Lexington: 1870 Parker Place

April, 2015.


1870 Italianate Parker Place, Lexington, Kentucky

The Blue Grass Trust sponsored one of their “deTours”* at this privately owned 1870 Italianate house located at 511 West Short Street in Lexington back in 2015:


John McMurtry was the builder and probable architect for this villa which was built for Captain John B. Wilgus***–a Union sympathizer who led the “Lexington Blues” before becoming president of Lexington National Bank. The name Parker Place relates to a previous owner of the property, Elizabeth Parker, who was the grandmother of Mary Todd Lincoln

The property was originally owned by Mary Todd Lincoln’s grandmother, Elizabeth “Eliza” (Parker) Todd.  Mary Todd Lincoln’s childhood home is next door (also privately owned).


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We even got to climb up to the 4th floor turret!

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This small brick building next to Parker Place was part of the original property. Starting in 1833, it was used as the dispensary for the Orphan Society** that was housed in the predecessor to the 1870 Parker Place.

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Captain John Parker 1784 log cabin behind the Parker Place mansion.

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If you want to know more:

*BGT deTours:

The award-winning BGT deTours program is designed to provide tours of places you might not normally get to see, helping people interact with and learn about sites that make the Bluegrass special. For young professionals (and the young at heart!), deTours are always the first Wednesday* of the month at 5:30 pm*, and are always free and open to the public (*exception being holidays, weather and out-of-county locations).


**The Orphan Society, with a focus on community needs, still exists today.  It had its origins in the devastating 1833 cholera epidemic in Lexington:

Disasters bring death and destruction, but they can also elicit benevolent change. Care for vulnerable populations of children and women resulted from community response to their plight. When five orphans were brought to Mrs. Gratz in the summer of 1833, she realized something substantial and permanent needed to be done. Gratz organized 24 women from different Protestant denominations into The Lexington Orphan Society. They obtained $4,400 from the state legislature and purchased the Fishback home on West Third Street for $1,300. The children were housed and a school teacher was hired. The plight of parentless children and disrupted homes brought about philanthropy and advocacy. The cholera epidemic sparked the beginning of organized altruism in Lexington. The Lexington Orphan Society, with a focus on community needs, still exists today.  Terry Foody, author of The Pie Seller, The Drunk, and The Lady, https://amzn.to/2tqx1uU


***Captain John B. Wilgus

During 1866, Captain Wilgus organized the Lexington & Richmond Railroad and the Big Sandy Railroad. In the 1870s, he acquired “Parker Place” and completely rebuilt the house. He was a noted collector of paintings and sculpture, building a special gallery connected to his house to display his collection. In 1875, he was among the founders of the Kentucky Trotting Horse Breeders Association, the operator of the Red Mile. He was also an investor in numerous local businesses, including the gas worksLexington History Museum


You can read more about Parker Place in Peter Brackney’s excellent blog post:   Captain Wilgus’ Italian Villa, known as Parker Place, on deTour Wednesday Night in Lexington

8 thoughts on “Lexington: 1870 Parker Place

  1. My husband used to visit the Parker House when his grandmother Katherine Baker Lee used to be in charge. This was in the 50’s. He remembers playing with the orphan children. We would love to know more, and would love to visit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Candice, I’d love to hear more about your husband’s grandmother and her time at the Lexington Orphan Society. You could message me privately if you prefer.


  2. my dad used to be one of the orphans when Mrs. Lee was in charge. My middle name is Lee after Mrs. Lee. His name is Billy Stokley. I have heard stories about the orphanage my whole life.


    1. I lived in this house when my parents were house parents at the orphanage. To this day, one of my favorite childhood photos is me sitting on Santa’s lap in the front parlor of this amazing house. My mother was instrumental in the discovery that this home knew the footsteps of Mary Todd Lincoln as a child. As an adult, I have often wondered what became of the kids who lived there with me after they closed it as an orphanage.


  3. My Great Aunt Ada Sneed live in this house when it was an orphanage. Instead of going outside to play like the other children, she would help the ladies cook. I would love to hear stories and see photos.


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