Home Tour: Enter this Kentucky antebellum farmhouse and take a step back in time

'Beechwood' was built by Thomas Buckner in 1839
Home Tour: Enter this Kentucky antebellum farmhouse and take a step back in time
Posted at 5:00 AM, Jun 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-16 05:00:22-04

EDGEWOOD, Ky. -- The antebellum farmhouse of one of Northern Kentucky's largest landowners in the 1830s is ready to welcome a new steward, someone its owners hope also appreciates history and preservation.

The Thomas Catlett Buckner House, a Kentucky State Landmark known as "Beechwood" since it was built in 1839, has been the home of former Cincinnati Reds vice president and assistant general manager Bob Miller and his wife, Chris, for 11 years.

Located just off Turkeyfoot Road in the Twelve Trees subdivision of Edgewood, the 4-bedroom, 3½-bathroom, 3,654-square-foot house sits on 1.5 flat acres of grassy land that's surrounded by neatly manicured homes built on what was Buckner's 1,500-acre estate.

It might sound like a lot of house, Chris Miller said, but it's the favorite of the 15-20 houses she and her husband have had in the 35 years his career has taken him from baseball town to baseball town.

"It's a very comfortable and homey house," said Chris, who runs the couple's natural pet food business near Clearwater, Florida, while her husband helps run Major League Baseball's Nationals team in Washington, D.C. "It has lots of storage and is all retrofitted. It's one of the few antebellum houses that's not in the middle of nowhere."

Past owners, some of whom had children, which the Millers do not, used the house differently, decorating it in Victorian or Early American style. The couple, Chris said, decorated it for their comfort and maximized the convenience of its old layout for modern living.

"Even several previous owners who came back to look at it said they felt very comfy there," she said.

Chris upped the house's intrigue factor by researching and compiling six pages of the house's history, which includes details about the Buckner family that lived there for 57 years, and its eight other owners.

Thomas Buckner hailed from a land-rich Virginia family and was a skilled woodworker, carpenter and designer who, it is believed, built his own house with wood from beech trees on his property and bricks likely made on site and installed by slave laborers. Buckner and his brother, George, were contracted to install their millwork in Covington's historic Carneal House on Second Street. Much of that woodwork, as in the Buckner House, has survived.

The late Federal-style Buckner House sits on a high point in Kenton County, 30 or so yards back from Heritage Lane. It features a grassy side yard large enough for a croquet or football game. Its two-car garage has a back door large enough to drive through to the fenced-in backyard, where there is a mid-century stone barbecue and two raised vegetable gardens the Millers crafted from bricks from the original patio. There's also a dog run closed in by an Erlanger-based Stewart Iron Works fencing, a wisteria arch and stamped concrete paths and patio put in by the Millers.

The front of the house looks more formal than it did originally due to a porch with Colonial columns that was added in the 1920s. (A photograph of the second-generation Buckner family taken in front of a smaller porch in the 1880s hangs with other historical pieces in the house's entry hall.)

Two original parlors -- one for women and the other for men -- flank the entry hall and its original staircase. The ceilings soar to 11 feet in both parlors, which feature their original beech floors and heavy, white-painted trim and molding. The two wooden fireplace mantels, Chris said, are original as well.

Heading toward the back of the house, visitors exit the Millers' living room parlor to the backyard patio and the dining room parlor into a banquet room. Added as a link to the separate hearth room-kitchen in the mid-1800s, the banquet room was said to have boasted the "finest mantel west of the Alleghenies" in its day. It features a non-original, built-in entertainment center and has served as the Millers' family room. Above it is a third bedroom.

Beyond the banquet room, the beech flooring gives way to oak in the hearth room, but Chris said the old beech boards, though damaged in places, are intact underneath. In the olden days, including those when it was detached from the house, she said, it would have been called the "keeping room," a place where people could cozy up to the wide fireplace and keep warm in the winter. That it served as a kitchen is evidenced by the antique swinging iron pot holder still in the firebox.

When the Millers bought the house in 2006, a 30-inch door separated the hearth room from the kitchen, which was a 1950s add-on with its original 1950s cabinets. (Also added were a step-down bedroom behind the hearth room and the garage.)

The Millers knocked out the narrow door, doubled the width of the opening and installed a modern kitchen with a central island, Corian countertops and Thomasville cabinets. Also, they exposed the dividing brick wall that had been on the exterior.

Those are by no means the only improvements the Millers made to the Buckner House. They updated the heating, cooling and electrical systems, shored up weakened structural elements, upgraded all the bathrooms, replaced and re-glazed multiple windows, swapped in low-e storm windows, painted throughout and added a semi-circular drive off Heritage Lane to supplement its counterpart along the side of the house.

When the Washington Nationals hired Bob to be their vice president and assistant general manager in November 2014, Chris said, they knew it was time to leave. Bob's home state of Florida beckoned them, and they bought the pet food business there. They put the Buckner House on the market about two years ago and have seen several pending contracts fall through. Their asking price is $483,900.

The house, she said, with its convenient proximity to downtown Cincinnati, would be perfect for a family who's into history. The location and the beauty of the home are what made them love it more than houses they had viewed in the Hyde Park-Mount Lookout area.

"Probably, of all the houses we've had, I'd say this is our favorite," Chris said. "We were sad to leave, but we move because of jobs, and we've moved within cities a lot of times, too. ... The right person is going to come along, and it's probably going to be someone who loves the history of the house and appreciates older houses."

Who was Thomas Buckner?

For about 20 years, before he died in 1844 of "black tongue" (niacin deficiency) at age 51, Thomas Buckner was a mover-and-shaker whose associates likely included Northern Kentucky leaders Thomas Carneal, William Southgate, Aaron Gano (his sister married Buckner's brother, John) and James Taylor Jr. He came from a large family of wealthy landowners linked to George Washington in an era when large portions of present-day Ohio and Kentucky were part of Virginia.

Buckner was one of eight children and well-educated. He served in the War of 1812 and was known thereafter as "Colonel" by many. That same year he arrived in Kentucky at age 19. In 1816, he and his brother, George, worked on the Carneal House (which was first owned by Gano, then Southgate) as "joiners," meaning they milled windows, doors, mantels, stairs etc. Within several years, Buckner began buying up hundreds of acres of land, including the parcel on which he built Beechwood.

Buckner's first wife died soon after their wedding in 1820. Three years later, he married the daughter of an influential county judge and politician who counted George Washington as a relative and was a slave owner. Buckner and Mildred Washington Berry had five children, one of whom died at age 2. The other four were reared in Beechwood. 

Buckner's land speculating made him rich, but he also operated a ferry, farmed his land and raised livestock. He helped establish a home for the indigent and served as a deputy sheriff. He owned slaves and organized a group that tracked down and returned runaways to their owners.