Photo: Houses at 151, 155, and 157-159 East Constitution Street, Lexington. The Historic District was listed on the National Register in 1982. Photographer: wikipedia username: Smallbones, 2014, public domain; via wikimedia commons, accessed February, 2023.
The Constitution Historic District [†] is a neighborhood just north of the commercial core of Lexington that was developed from the second decade of the nineteenth century continuing until the early 20th century. The houses in the area include a variety of architectural styles including Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Eastlake, late Richardsonian, and Neo-Classical. A half timber house, built by Matthew Kennedy and James Brand, circa 1813 is at 124-28 Constitution, as well as a large two-story brick residence in the transitional Federal to: Greek Revival manner, also by Kennedy at 216 North Limestone (216 North Limestone is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places). Both of the above-mentioned are excellent examples of their type, now rare in this area. The majority of the houses in the district are Greek Revival, with some excellent Italianate houses as well. The large Greek Revival house built by James Weir at 312 North Limestone is the most elaborate, most being simpler townhouses. These were constructed primarily by middle class Lexingtonians with some of the houses having been lived in by prominent citizens. Among the more prominent people connected with this district were General Leslie Combs, a developer of the area, soldier and lawyer; Daniel Wickliffe, the editor of a Lexington newspaper and James Weir, merchant and owner of considerable land. The majority of the residents in the area were perhaps not socially prominent but were certainly representative of a large portion of Lexington's citizens of the day. Most were merchants, carpenters, carriage makers and other craftsmen as well as a few ministers. Matthew Kennedy, architect, developer and builder, both lived and worked in the area. The streetscape of both the major streets, East Third and Constitution, remains relatively intact and present a good example of a mid-nineteenth century middle class neighborhood in Lexington. The area forming the district is already designated as "historic" under a local urban-county ordinance.
The area that makes up the Constitution Historic District was originally outlets number nine, ten, eleven, and part of outlots thirty and thirty-one of the town lots laid out circa 1791. These outlots were first the site of a few residences with large lots around them and some hemp factories as well and was then divided up during the early and mid-nineteenth century.
The houses on Constitution Street and four facing Limestone are on land that was originally purchased from John W. Hunt in 1813 by Matthew Kennedy, an architect in Lexington, and James Brand who wasi of a prominent Lexington family. Kennedy built several important buildings here, including his own home at 2l6 North Limestone. Brand and Kennedy bought the property to resell in lots and retained some for themselves, Although a plat of the area was drawn, it was never recorded as Brand died in 1814. Before Brand's death he and Kennedy built Constitution Street and sold several of the lots. The half-timbered house at 12-28 Constitution Street was built by Kennedy and Brand as a duplex, Kennedy making his home there prior to building his brick residence on Limestone. Some of the land was sold in larger lots to other developers, such as General Leslie Combs who, in addition to developing Combs Square on East Third, had property on Constitution as well. Other lots were sold individually. After Brand's death his heirs and Kennedy sold the lots in partnership. By the late 1830s most had been sold and Kennedy had moved to Louisville.
The early residents of Constitution Street were mostly middle class with many of them being merchants, some were brick masons and carpenters, carriage makers, and ministers. Among the early residents were: Thomas Duvall, a farmer who had his house in town at 155 Constitution Street; Daniel Talbott, who lived at 1555 Constitution Street; B.T. Bealert, who lived at 234 North Limestone and built 226 North Limestone; James Robert Sloan, who was sheriff of Fayette County and lived at 121 Constitution Street; Thomas K. Layton, brickmaker and layer, who built 135 Constitution Street. Reverend Thomas Dudley, the pastor of Bryan's Station Church in the mid-nineteenth century, lived during the last quarter of the nineteenth century at 154 Constitution Street.
General Leslie Combs, who developed the south side of East Third Street, was born in Clark County in 1793, distinguished himself in the War of 1812, and was a lawyer in Lexington for over half a century. He was a very prominent citizen of Lexington, a trustee of Transylvania, member of the legislature, railroad pioneer, and state auditor. He died at age 84 in 1881.
Some of the purchasers and early residents of the Combs Square area were merchants, blacksmiths, bankers, and builders as were many residents of Constitution Street. Joseph T. Sutton, a tailor, built 144 East Third, selling it soon to Jacob White, who was a boot and shoemaker and who also owned 110 East Third where he lived until his death. William S. Keiser built 118 East Third and sold it soon to John Keiser, who was a farmer. Frederick Bush, who was a carpenter and builder, built 138 East Third and the Bush family owned the house past the turn of the century. William Emmal, grocer and later a banker, bought 140 East Third from Evan Lilly, a builder, in 1845. Number 146 was lived in by Daniel G. Wickliffe who bought the house in 1849 and lived there until his death in 1870. Daniel Wickliffe was editor of the Lexington Observer and Reporter newspaper and was secretary of state under Governor Robinson. Jacob Uttinger bought several lots from Combs in 1839. Uttinger, who operated a carpenter shop and lumber yard, built number 122 and sold it.to James Jackson in July 1839. Another house built by Uttinger is 126 East Third. He sold this one to Thomas Bradley in 1839- Bradley was a hardware dealer, blacksmith and later a partner in the banking firm of Grinstead and Bradley. He maintained the property for rental for over twenty years. Number 132 was owned in the 1860s by Lester Heacox, the property having been owned before that by John Besore. Heacox was a merchant and dealt in wools, etc. The Heacox family owned the house until the turn of the century.
The houses on the north side of Third Street and 312 North Limestone are on land that James Weir purchased from John Marshall in 1809. Weir operated a bagging and rope factory at the back of the property (east side, near Walnut Street). James Weir was a merchant and owned considerable land in. Fayette and Woodford counties and planned to build his home on this property prior to his death in 1832. His administrators continued with the house construction and the house at 312 North Limestone was completed and occupied in 1832 by James Weir, nephew of the first owner. This James Weir lived in the house until he moved to Texas in 1852, selling the property to Thomas A. Marshall. Marshall was professor of law at Transylvania University, .served four years in Congress, and was a member of the Kentucky Court of Appeals for twenty-two years. He left Lexington in 1857 and the property changed hands several times, belonging in 1879 to John H. Woolfolk, who made it his home until the turn of the century. In 1910 the house was purchased by Dr . James Garrick, who had the house remodeled. It was acquired by the present owners in 1956.
The Weir property, of which the north side of East Third was a part, was sold off at different times and the houses built in the mid to late nineteenth century. In 1857, 1^7 East Third was lived in by M.T. Woodward of Woodward and Harbison Feed Sales and Stables. He was also president of the National Horse and Cattle Exchange. This house was lived in late in the nineteenth century by Honorable W.G.P. Breckinridge , a prominent Lexingtonian and member of the Congress who died in 1904. Numbers 155 and 159 East Third were built as a pair and seem to have been rental property, with residents' changing almost yearly. Number 151 East Third was lived in by William C. Heacox soon after it was built in 1907- In 1893,. 163 East Third was the residence of W.W. Darnall, a grocer, and in 1895 of B.S. Ades who was a partner in Ades Dry Goods Store.
Over the years the area continued to be primarily residential with some small commercial development on the edges and the addition of a church on Constitution Street. The East Second Street Christian Church was built in 187-75 for about $1,000 for the (white) Second Church of Christ, also known as "The Little Church Around the Corner." This white congregation consisted of "dissenters" from the Main Street (now Central) Christian Church who had organized in 1871 under the leadership of John B. Bowman, regent of Transylvania (then Kentucky) University. In 1880, shortly before they re-united with the main church, they sold the church building on Constitution Street to the (black) Antioch Christian Church for $5,000. The latter had been organized in 1851 by Thomas Phillips, formerly a slave of wealthy merchant John Brand of "Rose Hill" on North Limestone. The congregation had a building on East Fourth Street prior to moving to his one on Constitution in 1880. In that year the church on Constitution Street burned, but was rebuilt with insurance payments. The congregation, one of the oldest and most prominent among the black community of Lexington, has recently celebrated its centennial in the present building. The sanctuary which combines Gothic Revival with German Romanesque-inspired elements, was designed by Swedish-born architect Phelix L. Lundin, and is his only known design for a church, as well as his earliest documented work in Lexington, although he had evidently designed numerous residences and commercial building here within a few years after his arrival about 1871.
† Adapted from: Bettie L. Kerr, Research Assistant, Lexington County Historic Commission, Constitution Historic District, nomination document, 1982, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
3rd Street East • Constitution Street • Limestone North • Martin Luther King Boulevard North • Pleasant Stone Street • Walnut Street