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Owen’s home for history needs some attention

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Owen County Historical Society

By Bonnie Strassell

Throughout the years, Owen countians have dealt with houses displaying leaky roofs, crumbling porches, and weather-beaten exteriors. Many family homesteads were ravaged by insects, rodents and time; yet from one generation to another, families of Owen County gathered to repair, repaint, and rejoice over the ability to rejuvenate the family home yet once again.
Five generations of Clarks lived on the Clark farm in Cedar Hill. The large home situated on its grounds was built by James M. Clark about the close of the Civil War, and all materials used in its construction came from 2,000 acres of his land. Five families of his slaves refused to leave at the conclusion of the war, and remained on the farm until their death. They were all buried in the cemetery on the farm. Preserving their family farm and home for so many years is a tribute to the dedication of five generations of Clarks.
In 1840, Willis Roberts purchased 93 acres in Owenton and built a house, known as Highfield, which still stands in all its majesty next to the First Baptist Church. The original tract of land included the entire east section of Owenton and was bought from the state of Virginia in 1785 by Robert Parker. After being transferred to several Owen countians, “Uncle Toby” Staiar purchased the land and house in 1876. In 1940, except for a period of about 13 years, the property had been in the possession of the Roberts-Staiar family for 101 years. All lumber used in building the original part of the house was cut with crosscut saws from trees on the premises. Windows and door facings, window frames and doors were made by hand, and the door panels represented cross and open Bible. The original shingles were handhewn, and the first structure contained six rooms and two halls. Currently Owen County attorney Charlie Carter and his wife, Betty, own Highfield, and it remains a testimony of the untiring efforts of many to preserve the lovely historic homes in Owen County.
During the Civil War, a 15-year-old Owen County lad by the name of J.C. Hartsough joined the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry. He was determined to assist the South in its defense against “Northern aggression.” When J.C. returned home, he married and moved to Owenton where, in 1870, he built a fine house, which today is home to the Owen County Historical Society Museum.
The house’s architecture resembles structures along the east coast and includes a “widow’s walk.” This small room was the highest point in the home and allowed sailors’ wives an extended view of the ocean. Sadly, many sailors never returned from their voyages, leaving behind many widows, thus giving the name “widow’s walk” to these small quarters at the very top of a house.
As with all older homes, the Hartsough house is in constant need of repairs. Even with the dedication of many of its members who donate countless hours of work, the material costs for these repairs are high. The historical society is planning on a Saturday in May (to be announced) to devote the day working on the house and yard at the museum. We are in need of volunteers for this project, so if you can help, please call the museum at 484-2529. Leave a message if no one answers. While cutting the grass, planting flowers, cleaning the yard and museum involved a lot of man/woman power, there are major projects which need to be addressed. These include painting the porch, replacing bricks in the sidewalk to the porch, and repairing the driveway. If anyone can donate money to help us with these concerns, we would be most appreciative. There are huge costs involved in keeping the museum doors open, and now that grant money is scarce, there is little money for major repairs. Please keep us in mind as we strive to preserve your history and that of future generations.
Don’t forget the historical society meeting tomorrow night, April 14, at the I.O.O.F hall. Refreshments will be served at 6:30 p.m.  and our guest speaker, Ron Devore, will present a delightful program at 7 p.m.