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Botherum House

A tour of the renovated historic Botherum House, located in the Woodward Heights neighborhood not far from Rupp Arena in downtown Lexington, attracted 1,200 people, waiting in line down the street.

“People thought it was a concert,” said garden designer Jon Carloftis. “They said it was the best cocktail party Lexington’s ever had without booze.”

Carloftis and partner Dale Fisher restored the 1851 home and recently gave Kentucky Life host Doug Flynn got a tour.

Unlike many historic homes, this one is not named for a person. “It was named after two characters [in a play], Bore ‘Em, and Bother ‘Em”, said Carloftis. The home was built in 1851 by a lawyer, Madison C. Johnson. “He was sort of making fun of himself,” he said.

In keeping with the times, (frontier days of the late 1700s and early 1800s) the center room of the current home existed as protection from Indian attacks. Madison C. Johnson married abolitionist Cassius Clay’s sister and bought the property, then hired famed architect John McMurty to build the home. “What you see now is 1851,” Carloftis said.

Though Fisher and Carloftis restored the home to its 1851 appearance, the furnishings are modern.“People would say, are you going to have it all period pieces from 1850s? I’m not interested in living in a museum,” Carloftis said. “And I like things from the ‘50s and ‘60s, my grandmother’s stuff, and plus I don’t like anything that’s stuffy. I like it to be comfortable.”

The exterior of the home is Greek revival, but the interior has many Gothic touches, like arches, Carloftis said, including original stained glass doors from 1851. Clay Lancaster, a renowned preservationist, studied antebellum homes and made detailed drawings of Botherum, enabling people today to see exactly how the rooms looked, Carloftis said.

The original library has been made into an extra bedroom, with gray walls and a window facing east. The drawing room was originally done in Chinese red. “And it had about 400 cracks in the walls,” said Fisher, who sits on the board of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation. “And once we turned the heat on for the first time in 15 years, the cracks got bigger. And we actually thought the whole room was coming down. It stopped cracking, and it took me about six months to repair the room.”

The original mirror hangs over the fireplace. “If you’ll notice, this is leaning in,” said Carloftis. “It’s called a hostess mirror. You can see what is going on when you’re having dinner or events. The chandelier is also original, given to Madison by Cassius Clay.

The floors in the house are original except the kitchen. Several of the floors had been painted black. “But instead of sanding the floors, which takes off the history, they used a technique called screening,” said Fisher. “So imagine a screen from your house, then run it over the floors, and it takes off the surface paint. You’ll still see veins of black running through it. That’s the black paint. But they are beautiful this way.”

The dining room was originally a courtyard that was filled in. The old windows are now nooks that showcase photographs and mementos.

The grounds include aged trees: a linden from the 1800s, a large dogwood tree, and a big gingko tree, one of the top three largest in the state. The tree was a gift to Madison from Henry Clay. The formal garden has four statues representing the four seasons. The company that made the statues, Longshadow, also took a planter from the garden and reproduced it, and it’s now sold as a Botherum planter, Fisher said.

The two men are grateful that the previous owner, John Cavendish, kept the house as it was. “We are still thankful that who we bought it from, Mr. Cavendish, had not turned it into an apartment complex, because that’s when you lose a lot of architectural elements in the house. So he kept it, and boarded it up and kept vandals from coming in there,” said Carloftis. “So we have a lot to thank him for. He kept it easy for us.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2207, which originally aired on November 19, 2016. Watch the full episode.