Ashland preserves the main house, gardens, and core grounds of the estate of Henry Clay, one of the nation’s most influential statesmen during the Antebellum period. Opened to the public in 1950, Ashland is a National Historic Landmark. Home tours, special events, and educational programs are offered throughout the year.
University of Kentucky researchers conducted archaeological investigations at Ashland beginning in 1990 in advance of planned renovations. This work began with a survey around the main house and close-up work around its foundation, and the foundation of a standing privy. Additional archaeology from 2000 to 2008 focused on gaining a better understanding of Ashland as a plantation site. Investigators surveyed the remaining 17-acre grounds and excavated select outbuildings.
Archaeology at Ashland has provided information needed to assist in building restorations and maintenance. Examples include work around building foundations and in areas where water lines needed to be installed. Additional archaeology was conducted to collect information about the overall layout of the grounds and the location of outbuildings and work areas, and to recover a sample of material culture that could offer insights into nineteenth-century domestic life at Ashland.
Archaeological research at Ashland determined that many outbuildings were needed to run the plantation. Kitchen-related outbuildings found during investigations included a small square foundation near the kitchen - it may have been a cheese and butter house - and a large circular foundation east of the two standing ice houses that may represent a third ice house or some other sort of cold storage building. Livestock was always an important part of the Ashland plantation, and the remains of two barns and a smaller support outbuilding were found southwest of the house. Enslaved blacks provided much of the essential labor at Ashland, and archaeological research documented the remnants of slave quarters located just north of the present formal garden. Other below-ground features found at Ashland included postholes, small trash pits, cisterns, and privies.
In 2000, archaeologists began excavating a large privy vault. It was filled with ceramic dinnerware and cookware associated with Henry Clay's original home, which was demolished shortly after his death in 1852. Over a period of three years, archaeologists recovered more than 900 ceramic vessels from this privy - one of the largest Antebellum ceramic collections in Kentucky.
The dishes recovered from the Ashland privy are exceptional for an archaeological collection, because so many could be put back together. They included a diverse range of vessel forms, such as serving platters, compote dishes, and stoneware and redware crocks for storage and food preparation. The collection contains many Chinese and European porcelain vessels, suggestive of the many formal dinners held at Ashland. But locally made vessels also were represented within the collection, such as crockery or a small redware salt dish. Many of these ceramics are on display at Ashland today.
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