The homestead at Blackacre Conservancy holds a lot of Bluegrass State history; it was built more than 200 years ago when Kentucky first became a state. But the almost 300-acre property is about so much more than a historical home. It is also the site of the largest community garden in Jefferson County, the state’s first nature preserve, a farm with one of the last double-crib Appalachia-style barns in America, and more.
“It’s like a walking museum,” Susan Speece, director of marketing and events, told The Courier Journal. “It’s an outdoor museum where people can learn about (everything from) the barn, to the spring house, to (the stone cottage).”
Pieces of the past
Speece explained that the original homesteaders were Moses and Phebe Tyler, who were stewards of the land from 1794 through 1834.
“The original name (of the property) was ‘Land O’Skye,’” Speece said. “‘Blackacre’ is a legal term for the transferring of land. When Judge Macauley (Smith) did the transfer of land (to the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission in 1979), he called it Blackacre.”
She added that Moses’s dad, Edward, helped in the American Revolutionary War before receiving a treasury grant to purchase land.
“So, he purchased this property and divided it up between his two sons and nephew,” Speece explained. “Moses’s dad actually had a tavern downtown on 4th (Street) and River Road. And so, Moses got a distillery license — actually one of the first legitimate in Kentucky — to produce whiskey on the property.”
Over the next 185 years, Land O’Skye would change hands several times. Presley and Jane Tyler took over after Moses and Phebe; then came the Sweeneys, Kroegers, Solgers, Wheelers, Rothenbergers, Woodwards, and Smiths. The Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission then received final stewardship in perpetuity. The Blackacre Conservancy was later established to conserve and preserve the historic structures and surrounding land.
The main structures on the Blackacre property include the stone cottage, which was the original home of Moses and Phebe Tyler and their 10 children; the springhouse, which was used as a refrigeration unit; and the farmhouse, now known as the Presley Tyler House. All three, Speece said, were made with natural resources.
“All the brick was actually made on-site … with clay from the property,” she said.
Speece added that the house was later painted yellow and penciling was incorporated into the design.
“Penciling is this detailing (where) they put this fine-line marking between the bricks,” she explained. “It was a sign of status.”
Additional detailed design elements — such as around the window ledges — can be seen throughout, further establishing the family’s affluence. The home also features poplar wood flooring and six fireplaces. Glass cases filled with antiques, as well as maps and photos of Blackacre’s former families allow visitors a peek into the lives of the home’s former residents.
Behind the Presley Tyler House sits one of the last double-crib Appalachia-style barns in the country. Though its exterior has been updated over the years, the historical integrity of its interior remains.
“When they fell the trees (for the interior) they were about 400 years old,” Speece said. “And this barn (was built) about 230 years (ago), so (it’s) about 630 years old.”
In the fenced-in area behind the barn, goats of all ages — the youngest being just a week old — can be seen frolicking around. The farm’s herd of horses is just across the way.
“The biggest thing (we’re doing) is bringing Blackacre to life,” Speece said. “When (people) come here, (they’ll) actually see the cattle … and horses, and goats, and sheep, and donkeys. A lot of people come out for that. We (also have) summer camps … where kids are transported back in time, and they learn what it was like to live during that era.”
Blackacre’s executive director, Dennis Craig, adds that he grew up seeing cows and other farm animals daily, and is happy to be able to share that experience with other people in and around Louisville who didn’t have a similar upbringing.
“We’ve heard (about) some really life-changing experiences that have occurred (here) because (people have) been able to come out and experience nature or the animals,” he said. “The woods, the trails, just everything out here — (it all) seems kind of seems magical.”
Access to Blackacre Nature Preserve & Historic Homestead is free and open to the public daily, from sunrise to sunset. Blackacre Conservancy is not state-funded and welcomes volunteers and donations.
nuts & bolts
Owner: Blackacre Conservancy, which owns a 271-acre nature preserve and historic homestead in Louisville.
Home: The Presley Tyler House is a 2-bed, 1-and-a-half bath, approximately 2,800-square-foot, two-story, Federalist-style home across the Tucker Lake Estates subdivision that was built in 1844.
Distinctive elements: Federalist-style home with English and Flemish-style brick pattern; bricks for exterior, limestone foundation and wood floors directly from homestead’s natural resources; turn-of-the-century 15-foot gilded mirror in the formal parlor; six fireplaces; popular wood flooring; woodwork throughout the home with Greek detailing; windows with imported glass and deep, recessed window ledges; kitchen built after Civil War includes staircase to living quarters above; portrait of Moses’s brother Edward Tyler in the dining room on loan from Filson Historical Society; sugar chest in the dining room; glass cases with antiques in the informal parlor and dining room; maps and families of Blackacre on display in the informal parlor; photos and books from Emilie Strong Smith and Judge Macauley Smith in library and foyer; wig chest and 1815 flax baby presentation blanket from Tyler family in an upstairs bedroom.
Applause! Applause! Daughters of the American Revolution; John Marshall Chapter for funding to help restore the exterior of the Presley Tyler House; and the Filson Historical Society for Edward Tyler’s portrait on loan.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Explore the Blackacre Nature Preserve & Historic Homestead in Kentucky