LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 19, 2012) — In celebration of the University of Kentucky's upcoming sesquicentennial in 2015, the 37th of 150 weekly installments on the university explores the history behind Maxwell Place, UK's presidential residence.
Maxwell Springs was named for John Maxwell, one of the founders of Lexington. Historically, the springs were used for political gatherings, celebrations and agricultural fairs. By the mid-19th century, an amphitheater and the Bullock house were on the grounds of the present site of Maxwell Place. These were burned in 1861 when a Union encampment surrounded the springs. Troops also burned trees for fuel, stripping the area of its old-growth trees.
The 13-and-a-half-acre tract which later became the site of Maxwell Place was first separated from the original Maxwell holding and sold in 1820. Shortly after the war it was purchased by Dennis Mulligan, an Irish immigrant who became a prominent Lexington businessman and politician.
Mulligan had Maxwell Place built, an Italianate villa, for his son James Hillary Mulligan and daughter-in-law Mary Jackson Mulligan. James Hillary Mulligan went on to become a journalist, jurist, legislator, orator, poet and diplomat. He served on the Recorder’s Court and earned the title "judge," which he was known as for the rest of his life. After his first wife’s death, and a remarriage that caused strife between children of the first and second marriages, Judge Mulligan passed away in 1915 estranged from his second wife.
After the death of Judge Mulligan, UK purchased the property in 1917 for $40,000. A major renovation took place beginning in 1918, which included additions and enclosures at the rear of the house and a long, narrow pergola leading from the drive to the tower vestibule. In 1918, Frank L. McVey became the first university president to live in Maxwell Place.
This story on UK's history is presented by UK Special Collections. Special Collections is home to UK Libraries' collection of rare books, Kentuckiana, the Archives, the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, the King Library Press and the Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center. The mission of Special Collections is to locate and preserve materials documenting the social, cultural, economic and political history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
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