MACBEAN - LUKE USHER HOUSES
501-503 W. High St., N.W. Cor. High and Spring Sts.
Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky
Built about 179_
The history of Inlot No. 77, on which these two houses (double) were built, goes back a long ways in the annals of Lexington—and so do these two corner houses, for that matter.
Thos. West and wife, Margery, "of Bourbon Co., Commonwealth of Virginia" (before Kentucky became a state), sold this lot, fronting 66 feet, to Thos. Lewis, "County of Fayette, Commonwealth aforesaid," for 50 pounds September 9, 1788. The deed stated that it was known as Lot No. 77, "conveyed to West by the Town Trustees August 9, 1785, in consideration of the residence of John McDonald in the Town of Lexington. Its location was cited as "lying at the corner of High and Spring Sts. measuring 4 poles in front on High St. and 13 poles back on Spring St. McDonald had passed his claim on to Samuel Martin before West got the lot.
Wm. McBean, a merchant, who owned considerable property, bought the lot from Lewis (deed dated 1803) for 120 pounds and built the two brick houses here. On January 1, 1806, Macbean and Catherine, his wife, mortgaged the property to Josiah White and Joseph Budd, "both of the City of Philadelphia, Merchants," to cover notes of Macbean & Poyzer to White and Budd for $2,328.
(Macbean & Poyzer advertised in October, 1800, that they were "opening their store formerly occupied by Mr. Robert Barr," and had a full line of dry goods, groceries, hardware and books).
That the double-house here had been built and occupied by William Macbean before 1800 is obvious from the following ad in the Kentucky Gazette December 29, 1800:
"A wide variety of Coatings, Swandowns, Corduroys, Quiltings, Muslins, Hard-ware and other EUROPEAN GOODS just imported will be sold by public vendue at the next Court in Lexington (on the second Monday in January, 1801) in quantities suited for private use. N.B. Any one may be previously supplied low for cash—at the brick house in high street, Lexington, lately the residence of Mr. MACBEAN."
The houses passed in September, 1807, by Sheriff's Sale to Luke Usher (1818 Directory: "Innkeeper 'Sign of the Ship' Short St.") Usher took over famous Fowler's Garden in 1820, advertising that ladies would be served by Mrs. Usher at the amusement park).
Luke Usher sold 45 feet of the High and Spring corner April 25, 1816, to Chas. Humphreys (Bank of the United States) for $2,250 "to include the two houses or double tenement," and extending back only 90 1/2 feet. He reserved the Water Street corner for his great amusement enterprise, the Lexington Theatre. When the latter was remodeled years later, gorgeous wall paper and other decorations were removed which bore testimony to the splendor of Usher's "Play Palace."
In 1819 Usher deeded the Water Street property, "beginning at the cor. of the house now known as and called a theatre," to Robert Wickliffe, "Counsel for Wm. S. Gray, Uriah Tracy, Nath'l Platt and Jonas Platt," to satisfy "judgment of the U.S. Court against Usher for $2,400."
Historian Ranck says" "Usher's Theatre was built abut the year 1816, by Luke Usher, an actor who had emigrated from England a short time before. It was located on the old Bruen property, at the corner of Spring and Vine Sts., and though it was on a small scale it could boast of regular boxes, a pit and a gallery.
"The celebrated Drake family constituted one of the first regular companies which appeared in the theater. Edward Forrest, who had before played minor parts in Philadelphia, made his debut as a leading actor in Usher's Theater. He was brought out by Collins and Jones. Sol Smith, the noted comedian, who died in St. Louis in 1869, raised his first theatrical company in Lexington and played in this theater several weeks previous to his first tour."
Luke Usher died in December, 1829, aged about 65. His widow, Mrs. Ann Usher, had died in 1833, during the cholera plague.
Usher ran the following ad in the Kentucky Gazette in 1819, headed "Lexington Theatre:"
"This building, large and capacious, is situated on Water and Spring streets and for years it has been occupied for theatrical displays in Lexington. It has recently received inside embellishments to the amount of $2,000.
"The extent of the population of the town and neighborhood; the fine literary taste of those who constitute theatrical audiences; the liberality of the trustees in not imposing a tax on companies, and the distinguished encouragement the institution has heretofore received renders Lexington, as it regards Dramatic exhibitions, the ATHENS of the West ...."
The double-house seems to have passed after 1816 to the Bank of the United States, from whose hands it emerged in April, 1836, purchased by Matthew T. Scott and Farmer Dewees. The latter sold it a year later to James Logue. (1838 Directory: "James Logue, teacher, W. High corner Spring") Jos. Bruen was then occupying the Water Street end of the lot where Usher had his theatre.
Joseph Chew, of Jos. Chew & Co., dry goods (15 W. Main St.) resided in one of the houses in 1838, the directory shows.
Logue sold the corner house and was still living in the adjoining house when D.F. Wolfe bought the former from J. Conte in 1861 and sold it in 1863 to Mrs. Maliciana Fisher.
Source: Old Houses of Lexington, C. Frank Dunn, typescript, n.d., copy located in the Kentucky Room, Lexington (Kentucky) Public Library.
Transcribed by pb, October 2006