Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Future President Comes to Visit!

One episode in the history of the Garred-Burgess House

The Garred-Burgess House, April 2004
On May 9, 2012, Lawrence County, as well as Eastern Kentucky lost an integral part of its history with the destruction of the Garred-Burgess House. Burned, bulldozed and torn down, with obviously little regard to its importance as a historic landmark, not a trace remains of the once stately home. A familiar sight for many generations of Eastern Kentuckians, it stood for nearly 170 years like a beacon on the Levisa Fork of Big Sandy River, near Patrick Gap in Lawrence County, Kentucky. The house had a rich history and served, among other things, as a hotel and maintained a reputation during the late nineteenth century "second to no other hostelry in the valley". Its final inhabitant was Dr. Francis Elam “Doc” Burgess, a much beloved local physician and poet.

And once upon a time, the Garred-Burgess House also sheltered a future president within its stone walls which is a little known fact.

In 1820, David and his wife Jennie (Graham) Garred, originally from Monroe County, Virginia, arrived in Kentucky and first moved to the falls of Tug River. The couple later settled on the property situated on the banks of the Levisa Fork and built a log house where they raised three sons and eight daughters. David Garrett died about 1838 and his wife in 1853. Both are buried in a stone vault above ground, located on top of the hill across the highway from the house. The entrance is of Vermont marble which was shipped to Kentucky from New Orleans by boat up the Mississippi, by push boat up the Big Sandy, and ox team up the hill. It was the first stone vault in the Big Sandy Valley, and could be seen two miles up and down the river - steamboat captains used it as a landmark.

After the death of their father, sons Ulysses and David W., continued to live with their mother in the log house, and began construction of the stone house. Built by slave labor, the native sandstone was brought by ox team from a quarry site one mile distant. The two Garred brothers later divided the farm and property. Ulysses retained the stone house and surrounding lands, while David W. received the adjacent property to the south where he built a two-story frame house.

Eastern Kentucky historian William Ely noted in 1887 that Ulysses Garred, "has been ranked as one of the foremost citizens of this section" and "a model farmer and trader.” He was elected to the State Legislature in 1848, and again served from 1873 to 1875. He "filled many other offices of note in his county, always with satisfaction to the people."

During the early stages of the Civil War in Kentucky, Union Colonel James Abram Garfield, future president of the United States, arrived in Louisa on December 22, 1861, to take command of the 18th Brigade, consisting of the 14th and 22nd KY Infantry, and 40th and 42nd OVI. His given objective was clear - to drive the Confederates under General Humphrey Marshall, whose advance up the Big Sandy Valley had reached as far north as Prestonsburg, out of Kentucky.

James A. Garfield

On December 23, 1861, Garfield mounted his horse "Billy" and led his forces out of Louisa, consisting of nine companies of the Forty-second Ohio and three companies of the Fourteenth Kentucky. During the night the rain had turned into snow, and an icy north wind had frozen the mud in the roads and made the hills slippery with ice. Garfield's men marched along the Big Sandy, on a wretched road that closely hugged the river. After a march of nine miles, during which the soldiers forded a single stream twenty-six times, they reached the "Stone House".

One soldier in the 42nd OVI noted that Ulysses Garred was, "the only slave owner I have met outside of Louisa, and he is a strong Union man." It was here that Garfield decided to spend the night. He found in Ulysses Garred a congenial host. A fellow Mason, he also had a jovial nature, "knew lots of jokes and was a good mixer."

Meanwhile, the soldiers established their camp in a muddy cornfield adjacent to the Stone House, amid the dreary discomfort of a cold, wintry rain, without tents or food. The push boats, carrying the men's supplies, were expected to keep up with the column but much to their dismay, were nowhere in sight. Thus the boys helped themselves liberally to Garred's chickens and pigs, "which passed away like a vision," and used his fence rails as firewood to warm themselves. The following morning, before taking up their line of march once again, the drums sounded the long roll, and the Ohio boys, sensing trouble, ran to assemble at attention. They formed a hollow square in front of their colonel, who looked down on them from his horse with obvious anger.

"Men of the 42nd, I thought when I left our old Buckeye State at the head of this fine-looking body of soldiers, that I was the proud commander of a Regiment of gentlemen, but your actions this evening, were I not better acquainted with each and all of you, would bitterly dispel that illusion. Soldiers, we came to KY to help her sons free her scared soil from the feet of the rebel horde ... Show these Kentuckians, who are your comrades under one flag, that you did not come to rob and steal ... and hereafter I shall believe that I command a regiment of soldiers, not a regiment of thieves!" After this brief lecture on the sin of confiscation, Garfield paid his disconsolate host for his losses out of his own pocket.

Around noon, the push boats finally arrived and the soldiers filled their haversacks with dry crackers, killed two beeves and distributed them among the men, "giving to each man a small slice which they took and roasted in the fire on the end of their ram rod, as we had no cooking utensils with us." An hour later, the soldiers were on the move. In the late afternoon hours, the column reached the mouth of George's Creek which was the appointed rendezvous for reinforcements and supplies. "Camp George", as the camp was named, served as a base of operations until Garfield was able to unite his brigade and continue his operations against Humphrey Marshall which finally culminated in the Battle of Middle Creek on January 10, 1862.

The Garred-Burgess House, with Flower Moon, May 5, 2012.
Life continued in the Garred-Burgess House for another 147 years. It witnessed the end of the Civil War and slavery, and many other historic events that followed.  On March 2, 2012, it was hit by a tornado but stubbornly withstood the force of the winds. Sadly, the owner determined that it was beyond repair.  I respectfully disagree.  As of May 9, 2012, the Garred-Burgess House, once called "the most commodious stone house in the Sandy Valley", ceased to exist.

Demolition Crew at work, May 11, 2012
However, it will never fade from the memory of those who loved and revered it. It is memorialized in one of Dr. Burgess’ poems – a most fitting epitaph.

An Old Stone House

Homes are many and vary in kind-
All havens of rest for the body and mind.
An old stone house is this kind of home,
Built of colorful native sandstone.
Of stone hauled on a lizard to the building site-
A machine back then was man and his might.
When one's daily bread was more earned than now,
By the hardest of work and sweat of the brow;
When to church on Sunday was a family must,
And in God our Father there was more trust.
Yes, homes are many and vary in kind-
All havens of rest for the body and mind.
An old stone house is this kind of home,
Built of colorful native sandstone.
May it ever proudly stand,
A memory of once a frontier land.

Francis Elam Burgess, M.D. (Echoes From The Highlands, p. 121)

Links of Interest
End of a 150 year legacy in Lawrence County. The Levisa Lazer, May 11, 2012
Photo of the burning structure. Big Sandy News, May 15, 2012
Garred House, Chapel, and Burial Vault (NRHP, text)
Garred House, Chapel, and Burial Vault (NRHP, photos)
Garred House. Photographed by Abandoned.
Dr. Francis Burgess Abandoned House | BluegrassPhotography.Net
Lawrence County (KY) Landmarks - Garred-Burgess House, History
Lawrence County (KY) Landmarks - Garred-Burgess House, Property Tour

Article researched and written by Marlitta H. Perkins, May 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express written notice by Marlitta H. Perkins is strictly prohibited. © 2012. All Rights Reserved.


  1. I came across a picture of the Garred-Burgess House in your photo blog. I thought, what a beautiful old stone house & how different from the other frame structures in your area. Then I found the same house profiled in your Civil War blog. Pleased, I thought, now I'll learn something about this house from your text. So I scroll down & see that barely one month ago the owner has demolished it.

    A calculated & selfish act. From what I read this house was a valued part of the
    community's historic fabric. Neglected but still standing for 170 years & like that, gone. I assume that any local governing body could not object & prevent this. Yes, private property is just that & the owner can do what ever he likes with it.

    I own a 250 year old house which is a bitch to keep up. In my area I would be prevented from tearing it down even if I wanted to & I have no problem with that. The Garred-Burgess House was quarried stone,
    not rotting timber. Was it irretrievably damaged from last years storm? From what I could tell from photographs it could have been stabilized & later restored. I've renovated & restored old homes most of my working life. Most anything can be fixed if you want to. Somebody didn't want to.

    The casual destruction of significant historic buildings in this country continues unabated in the interest of financial gain.

    My compliments Ms. Perkins on your research & the way in which you honor your region's heritage.

    1. According to a story printed in The Big Sandy News, dated May 16, 2012, the owner was planning on renovating the home but his plans were changed after the tornado struck. He had structural engineers come in and they recommended the home be torn down. The fire happened when the contractor was burning some old wood and brush on the backside of the home and the fire spread to the back of the house catching the roof on fire. At that time plans included "turning the property into a cemetery..." using some of the old stones to create an entrance.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    If you loved this house you might want to look at my photos.

  4. Wow! I had no idea of it's history. I actually stopped and walked in this house about 12 years ago when it was for sale. It appeared that squatters had occupied it for some time. I always loved that house. I looked forward to passing by when I was in the area. There are no other houses left like it in the area that I know of. It had a lot of potential to be restored. This is so sad to hear it is gone. It was a beautiful home.

  5. I just started yesterday investigating my family history on my fathers side. I found that my grandfather was born in Lawrence county, Patrick Gap, his name was Ulysses Grant Fitzpatrick and his father was James Fitzpatrick and mother was Thursy Damron. He was born Sep 2, 1877. I always thought he was born in W. Virginia but that is where he lived with my grandmother, Nannie Simpson. Quite a few years ago we learned he had been married before and my younger brother traveled to Kentucky and met some of our relatives there. My brother's name is Steven Fitzpatrick and mine is Linda Fitzpatrick, we have two other siblings, Pamela and Mark. I would love to hear from some of the other Fitzpatrick's there. I'm not sure but his first wife's name may have been Jessie Olive York. I know that some of the York's traveled to San Antonio, TX with him or soon after. My grandfather, I believe, owned a furniture store either in Patrick Gap or Mingo, W. Virginia. Any information would be welcome.

  6. I wanted to add that my grandfather, Ulysses Grant Fitzpatrick was a Mason and his wife (my grandmother) was a member of the Eastern Star. I have no information on Nannie Simpson except she was an orphan and shifted to relatives and more or less used as a servant. She had a sad childhood and was more than happy to finally marry and raise a family. They had one set of twins, my father, Billy Joe Fitzpatrick who was born in W.Virginia and his brother Jack Fitzpatrick. They have both passed on now.