The Bluegrass Heritage Museum brings the history of our area to life for both the old and young by collecting, preserving and exhibiting objects valuable to the history of Winchester, Clark County and the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. Of course, plan to join us in person, but in the meantime, sample some of our most popular exhibits online.
Our three-story Victorian-era building contains artifacts interpreting over 200 years of central Kentucky history. The building was constructed in 1895 as a private home for Dr. John Ishmael and his family. In 1927, Dr. E. P. Guerrant purchased the home and converted it into a hospital — the Guerrant Mission Clinic and Hospital. The hospital closed in 1971 but the first floor remained open as a clinic operated by Dr. “Eddie” Guerrant, Dr. John Hubbard, and others until 1989.
The main entrance hallway contains an authentic Union Civil War uniform along with a cannonball dug up in Madison County. The cannonball was likely fired from the Civil War Fort at Boonesboro, one of seven temporary earthenwork forts constructed by the Union along the Kentucky River in an effort to deter Confederate raiders from crossing into the Bluegrass Region. On the stairway landing is a reproduction of a Confederate soldier’s uniform.
The William S. Blakeman Gallery is named in honor of the former editor of The Winchester Sun who was instrumental in the establishment of the museum. This would have been the reception room of the family home; later it served as the waiting room for the hospital and clinic. On the wall to the right you see photographs showing four generations of Guerrants, all of them doctors. To the right of the Guerrants’ photos you see three pictures showing how the building changed over the years. To the left of the fireplace, is the Sylvia Greene exhibit. Sylvia was a resident of Clark County and was a Holocaust survivor. Sylvia spent her later years sharing her story of captivity and survival with many local school children.
Welcome to the Robert and Paula Coney Gallery. This room served as Dr. Eddie’s office during the clinic years. Glass cases in opposite corners contain both Union and Confederate Civil War artifacts. Being a border state, Kentucky had commercial and personal connections both north and south, so at the beginning of the war the state attempted to stay neutral. In the right hand case you can see a photo of young Francis Jones, who signed up in 1862 at age 16 to serve under Confederate General John Hunt Morgan. In 1863 he and the rest of Morgan’s command made a daring raid up into Indiana and Ohio before being captured. Francis spent the rest of the war at Camp Douglas, a prison camp outside Chicago. He survived and returned to Clark County, where he became a doctor.
Several items in this room came to the museum from the Bean family, who have lived in Clark County since the 1790s. The lovely basket quilt on the wall was created and signed by Mattie Bean in 1885 when she was 21. The 1950s cabinet to the right of the quilt contains Bean family china from the 1800s.
Next to the doorway is a white case once used by the hospital. It contains a number of Civil War-era objects found years ago throughout the state. Above the case is a picture of General Roger Hanson. Friendships and families were torn apart, and the Hanson family is the most well-known example in Clark County. There were five Hanson brothers; three fought for the South and two for the North. Two of them died during the war, including Roger whom you see here.
This is the John & Jane Venable Brown Agriculture Gallery. Farming has always been of prime importance in Clark County. Most early pioneers farmed, of course, as it was important for sheer survival. The area to the right depicts John Holder’s Boatyard and Warehouse on the Kentucky River at Lower Howard’s Creek. Holder’s Boatyard was one of dozens along the river that served as launching places for flatboats loaded with local products, including barrels of tobacco, corn meal, whiskey, and other goods. On the opposite wall is a blue plat of the Bush Settlement. William Bush, also known as “Captain” Billy, was the first of five Bush brothers to settle in what is now Clark County, coming to Boonesborough with Daniel Boone in 1775.
Indian corn, tobacco, and hemp were the major crops grown in early Clark County, and they would have filled the majority of barrels on the commercial flatboats. Corn was often sold in its processed form — whiskey, which is represented by the still in the corner of the exhibit.
Kentucky is known as the “Horse Capital of the World”, but cattle have actually been a larger part of the state’s economy. During the 1800s, local cattlemen were particularly famous for breeding renowned shorthorn cattle. Sheep and turkey farms have also been important facets of the county’s livestock history. On the wall to the right of the hemp exhibit you can see photos from the two major turkey farms which operated in Clark County primarily in the mid-1900s, the Browning and Berryman turkey farms. It was said that if you purchased a frozen turkey in the Midwest during this time frame, chances were it came from one of these farms via the turkey processing plant that was on Maple Street until the 1970s.
Tobacco became the most important cash crop of all. Fields of green plants seemed to fill almost any flat spot during the summers, and barns hung with drying tobacco leaves dotted the landscape. On the wall you can see many of the tools involved in the growing and processing of tobacco, including a press, scythe, and much more.
As we land on the second floor, we’re going to spend some time looking at the story of Peter Brunner. On the wall is a large poster telling his story. Bruner was born a slave in Clark County and worked in a tannery. After the Civil War broke out, he tried several times to escape but was recaptured. His third attempt was successful as he made his way to the Union Camp Nelson in July 1864, which was the major enlistment site for African-Americans in the state. Bruner served primarily in western Kentucky and Tennessee. After the war, Peter Bruner moved to Oxford, Ohio. For the rest of his life he worked as a watchman, heating engineer, custodian, and bicycle messenger at Western Female Seminary and Oxford College, which became Miami University. He was so popular in the community that he was named “Mayor for the Day” in 1938, shortly before his death at age 93.
Much of the second floor hallway area is devoted to the history of transportation. Dominating the space is the 1875-era end-spring-runabout buggy, most commonly known as a doctor’s buggy, although doctors were certainly not the only ones to travel in this type of vehicle.
Welcome to the Campbell Military History Room named for Robert D. Campbell, a longtime educator in Clark County whose love for history not only inspired his students but also helped the community establish our museum. Looking left you can see some War of 1812 artifacts and a reproduction flag that holds special significance for Kentuckians. If you look closely, you will see that there are 15 stars and 15 stripes. Today’s flag, of course, has 50 stars, one for each state, and 13 stripes to honor the original 13 states. In the beginning of our history, the leaders decided to add a star and a stripe when each state new state was formed. It soon became apparent that this would not work, as the flag would become too unwieldy. Why is the flag hanging here so important to us? Kentucky was the 15th state, entering the Union on June 1, 1792.
As you move to the right, you can see an exhibit dedicated to Lewis Adams. Lewis was born in Clark County and served as an aerial photographer in the Pacific during World War II. His main job was to photograph enemy troop movements, but he also took pictures of everyday life among his fellow soldiers.
A doughboy’s uniform from World War I is in the triangular display case to the right. Hanging above it is a gas mask, an unfortunate necessity of the trench warfare.
Finally, in the next corner cabinet you can see a print of perhaps the most famous photo from World War II — the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima. One of the men was Franklin Sousley, a young Marine from nearby Flemingsburg. Barely a month after this event, he was killed in action, one of many Kentuckians who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
This room is dedicated to the legacy of Bluegrass musician and master instrument-maker Homer Ledford. Born and raised in the mountains of Tennessee, Homer attended the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina to aid in his recuperation from rheumatic fever. While there he made the first of what would become over 6,000 dulcimers. After a brief stint in Jefferson County, he settled in Clark County and began teaching woodworking at the high school until 1963. At that point, he began to focus on his music and instrument-making. During his life he made 6,014 dulcimers, 476 banjos, 27 mandolins, 26 guitars, 18 ukuleles, 13 dulcitars, 3 dulcijos, 3 dulcibros, 4 violins and one bowed dulcimer. Three of Homer Ledford’s instruments are in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.: an Appalachian dulcimer, a dulcitar, and a fretless banjo.
The Mac Starnes Bell South Telephone Room is dedicated to the history of telephone communication, particularly in Clark County. It is named for Bayard McIntosh Starnes, Jr.; Mac, as he was known, was a long-time employee of South Central Bell and retired as a district manager. The telephone arrived in Winchester when the East Tennessee Telephone Company began providing service in 1879. The oldest telephone in our collection can be seen at the far left on the wall opposite the entrance to the room, dating to 1884. Models next to it range up through the 1930s. As with much of our more modern technology, the sizes gradually evolved from larger to smaller. Other displays in this room that may catch your eye include a collection of glass insulators of varying colors on the angled wall. A red telephone booth sits in the opposite corner, a reminder of times before cell phones were common and such booths were stationed throughout town to allow people to make calls when away from home.
The Williams-Holloway Room is named for two men who were initially divided by the Civil War but came together as part of the same family at war’s end. As you look along the wall to the left, you see a series of portraits. In the center, with the most ornate frame, is John S. Williams, a long-time resident of Clark County. He served as a Colonel during the Mexican War. Later he served as a General in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. After the Civil War he was elected to the U.S. Senate.
John S. Williams and his wife Ann lived at her family’s plantation, “The Pines” in western Clark County. They had a daughter Molly. When General Williams was away fighting for the Confederacy, Molly met, fell in love, and married James J. Holloway, a former Union Colonel. This must have led to an interesting conversation between father and daughter after the war! Yet peace prevailed in the family. The Holloways continued to live on the family farm, while General Williams moved back to Mt. Sterling.
A variety of Civil War-era bullets, buckles and buttons are on display in the cases beneath the portraits, on loan to the museum from a private collector. The corner case to the right displays the Union coat of James Holloway, along with the journal that he kept during the war. The journal has been transcribed and it is sold exclusively by the museum; copies are for sale in the gift shop downstairs.
Two of the quilts on the wall come from the Bean family: the pale blue and white 9-patch quilt made from feed sacks and the jewel-tone crazy quilt hung behind the bed. This latter one is dated 1898 and was possibly a friendship quilt put together or at least finished by a group, as indicated by the variety of embroidered stitching. The third quilt is a Coxcomb quilt in pinks, greens, and white. It was made in Clark County in 1860 and has been on display around the world.
The Guerrant Clinic and Hospital Rooms — much of the rest of the third floor is dedicated to the medical history of this building, and the service provided by both Dr. Guerrants, father and son, and their staff. This is the operating room much as it appeared when the hospital part of the Guerrant Clinic closed in 1971. The light from the large windows was supplemented by the huge fixture hanging over the operating table. Next to the table is the apparatus that once held oxygen and anesthesia tanks. A sink in the corner was operated by foot pedals to avoid the risk of contaminating the hands with germs. A large autoclave in the corner was used to sterilize operating tools under high heat and pressure. A nurse who worked here informed us that occasionally linens would also be sterilized inside.
This was the scrub room. As its name implies, this is where the doctors and nurses prepared for surgery and cleaned up afterwards, using the double sinks and the shower. A case off to the side of the room contains a variety of surgical tools and supplies. Several of these were provided by the Clark County Hospital, while others came from the Guerrant collection.
Next stop is the Patient Room. Items in this room include a patient bed and dresser, a three-child baby bed, child’s potty chair, and cabinets containing various instruments such as microscopes and stethoscopes. The case by the doorway contains more medical items such as needles and bandages, and also a sample of the hospital china. Finally, please take a look at the photograph to the left of the baby bed. It is a 1935 picture of the physicians, nurses, and staff who devoted their lives to the establishment of this hospital and taking care of patients from the area and beyond.
You’ve reached the final room of the virtual tour… welcome to the Barber Shop of the old St. George Hotel. When it opened in 1904, the St. George was described as the finest hotel in Winchester, though it was soon surpassed by the Brown-Proctoria at the other end of Main Street. With electric power and steam heat, the St. George boasted a drugstore, café, cigar stand, billiard parlor, and barber shop on the first floor. Because it was conveniently located only a couple of blocks from the passenger station, the St. George eventually catered primarily to railroad travelers.
Everything you have seen in the museum offers a glimpse into the lives of people from our past. Whether they lived 200 years ago or 20, the people whose lives are reflected in this museum had daily concerns and joys, struggles and triumphs, much like ours. Their traditions, experiences, and relationships with one another and the community form the fabric of our heritage, which we, in turn, are passing on to those who come after us.