
Lafayette’s visit to Lexington was a major event, so his stay at Keeneland Place is well documented:
…Lafayette was supposed to stay the night with Colonel Abraham Bowman, Lafayette’s “aide-de-camp” during the (Revolutionary) war, who had a stately home on what is now Bowman Mill Road. Due to inclement weather and shoddy road conditions, Col. Bowman’s daughter, Mary Bowman, the wife of John Keene who lived in the Keene Place, learned that she was going to be entertaining Lafayette, who “up to that time, undoubtedly, was the most important visitor Lexington had ever had,”
A Keene Interest in History
Chevy Chaser Magazine
The historic Keen family cemetery is still maintained on the grounds of the mansion.
Keene Place and Keeneland are designated as National Historic Landmarks.
If you’d like to read more about Kentucky’s antebellum homes: