Friday, April 17, 2015

A Visit to Waveland State Historic Site

The past few months I have been attempting to visit some historic sites in Kentucky that I had neglected to see in my six years since moving here. I got to spend some time at Locust Grove back in February, and last Saturday I made the short trip down to Lexington to see Waveland.

Waveland has roots that go back to Kentucky's earliest settlements. The famous frontiersman Daniel Boone married Rebecca Bryan, who's family founded Bryan Station, just north of what became Lexington. In addition, a Bryan, William Bryan, married Daniel's sister, Mary. William and Mary's son, Daniel Boone Bryan, settled on the land that became Waveland around 1786. Daniel Boone Bryan built a stone home on property and quickly prospered as a farmer and noted gunsmith.

Byran's son, Joseph, inherited Waveland when his father died in 1845. That year Joseph had the old stone home torn down and construction started on an elaborate Greek Revival home (pictured above), which was completed in 1848. Various resources from Waveland went into the home's construction. Timber for framing and trimwork, and bricks, made from clay on the property, all came together to built the enormous structure. One of the most impressive features of the home are side gallery rooms, which were intended for guests.

Under Joseph's direction Waveland became a profitable hemp and grain plantation. In fact, the name Waveland came from the romantic scene which occurred when wind blew the crops back and forth resembling waves on the ocean.

To maintain his estate and create its profits Joseph, like other Kentucky hemp planters, used slave labor. Joseph Bryan is shown in the 1850 census owning twelve slaves and holding property worth $42,000. In 1860, Bryan had increased his labor force to eighteen slaves. The 1860 census shows what appears to be eight slave dwellings at Waveland. While the field slave quarters have all disappeared, the kitchen and house slave quarters (pictured above) still stand. This two story brick building was somewhat typical for Kentucky house slave quarters. They were often constructed of brick or stone,and usually included two or three rooms for living areas. The two story design was also quite typical, as work was often done on the ground level, while domiciles were upstairs.

Another impressive structure on the grounds is the smokehouse. In order to provide the dietary needs of the Bryan family, their slaves, and also to sell at market, a tremendous number of hogs were slaughtered annually. The smokehouse features a salting table (pictured above), which was made from an enormous log. Also in the smokehouse are cutting tables to process the meat and a huge brine barrel. The Bryan family's ice house is also on the grounds.

As had the previous generation, Joseph Bryan's son, Joseph Henry Bryan, inherited Waveland when his father passed away in 1887. Joe Henry, as he was known, was a large man who decided to take Waveland in a different direction. Joe Henry apparently love horses. He became a thoroughbred and trotter breeder and even built two racetracks on the property. With the horses and horse racing came debt, and in 1894, Joe Henry was forced to sell Waveland. After a couple of owners the property was deeded to the University of Kentucky, who used it as an experimental farm, and in 1957 it became the Kentucky Life Museum. UK turned the property over to the state park system in 1971.

Today, Waveland is a great place to learn about Kentucky's antebellum hemp farms. They have an impressive amount of Bryan family treasures, which only add to the educational experience. I highly recommend a visit to Waveland if you get the chance. Places like it are becoming more rare all the time, especially those that provide public tours and that educate visitors about this time period.

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