Historic Structures

Rochester-Cecil House - Melrose, Danville Kentucky

Date added: September 13, 2019 Categories: Kentucky House Greek Revival

The history of Melrose is closely linked with that of the adjoining farm, Roselawn, which was the home of Kentucky Governor William Owsley between 1844 and 1848. Owsley lived at Roselawn following his tenure as governor although he had purchased the property in 1838. This purchase did not include the tract upon which Melrose stands, but the governor's son, Erasmus Boyle Owsley, enlarged the holdings associated with Roselawn during the 1840s by accumulating many smaller surrounding tracts. In 1845, William and Erasmus Owsley sold three hundred acres, including the land on which Melrose was to be built, to the governor's son-in-law, Albert Gallatin Talbot. Talbot was an influential politician in his own right, and won a seat to the state legislature in 1850. Upon his 1855 election to U.S. Congress, Talbot sold this property, which he had named Melrose, to Charles Hannah Rochester, Sr. Rochester had the house built shortly thereafter. The property was sold at auction upon Rochester's death in 1863 and passed through several hands until acquired by Granville Cecil and his wife Emma, who was A. G. Talbot's daughter, in 1878.

Melrose is a two-story, five-bay brick dwelling of Greek Revival design. It is situated in the gently rolling terrain of the Bluegrass Region in northeastern Boyle County, Kentucky, and is about a mile and three quarters northwest of the county seat, Danville, and a little less than two miles from the Mercer County line. The property is located on the east side of U.S. 127 (Harrodsburg Road), and the house, which faces westward toward the highway, sits at the end of a long drive of approximately eight hundred feet and on a small, cleared knoll.

The section of Boyle County in which Melrose is located is notable for its survival of historic dwellings, as it lies between Danville and Harrodsburg (Mercer County) in a corridor of early settlement between the two communities. A 1972 survey of Boyle County identified forty-two historic buildings in the Danville quadrangle (outside the city of Danville).

Melrose is a complex building having several phases in its evolution. The original portion of the dwelling, constructed in 1856, is a two-story, L-shaped block having five bays on the west (front) facade and four on the south. Laid in five-course common bond, this section of the dwelling rests on a finely worked, coursed limestone foundation and bears a hipped roof. It is served by three interior chimneys. Five years later, a two-story, three-bay ell was added to the rear (east facade) of the building at its northern end, opposite the eastward projection of the first period fabric at the southern end. The addition gave the building a U-shaped mass, and was constructed to resemble the original fabric as closely as possible: it was laid in five-course common bond and was given a hipped roof and limestone foundation. The foundation of the addition is, however, not as finely worked and coursed as the original. A single interior chimney, located at the eastern wall, serves the ell. Two other additions have been made to the building. A long, narrow room, constructed of frame and two stories high, was placed between the two arms of the "U" formed by the eastward projections of the original portion and the 1859 ell, while a small, one-story unit of brick was built behind the frame addition.

The dwelling's primary entrance, located in the central bay of the western facade, is a panelled double door with sidelights having replaced panes. Two fluted pilasters separate the door and sidelights, and, along with two plain pilasters, support plain entablature over the door. Centered on this entrance is a tetrastyle portico, which is supported by columns with Ionic capitals. These columns are replacements of the fluted originals. The entablature of this portico is simply molded. The windows throughout the nineteenth-century portions of the building are replacements having two-over-two sash, but the original openings and their moldings have been retained, as have the splayed jack arches that surmount each window. The windows of the southern facade are blank built to appear closed with shutters in order to preserve the symmetry of this facade yet accommodate the closets built near the chimney jambs inside. A secondary entrance is located in the building's southern facade. Cut from an original window opening late in the nineteenth century, this entrance has a glazed door and single-pane transom. The doorway is ornamented with a wooden hood that has a pointed gable and curved sides, is supported by brackets, and is decorated with pendant drops and cutwork.

The plan of Melrose's original block is central passage, with one room on the north side of the passage and two on the south. The passage contains a half-turn stair with full landing, while the newel is a simple cherry turning and the handrail is cherry. The string is decorated with a scroll design. While the mantles in these rooms have been replaced with late nineteenth-century, cast-iron fireplace surrounds, the original woodwork remains. In the central passage and the two south rooms, the door and window surrounds are heavy and Greek-eared. The rear room of the south side contains closets built on either side of the chimney jambs. The woodwork of the north room is reeded with plain corner blocks. The mantels of the second floor have not been altered; these fireplaces were converted to coal with inserts.

The 1859 ell consists of a small room (formerly a porch) with a larger room behind it. A modern bathroom and kitchen, respectively, have been installed in these rooms and they retain none of their original fittings.

A one-story, brick slavequarters is located a short distance behind (east of) the house. The double-pen building is laid in common bond, has two interior gable-end chimneys (stacks rebuilt), and a gable roof with an extended eave at the south side. The foundation is dry-laid limestone. Concrete stucco has been applied to the south facade of the building from ground level to a height of approximately three feet.