Family Stories

‘I bought an old clay hill.’

Clay Hill – Beriah Magoffin House

A Mercer County treasure of early architecture sits on a slight ridge on Beaumont Avenue in Harrodsburg.  Clay Hill, home of the Magoffin family for many years, has lost a little of its pizzazz, but with a little work could be made into the showplace it was for over 200 years

In 1792 Beriah Magoffin, originally from Newby, County Down, Ireland, purchased the land.  He remarked, ‘I bought an old clay hill.’  And he used that clay to make bricks for the new home he built for his family.

On June 11, 1797 Beriah married Jane (Jennie) McAfee, daughter of Samuel McAfee.  They had three daughters and seven sons.  One son, Beriah Magoffin, Jr., was governor of Kentucky during the Civil War.  Other sons, James Wiley Magoffin and Samuel Magoffin, moved west.  The first founded El Paso, Texas, and the second helped open the Santa Fe Trail.

From the Historic Sites of Harrodsburg and Mercer County, Kentucky, by our historical society, a description of the house is as follows.  ‘Clay Hill consists of a two-story, brick block flanked by symmetrical one-story brick wings which are recessed from the principal façade.  The principal façade is five bays with Flemish bond brickwork and jack arches over the windows.  The woodwork around the central doorway is quite elaborate and is attributed to Matthew Lowery.  The doorway is framed on either side by receded Doric columns, beaded archivolt, and an entablature decorated with rosettes, sunbursts, and rows of beading.  The recessed fanlight has thirteen panes to represent the original colonies.

‘On the interior, Clay Hill has a central passageway flanked on either side by parlors.  There is an enclosed stairway adjacent to the north parlor.  The door frames and the chair rails are decorated with delicate rope moldings.  The mantel in the north parlor has a reeded shelf and raised center panel with an oval sunburst.  The sunburst is linked to deeply carved rosettes on the side panels.’

In this house were raised not only the children of Beriah and Jane, but Beriah, Jr.’s, children lived here during the Civil War while their father was governor.  He married Ann Shelby, granddaughter of Kentucky’s first governor, Isaac Shelby.  The couple had ten children – Susan, Beriah, Sarah Gertrude, Isaac Shelby, Jennie, Ellen, Ebenezer, Anna, Letty and Samuel.

The following information was taken from:

The Courier Journal, Louisville, Jefferson County, Kentucky

Sunday, June 11, 1961

Clay Hill Restoration Masterpiece of Care

In 1961 Clay Hill was restored and was viewed by the public for the first time as part of Harrodsburg’s 187th birthday and Civil War Centennial.  It was so named because its entire outer structure is of bricks made of clay from the land on which it stands.  It took six years to build, includes nine rooms with wings on each side.  The four massive Greek pillars were added to the front in 1845.

Unusual features of the house discovered during restoration were windows, sashes and framing all done in black walnut.  The front doorway is composed of seven different kinds of wood:  mahogany, black walnut, red cedar, red cherry, poplar, oak and apple wood.  The attic was made entirely of red cherry.  The entire house was set in pure clay.  Wood was put together with wooden pins.  The roof was made of 60-pound zinc.

Rooms have ceilings 12 feet high, and walls are 18 inches thick, solid brick inside and out.  The carving and detail of the woodwork, exquisite in design, is different in every room.

I can’t imagine myself living in a house of such magnificence, but it would be special to visit, see all the wonderful old features of the home, and imagine what life was like during those older days.

5 replies »

  1. Have driven by here many times and wondered about its history. Would love to see inside.

  2. I was visiting Harrodsburg a couple of weeks ago and walked by this house. It is wonderful to read this story about its origin and history. There were many other historic homes on the same street. I would love to learn more about who built them and their history. I assume there is a book or some historically information in Harrodsburg?

  3. I have a painting in a frame with the plaque Clay Hill 1799 -oil on canvas==who could ZI contact to have the painting dated and the painter

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