The Gaines House

A Brief History

     The Abner Gaines House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, was likely built sometime around 1814.  On January 1, 1809, 192 acres was purchased by Gaines from Caleb Summers for $1,666.66. Then in November, 1813 Gaines purchased 200 acres from Thomas and Dinah Kennady for $1,810.30.

     From as early as c. 1795, Archibald Reid ran a tavern on this site, fronting what would become the Covington & Lexington Turnpike, and was active in the early formation of Boone County in 1798. James Mathews, the brother of Elizabeth Mathews Gaines, worked with Reid. The Abner Gaines family apparently resided at this location since their arrival in 1804.  Abner Gaines was issued a tavern license in 1808, which indicates that a house was already standing by this time. The license allowed him "to keep a tavern at his dwelling house in the county of Boone...and provide in his said tavern good wholesome cleanly lodging and diet for travellers and stableage provender or paustrage for horses.." The license also stated that Abner "shall not suffer or permit any unlawful gaming in his house nor suffer any person to tipple or drink more than is necessary or at any time suffer any disorderly or scandalous behavior to be practiced in his house." The license was renewed every year or two until December 1818. In 1813, Abner purchased the land "where he now resides", leading to speculation that this grand home may have not been constructed until c. 1814. The community around the house became known as Gaines Cross Roads, and a United States Post Office was established here in 1815 with Abner’s son, James M. Gaines, as the Postmaster. The town of Walton, just south of Gaines, was not officially established until 1840.

            In 1818, Abner Gaines began the first stagecoach line between Cincinnati and Lexington, which made one round trip weekly. The trip took over 24 hours, and the Gaines House may have been a lengthy meal and rest stop. Although it is unknown how long the stagecoach line ran, the house continued to be utilized as a tavern and inn for many years. It was sold out of the Gaines family to Dr. Elijah Smith Clarkson in 1844, and a c. 1897 newspaper article discussed the possibility of the house being razed. More research is necessary to discover why it was spared, but the house was used as an inn, a barn, apartments, and finally to house the antique collections of John Gault, who bought it in 1937. The outbuildings were apparently constructed by the Gault's to help house the growing business, including a fine collection of vintage cars.


      The two story Abner Gaines House is built in the Federal style of architecture, and constructed of brick, likely made and fired on site. The house had stucco applied to the exterior in the early part of the twentieth century, but traces of Flemish bond brickwork are visible on the front of the house with a common pattern used on the sides and rear. The central passage house features seven openings across the front with six over six double hung windows and an elaborate entrance with a three part elliptical fanlight and sidelights.
     The small front porch is likely not original, but is of early to mid-nineteenth century construction. A third floor dormer window was also added at a later date. There is dentil detailing along the narrow cornice of the house, and all the windows and the front entrance feature jack arches.

      Although it remains speculative, it is likely that the construction of the Abner Gaines House was a combined effort of local craftsmen, and skilled African American slaves. Most, if not all, the materials were probably obtained locally, perhaps from the Gaines property itself. The interior of the house has an abundance of delicately carved Federal woodwork and mantles. This may well be the most elaborately detailed historic home still standing in Boone County today.

     The original house was two rooms over two rooms with an attic, using mortise and tenon, pegged framing. A later ell, or addition, was apparently constructed by the mid-nineteenth century adding much more space to the house. Original decorative details were copied for use in the ell, although some in more simple patterns. A second floor side gallery originally ran the length of the addition, although a rear portion was subsequently enclosed to be a small room. This is part of a frame section that was added to the ell. The clapboard covering a portion of the exterior of this addition was salvaged from an 1888 house demolished to make way for Erpenbeck Elementary School in Union.

     The outbuildings in the rear of the house were likely constructed in the mid-twentieth century. The floors in the guest house were from the c. 1835 Smith House, which was formerly located on Idlewild Road, and demolished several years ago by the airport. Mr. Gjerde constructed the built-in furniture on the second floor of the guest house. The original cottage was located next to the existing guest house.

 Gaines Tavern History Center Photo Tour         

Entrance Hall

     Like many early nineteenth century houses, the Gaines House has a grand entrance hall that features an initial look at the architectural treasures to come. An entrance detail to note is the handsome six panel front door with its detailed fanlights, three pane sidelights, fluted trim and original door hardware. The parlor, or chamber, doors to your right and left, also have elliptical fanlights and carved detailing.



    It is difficult to miss the commanding three story staircase that features hand carved details along the side, a cherry balustrade, tiger maple spindles on the lower portion (likely a later replacement), original cherry spindles and newels on the upper portion, and wide low steps. From a structural point of view, the deep door openings and wide window sills (visible in the two parlors) are indications that the house is of timber frame, or pegged, construction, which will be more readily apparent in the attic. You can also begin to get an idea of the importance of symmetry, or balanced proportions, in the Federal style of architecture. Houses of this period, especially in the South, were also designed for maximum air circulation, although the original air flow patterns have frequently been altered by later building additions and changes.


From the Front Entrance, please turn right into the North Parlor

     An original feature, the magnificent fireplace and mantle on the north wall, draws your attention when entering the north parlor. The mantle features intricate sunburst carving with a fan motif and chevron detailing (present as a decorative detail throughout the house). Small closets on either side of the mantle are carved to blend in, and open for storage. To the right of the fireplace is a large round arch cupboard that initially appears to blend in with the detailing of the mantle. The placement of this cupboard, however, violates the symmetrical appearance of this wall. The details are quite different than the others found in the house, and it was likely added later. It’s possible that former long-time owner John Gault, an antique dealer, found the cupboard in his travels and had it installed here.

     At some point in the life of the Gaines House, two of the three windows had been filled in. When the Gjerdes bought the house, water damage and deteriorating joists had caused the wall to fail and the lintels at the tops of windows were collapsing into the room. Work on the wall began by slowly jacking up the house and providing steel reinforcement. Pieces of original window trim and sills from the original center rear window that remained open were preserved. The wall was originally four bricks thick and, as it is rebuilt, those dimensions will remain the same. Brick from the interior of the wall was used to rebuild and exterior "veneer" and a portion of the remaining interior space will be used for necessary mechanical (primarily plumbing and HVAC) lines as well as insulation. The rear windows were  rebuilt by a local craftsman to match both the symmetry, size and detail of the front windows.   
     The flooring and baseboards in this room have been replaced, perhaps after a portion of the house was used as a barn in the early twentieth century.

From the North Parlor, please go upstairs to the second floor

     As you climb the stairs to the second floor, note how easily the stairs flow, making a long climb seem much less difficult. As the staircase turns, look up to the third floor and the original cherry newel posts as they decoratively drop just below the stairs. The center hall on the second level could easily be used as a small room.


 From the top of the stairs, please turn left   

     The two primary rooms in this grouping show a distinct change in overall room scale, but the details remain the same. The similar (although not matching) carved corner fireplace mantles are wonderful miniature versions of those found in the first floor parlors. The wall curves slightly to meet the fireplace, and features a small section of carved baseboard. The second floor of a nineteenth century house was often considerably simpler in detail and dimension, as it was considered private space as opposed to the more public spaces below. The windows in the northwest room, over the north parlor below, were not covered but had been seriously compromised by the failing wall.

     Portions of the woodwork in this room have been stripped of paint to reveal original detailing. The plaster walls in this room also show ghosts of former wallpaper, which was likely originally used in many of the rooms.

     The smaller room in this suite is now a bathroom, complete with cabinetry and a galvanized zinc tub.



From this suite of rooms, please proceed upstairs to the third floor

     Continuing upstairs, the third floor of the house is a traditional attic space. The originally open area at the top of the steps was filled in at a much later date, but there is still enough space for a small room in the center hall. The window in the center is part of an attic dormer not original to the house.

     The large rooms on either side of the hall offer good views of the mortise and tenon, pegged framework of the house.  We believe the wood used for framing is chestnut, although that is not certain. These may have been rooms for rent at one time.


Please go back downstairs to the second floor and turn right

      This room features another beautifully carved mantle with sunburst and fan details, cupboards on either side, simple window frame detailing, and wide plain baseboards. This fireplace demonstrates the late nineteenth century practice of closing in large openings for coal wood burning stoves. The floor was apparently originally unfinished, but at some point, it was painted around the edges of existing area rugs. This room faces east.


Please go down the steep steps CAREFULLY at the rear of the room

      Steep steps lead down to the ell, or later addition, to the house. Although an exact construction date has not been determined, this portion of the house was likely added after the middle of the nineteenth century. The fireplace mantle in this room is much plainer, although its simple carved detail may have been copied from the earlier designs. Also the baseboards are narrower, there are nine over six windows, and the door frames and window sills are less deep (indicating a different type of framing). Also featured is a built in corner cupboard with the same eight panel doors as the cupboards on either side of the fireplace in the front room.



From the interior room, continue back to the next room

     This interior room features yet another carved mantle and the later addition of a closet.

     Off the rear room is a small room created when the originally full length gallery was enclosed. Here there are smaller windows (with old glass), and what may be an original (to the time of the gallery) closet. When the Gjerdes removed the linoleum that covered the floor they found news-papers dated the week before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and handwritten Burpee Flower Seed packs dated 1919.                   

Returning to the large rear room, go downstairs to the first floor


     At  the foot of the staircase, note the later addition of a bookcase, and an original fireplace mantle that features the same detail as the mantle upstairs. This is the only mantle in the house that was never painted. For an unknown reason, the window at the bottom of the stairs is unusually deep (for the ell), and features the now familiar carved chevron detailing. 


      Continue left to the rear door into the "dressing room" which in earlier days was probably mud room.

This room has an exterior door to the brick back porch.  



Go to the next room through the double doors


  This room has several features that are different from other rooms in the house. Its elaborate mantle is larger than the chimney face, and features an exuberant collection of decorative details (many actually from a period earlier than the house’s construction), leading to speculation that it may have been added later (another find by Mr. Gault perhaps?).
     The windows and doors exhibit the same carved detail as that are found in the original part and one rear door shows the only signs of graining, a popular nineteenth century decorative detail, found in the house. This room also has an exterior door on the south wall, with a simple fanlight, and a smaller version of the entrance porch on the front of the house. There was a limestone step outside the door that showed considerable wear (no longer visible). All these factors indicate that this door may have originally led to a public room.

Go up the steep steps CAREFULLY to the south parlor


     This original room features what is perhaps the best example of a Federal style "wall" in the entire house. The elaborately carved mantle surrounds a large fireplace, complete with its original pot crane. On either side, floor to ceiling cupboards offer simple but elegant carved doors and extensive storage space. The floor in this room was raised approximately one foot, completed slowly over a period of time.


Exit to the entrance hall and out the front door  

There is a basement under the rooms of the "ell". There are some original wood shakes from the roof stored there, as well as shutters for the windows. The shutters may be re-installed on the house after outside renovation is complete. Also in the basement are shelves built to store food.