Looking Back: A glimpse of life during the American Revolution

April 25, 2004|BRENDA S. EDWARDS

LOUISVILLE - An artist from back East does sketches of people, equipment and personalities in the wilderness of Kentucky during the Revolutionary War era, then takes his sketches back home to show how things were in the West.

John Conolly of Nineveh, Ind., portrays that artist at gatherings at Locust Grove, a historic house built in 1790 on the banks of the Ohio River by William Croghan and his wife, Lucy Clark Croghan, sister of Gen. George Rogers Clark and Gen. William Clark.

Replicas of paint boxes from England, pencils, ink, and a sea shell used as a palette to mix colors are arranged neatly on the table before Conolly while he demonstrates his sketches. He tells people how he first sketches on onion paper, then does the final art work on heavier paper.

A commercial artist for 44 years, Conolly said his experience helped him do sketches based on work by Charles Wilson Peal, a familiar artist in the pioneer days. Peal, a self-taught artist, lived in England prior to coming to America.


Conolly is enlisted in the Benjamin Logan Co. of the Kentucky County Militia.

"I've gotten too old to march in battle. I decided I had to keep doing something to be in the militia, so I borrowed on the experience of my commercial art."

That allows Conolly to sit in the shade, draw, and talk with people while the younger men march and have skirmishes during Revolutionary War encampments.

Skirmishers set up camp

Conolly and scores of other skirmishers, including Greg Hudson of Erlanger, and their families set up camp last weekend as part of Gen. George Rogers Clark's troops from the Northwest Campaign as they returned to the Georgian-style mansion of Locust Grove. The white tents were lined up in front of the mansion and gave a view of what life was like during the Revolutionary War as the skimishers demonstrated battalion drills and tactical exercises, surveying and hearth cooking.

Hudson, dressed as an captain in the Illinois Regiment, Virginia State Line, has been a Revolutionary War skirmisher for 25 years. He said the units travel April to October between Quebec and Savannah, Ga. He especially likes to teach the part of history that pertains to George Rogers Clark, whom he says has been ignored in history.

"It was because of what he (Clark) did that has made this country what it is today," said Hudson. "If it had not been for him, we would be living in Canada. He was pretty important. It was Clark's idea to preserve the river system because there were no roads then."

Clark spent the last years of his life at Locust Grove with the Croghan family. He died Feb. 13, 1818.

Locust Grove, a stately brick house that was home to the Croghans and Clark for many years, sits on the banks of the Ohio River. It is owned by Jefferson County, and managed by Historic Homes Foundation Inc.

Croghan, an Ireland native, went to Philadelphia at the age of 17 to live with an uncle. He served in the British Army until joining the Colonists in their war for independence.

Croghan came to Louisville as Clark's surveying partner. After he married Lucy Clark in 1789, they lived in a two-story log cabin while Locust Grove was built on a bluff overlooking the river. They lived in the house until their deaths.

Croghan had a successful commercial shipping business on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers with Richard C. Anderson, husband of Elizabeth Clark.

In his later years, Croghan was involved in community service. In 1790 he was a representative of the state constitutional convention in Danville, which led to the state's admission as the 15th state in 1792.

The house and 693-acre farm stayed in the Croghan family until 1878, when it was sold to James Paul, a riverboat captain. After Paul's death, his widow sold the property in 1883 to Richard Waters. The Waters family occupied the house and managed the farm until 1961, when the house and 55 acres were sold to Jefferson County.

House looks much like it did in 1800s

The 12-room house looks much like it did in the 1800s, with the exception of porches on the front and back. It has four chimneys that have two fireplaces each. A second-floor ballroom was converted into a bedroom.

A smokehouse on the property was the only building of the kitchen complex still standing on the property. Archaeological digs helped locate several other buildings that have been rebuilt.

Gardens that have been restored to the north of the house feature plants and trees that would have been there in the 1800s. Fresh flowers from the garden are used in the house during summer months.

The house is furnished with Federal pieces; however, few came from the Croghan or Clark families. A teapot, brought from England by Lucy's mother, Ann Rogers Clark, and a coffee and tea service with the Croghan crest, are displayed there.

Portraits of William and Lucy Croghan, and Serene Livingston Croghan, as well as George Rogers Clark, can be seen in the house.

The house is a monument to Clark, Revolutionary War hero of the Northwest Territory and founder of the city of Louisville.

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