While Other Men Dreamed, Pottenger's Home Took Shape (published in Ky Standard newspaper, 1985)
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While Other Men Dreamed, Pottenger’s Home Took Shape
Written by David Hall and published in the Kentucky Standard 1985

The basic plan-form of Walnut Hill was a great “Ell” shape. The two-story front wing contained two great rooms downstairs and four above, plus a single-story room which extended off the south end of the front façade. The back, single-story wing contained a large dining room and attached kitchen divided by a common, massive chimney. Thus, Walnut Hill, as built by Capt. Samuel Pottenger in 1787-88, contained a total of nine rooms, two garrets, an attic and cellar – at a time when a majority were still living in one or two rooms!

The style of the house was the 18th-century Georgian type which would continue to be built in Nelson County for five decades after. It had steep pitched roof and chimneys included in the masonry of the gabled end walls. The exterior was simple, but amazing care was given to the interior woodwork, considering the time period. The Hall Room, named such by old Maryland tradition, had walnut wainscot paneling and an elaborate chimney-piece, carved and fluted, extending to the ceiling. A full frieze molding garnished the joint of walls and ceiling. All the hardware and wrought nails were likely brought down the Ohio, as were the necessary glass panes for windows. Forrest Pottenger has recorded that the precious glass “lights” came from the AMELUNG glass works, which was located in Frederick County, Md. Since nails and glass for windows were the scarcest building items on the Kentucky frontier, it’s probable Capt. Sam personally rounded up those supplies for his ambitious building project while on a visit back in Maryland before construction began.

A surplus of skilled labor must have been available to raise such a large house in a comparatively short time. Also obvious is that skilled house “joiners” were present in Nelson by the middle 1780s, since fine wainscot paneling and frieze work took skill, knowledge and proper tools to accomplish.

Late in her life, Capt. Sam’s youngest daughter, Ann, related an amazing family anecdote about the building of Walnut Hill, as follows – “Father was always partial to Sam (meaning her brother, Sam Jr., who was born in the fort in 1785 and later named and founded New Haven) – He was the first boy born in the family. When Father had the brick house put up Sam was 3 years old … and greatly fascinated by everything the workmen did. Some of little Sam’s stepbrothers were doing things to help, including carrying bricks to the bricklayers. One day little Sam wanted to help carry brick. To humor him, Father had him change into buckskin breeches and coarse shirt like the other boys. When all rigged out, he lit in and carried one brick at a time. Of course, he got tired and didn’t work all the time. But he did carry a lot of brick and the workmen bragged on him for being right plucky in sticking with the job.

“However, when the first tier of scaffold had to be erected, Father made little Sam stop because it was too dangerous for him to climb a ladder with a brick. Father often laughed in recalling how ‘ruffled’ little Sam was at not being allowed to continue brick carrying like the other boys.” (Paraphrased)

So, the Father, Capt. Pottenger, in a large way and his first-born son, Sam Jr., in a small but significant way, conspired to raise up the mortared courses of a great country manor which would serve generation after generation of Pottenger’s. How many men visited the great house in those early years and aspired to build their own “Mansion House” because of its inspiration we can only imagine, since Nelson County is still dotted today through length and breath with fine, brick country houses in the grand Maryland style.

Truly, the Pottenger family has left on Nelson County an indelible mark which stretches from the pioneer periods to this last quarter of the 20th century. Direct descendents of Capt. Sam are still to be found on the waters of Pottenger’s Creek and, I suspect, nothing could be more to his liking!