The Senator John Pope Villa in Lexington is one of the few remaining residential structures designed in the United States by architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, known as the Second Architect of the U.S. Capitol.
The design of the house included a lower service floor and second floor living and entertaining areas, and a “hidden” rotunda that guests only experienced after ascending the stairs to the second floor. These features were considered very modern and sophisticated when designed circa 1811-1812.
The house has been the subject of many studies to understand its original configuration and architectural changes. These studies have included several seasons of archaeological investigation.
Archaeological investigations at the Pope Villa provided information about the construction of the original front portico and the back entry area. Researchers also located several outbuildings, including a three-room detached kitchen added in back of the house sometime between 1837 and 1855. Archaeological research helped reestablish the original surface level or grade in the front yard.
Latrobe’s Designs Made More "Kentucky"
The Library of Congress holds Latrobe's watercolor plans of Pope Villa. However, to understand what Asa Wilgus, Pope’s architect, really built, one must rely on physical clues: the “shadow of a removed staircase” along an interior wall or foundations left in the ground.
Excavations in the structure's front portico area revealed four equally spaced brick piers, suggesting that the portico had four equally spaced columns. This contrasted with a more intricate series of paired large and small columns shown on Latrobe’s plans. Other innovative features, such as cooking “stew pots,” were not built, either. They were replaced by a more typical large open-hearth cooking fireplace.
These findings suggest that Asa Wilgus reinterpreted some of Latrobe’s plans in ways that were more familiar to typical Kentucky builders and residents. Nevertheless, the overall layout of the house and the hidden rotunda, as built, were still truly revolutionary for the time.
Keep the Search Alive!
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