Tuesday, June 12, 2012
WalkLEX: Lexington ‘Taj Mahal’ also inspired by a man’s love for his dearly departed wife
At the heart of downtown Lexington’s historic Woodward Heights neighborhood is the Botherum, a circa 1850 mansion. Today, the property is owned by Dale Fisher and Jon Carloftis, but the land itself was once the northeast corner of Col. Robert Patterson’s original 400-acre tract, granted him in 1776.
It was here, in the middle of the 19th century, that lawyer and banker Madison C. Johnson, that “the fascinating residence known as Botherum … [was] erected by local builder-architect John McMurtry.” Like many Lexingtonians of his day, Johnson was a “cultivated man” whose interests varied greatly. An amateur astronomer, Johnson incorporated into the design the wrought iron octagonal parapet from which he could view the heavens.
It is believed that Johnson worked closely with McMurtry on the home’s design, incorporating personal details into the originally U-shaped mansion that combines Grecian, Roman and Gothic elements. Within the U was an enclosed garden, no doubt to satisfy other of Johnson’s varied tastes. The walls of the Botherum vary too in material: while many are of rough limestone, others are of brick construction with a plaster surface to give only the appearance of stone.
Despite his own personal touches, McMurtry was not commissioned to build Johnson a temple for himself. Rather, the Botherum was built to honor the memory and Johnson’s love for his wife who had died some 23 years earlier in childbirth. The story parallels that of the grief-stricken Shah Jahan whose love for his wife, who also died in the delivery of a child, inspired the construction of India’s Taj Mahal.
Johnson’s affection for his late wife, Sally Ann, was also noted because Johnson believed himself physically ugly and found his wife quite the opposite. Johnson’s belief of his own appearance may have been his greatest challenge. Upon graduation from Transylvania College, Johnson had his diploma sent to him and his valedictory address read by the college president so that he would not be compelled to take the stage.
More text and photos at Kaintuckeean.com.
Peter Brackney has combined a love of Kentucky with an interest in history in www.kaintuckeean.com, where he shares his photos and stories about some of the unique places around the Commonwealth. Born in Ohio, he came to Kentucky at an early age and grew up in Lexington. A double alumnus of the University of Kentucky with a bachelor’s in accounting and his juris doctorate, he lives in Nicholasville with his family. Reach him at email@example.com.
Story republished from The Kaintuckeean.