Beech Hill Farm

By Benjamin A. Taylor

The house I grew up in, and have now retired to, was built by my great-grandparents, Jonathan G. Taylor and Susan E. Hawes.  As a young man, Jonathan Taylor moved to Daviess County from Winchester , Kentucky .  His father, Samuel Taylor, came to Kentucky as a boy with his father.  Samuel became Circuit Court Clerk at an early age, and built a brick house that still stands on a farm in what is now Winchester . Later in life Samuel served one term as a state senator.  Jonathan Taylor set up a sawmill near Blackford Creek.  Susan Hawes was the daughter of Richard and Clary Hawes.  Richard Hawes, for whom the town of Hawesville is named, had come to Kentucky from Virginia and had acquired considerable wealth from coal mining.  Richard built a house on the river, which burned.  He died, and his widow built a second house overlooking what is now Kingfisher Lake in Yelvington. 

Jonathan and Susan had become acquainted while she was attending a finishing school in central Kentucky and he was attending an academy in Danville .  It seems plausible that she apprised him of the opportunities for an ambitious young man in Daviess County .  In any case, they were married in 1832 -- he was 21, she was 15.  They began building their home, known as Beech Hill, on land deeded to them by Richard Hawes or his widow.  The couple lived with Susan’s mother while the house was being constructed, and she would ride behind Jonathan the two miles to follow progress on construction of the house.

The house was sited on a ridge above a good spring.  Initially the house was two stories, constructed of poplar logs -- basically, two large rooms, one above the other.  The logs were clad with clapboards, some of which showed smoke damage indicating that they had been salvaged from another dwelling.  The roof was apparently covered by cedar shakes.  Soon afterwards, two-story extensions were added at both ends -- a hallway and parlor to the south and a kitchen/workroom to the north downstairs, with bedrooms upstairs.  Probably a few years later, a dining room was added adjacent to the parlor.  This part of the house was of post and beam construction with 3” x 4” posts and mortise and tenon joints.  A cellar was located below the dining room. A long front porch was added at some point.  A metal roof covered this part of the house, replacing the cedar shakes over the original portion.

For water, originally there was the spring, which was supplanted by a cistern, a dug well, and after electrification, a driven well.  Some rainwater was diverted to a tank in the upstairs storage room, which could be gravity-fed to the downstairs. 

Jonathan and Susan had a large family.  Two sons became lawyers, including E. P. Taylor, who was also a farmer, businessman, and politician.  Two sons fought for the South in the civil war; both were captured and one died while in prison at Rock Island , Illinois .

In the 1880s, my grandfather, George E. Taylor (the youngest son), inherited the house and a share of the farm and married Mildred Gibson, the daughter of a river-bottom farmer.  The couple extended the house in the back, adding a "little dining room", kitchen, back hall, bathroom, a storeroom, and three 'working' porches downstairs, and a sleeping porch, backstairs and storeroom upstairs.  The cellar was extended to accommodate a coal furnace. This completed the house that was passed on to my father, Benjamin Taylor, Sr., and then to me.

I inherited the house when I was a very young man.  Although I was very attached to the place, I made the decision to go to Wisconsin for graduate school, and subsequently spent my career as a scientist in Bar Harbor , Maine .  I managed to rent the house for a while, but it was in need of repairs that I could ill afford at the time, and so it was then left vacant for many years.  It was damaged by vandals, weather, termites, and time.  I did manage to keep an intact roof over it.  However, the foundation wall around the basement and cellar collapsed at one point, destroying most of the back part of the house. 

In the late 1990s, my wife, Sandi Phillips, and I decided that we would restore the house and retire to the farm in Maceo.  After endless planning, three architects, multiple contractors and subcontractors, and lots of expended money, the present restoration/addition was completed in early 2002, fulfilling my lifelong dream. 

The north end of the house was dismantled because it was in bad shape and would not give us the 'comfort' space we needed. We decided to remove plaster to expose some of the interior log walls.  The rooms of the old part were left intact; rather than adding closets and baths to the old part, these were built adjacent to the two large bedrooms upstairs.  The original floors of the old part were retained (all poplar, except for the original downstairs room, which is ash).  Floors were patched using salvaged flooring from the dismantled part.  The dining room was rebuilt to match the original including the large doorway to the parlor.  Sandi and I salvaged poplar floor-boards from the attic, and ripped and planed them for the dining room floor.  Sandi stripped and restored the doors and fireplace surrounds.  We also salvaged the old brick used for the foundation, fireplaces, and front walk.  The surfaces of these bricks reveal finger marks of the workers who handled the bricks prior to firing.  The front doorway was custom-made to match the original, an uncommon style. 

Many of the antiques came from Beech Hill and others came from my maternal grandmother.  The rest were mostly collected by Sandi.  All of the original light fixtures were either stolen or destroyed by vandals. 

The layout of the recent addition was designed by Sandi with help from an architect friend, Christine Schultz of Rochester , MN .  We used poplar flooring throughout the addition.  In a hundred years it should match the patina of old floors.

The restoration/addition was done with an eye to the future.  Many of our choices were for low maintenance.  Extra insulation, geothermal heating/cooling, extra space, and metal roofing should make this house a practical attractive home for whoever succeeds us.  The downstairs bathroom also has a shower.  We plan to use the family room as a bedroom when we no longer want to climb stairs.  Hopefully these choices will help to assure that the house gets preserved.

Planning: Architect Christine Schultz provided lots of advice about the addition including rough sketches of specific designs.  RBS Design provided building plans.  Architect Terry Blake gave us lots of good advice.  Pat Strehl of TetraTech Engineering did the structural analysis.  Bowersox Construction dismantled portions of the house and did some of the site work.  MCF Construction ( Newburgh , IN ) jacked up the house and installed a new foundation under the old part of the house.  GinMike, Inc. poured the concrete walls and floor for the basement under the addition.  The rest of the project was completed by Rick Thomas Construction. The project was substantially completed by March 2002.