Harrodsburg is rich in history! If you have never visited, it is well worth the trip. It was founded in 1774 as the first permanent settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains, making Harrodsburg Kentucky’s oldest town.
Our visit was not the first we had made to Harrodsburg. On previous trips we had visited Fort Harrod and Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill (which are well worth the trip and will be posted in the future), but on this day we were visiting places we had not seen. We started with some shopping on the downtown strip including a great Kentucky influenced shop called Amanda’s Crafts and a small bite to eat at the Downtown Pizza Pub. We had plans for several stops and one included an early dinner so we didn’t want to blow it. After our time on the strip, purchasing some unique Kentucky wares, we headed a few blocks over to Morgan Row.
There is very little information that I could find on Squire Joseph Morgan, the man credited for designing and building Morgan Row. What I could find was that Jospeh was born in 1772. He married Ann Bryan in Lincoln County, KY, in 1798. Joseph and Ann had one daughter, Elizabeth “Betsy” Morgan, who was born in Kentucky in 1805. Joseph was one of the finest developers in Mercer County at the time. He died in 1860.
I did find that their daughter Elizabeth married John Chiles in 1823. Chiles Street, the road where Morgan Row is located, is named after him.
Morgan Row History
Morgan Row is Kentucky’s oldest row house and first row house built west of the Allegheny Mountains. Originally the building was five separate buildings sharing four side fire walls, but one was lost to a fire sometime between 1890 and 1895. That home originally sat where Office Street is now located.
The first of the row houses is believed to have been built by Squire Joseph Morgan in 1807. The last of the houses, Chiles Tavern, was added in the 1830s. John G. Chiles, Morgan’s son-in-law, ran the tavern and operated a stagecoach stop along with US mail routes from the hostelry until 1845. The hostelry, also known as an inn or hotel, was Harrodsburg’s finest.
While the row house did have residences, its local activity revolved around gala balls held at Morgan Row with the finest men and women in the county in attendance. There was also a barber shop, grog shop (barroom), and gambling rooms within the buildings. With stories of political meetings and horse races, one can imagine that this was the place to be in the 1800s.
Today, Morgan Row is on the National Register of Historic Places and seems to be the only row house in Kentucky that you can tour.
Morgan Row Today
Two of the homes are privately owned. The other two homes on the north end of the row have been carefully restored by the Harrodsburg Historical Society. The society uses the two homes as their headquarters. The buildings house a genealogy and research library and a historical museum. The buildings are open to the public for historical and genealogical research. The Harrodsburg Historical Society is one of the oldest historical societies in Kentucky (chartered in 1908).
The ladies who were working the day we visited were wonderful. They were helping some gentlemen with genealogy when we arrived, and then gave us a walk-through of the spaces they have restored. The historical society has hopes of acquiring all 4 homes of the row some day, but in the meantime they are working on one of their spaces becoming a history museum for Harrodsburg.
The Uniqueness of Row House Architecture
Today, row houses are single-family units attached to one another by common walls, usually with a common facade and roof.
The row house originated in Northern European, specifically British, cities during the 16th and 17th centuries. In England, row houses were built both for laborers in large tracts and for noblemen in the city. They were mostly found in densely populated areas, where space was limited. A developer was able to purchase one plot of land and then split up the territory in a way that would allow them to get more buyers. The same is true today.
Typical Features Include:
- Two stories. Some row houses have had a business on the bottom, like a grocery store, and one home upstairs, but typically, these are for one family to live in — on both floors.
- Side hallways. The hallway is usually on the side of a row house, with the stairway leading up to the second floor.
Row houses were not built in Kentucky towns until after 1800.
Kentucky Row House History
While very common as an architectural style in the Eastern Colonies, historically, this type of architecture was rare west of the Allegheny Mountains.
Armstrong Row – Maysville, KY
- 11 brick row houses
- Built between 1820-1833 by John Armstrong, a local entrepreneur and real estate developer
- 2 story houses with gabled roofs with stepped parapet walls in both Federal and Greek Revival style
- Flemish bond facade
Row Houses – Covington, KY
- located at 15th and Madison
- Have become apartments and Air B&B rentals
Main Street – Old Washington, KY
- simple clapboard
- characteristic stair halls and flanking rooms
- built as speculative properties and investments
- became residences
NOTE: The row houses above are the only historic locations in Kentucky that I could find. While newer row houses may exist in KY, these are the only ones (in addition to Morgan Row) from the 1800s. These three locations are residences and cannot be toured.
After our tour of Morgan Row we were off to visit Old Mud Meeting House, also cared for by the Harrodsburg Historical Society. Join me next time for the history of the meeting house and the story of our visit.
Until next time, Happy Travels!