By Trish Turner
Despite COVID-19 restrictions, the annual Holt Home Community Day on Saturday, September 26 was well attended. It was a blustery day, with the sun occasionally peeking out, but the 70-degree weather was perfect for the mainly outdoors event. On the side of caution, everyone was required to wear face masks and social distancing was practiced.
The Holt home is located off Hwy 144 in Hardinsburg near the community of Addison. It is surrounded by farmlands and is a few hundred yards away from the Ohio River. The three-story brick structure was built in 1850 for Judge Joseph Holt. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln appointed Judge Holt to be the first Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the United States Army. Holt held this position until 1875, and was the chief prosecutor in the trial of the accused conspirators involved in President Lincoln's assassination.
Although the Holt home was listed on the National Historic Register in 1976, it was neglected and had begun to deteriorate. In 1997, Susan B. Dyer stopped to admire the home while on a Sunday afternoon drive with her husband. Susan became a relentless advocate for the restoration of the Holt home. In 2008, due to Susan's untiring efforts, and those whom she recruited to the cause, the Holt house and 19.3 acres were purchased by the Breckenridge fiscal court, through a Kentucky Heritage Council grant funded by the Kentucky Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. Susan has continued her drive to make the public more aware of the Holt home and its need for renovation, and is the president of Friends of the Holt Home, Inc.
Restoration of the historic home has been in progress since 2011. This year Friends of the Holt Home, Inc. gained an invaluable volunteer. Ray Stojak, who did restoration work in Chicago for 35 years and now lives in Breckenridge County, painstakingly restored the staircase and some of the interior rooms. The home was open for tours and visitors were able to see the renovated rooms and staircase. The banister was restored to its glorious beauty and guests were ushered up the staircase by student tour guides to view the renovated rooms on the second floor. As you looked out the wavy window glass into the fields across the street one could imagine how the Holt family and their guests might have felt as they enjoyed that view many years ago.
The open house celebration on Saturday included music of the period by singers Alison Mattingly and Paul Joseph O'Donoghue, and also the Kentucky Home Guard Band. Civil War reenactors were on the grounds, including members of the 14th Kentucky Light Artillery, who fired their cannon several times during the day. Just before the close of the day's activities a Civil War-era themed baseball game was held. The ball players wore period costumes and played according to the rules of that era, which included fielding the ball without using gloves. A short play was performed called "You Can't Go Home Again." It featured Larry Elliott portraying Abraham Lincoln, Hardin Circuit Judge Kelly Mark Easton as Judge Holt, and COL Lance Turlington, Judge Advocate of the Recruiting Command at Ft. Knox as Union General George Meade.
Judge Kelly Easton was the master of ceremonies for the main program. Speakers included Susan B. Dyer, President of Friends of the Holt Home, Inc., Charlie Corbett, Director of Friends of the Holt Home, Inc. (who pointed out a restored lawn statue in the front yard that had belonged to Judge Holt—it was restored under the guidance of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC), John Rollins, GRW Architect for the Holt Home, Kentucky State Senator Steve Meredith (who awarded the honor of Kentucky Colonel to Ray Stojak), Craig Potts, Executive Director of the Kentucky Heritage Council, and COL Lance Turlington from Ft. Knox. The keynote speaker was Dr. John Roush, the 20th president of Centre College, which is located in Danville, Kentucky. Dr. Roush talked about the confidence that President Lincoln had in Judge Holt when naming him to be the first JAG of the U.S. Army at a time when our country was divided. He then pointed out some of Lincoln's most important leadership qualities, and recounted that Mr. Lincoln never acted out of vengeance, but with humility and compassion.
Following the speaking program COL Dunlap led a procession out to Judge Holt's gravesite nearby for a wreath-laying ceremony. Three JAG officers, COL Jerry Dunlap of V Corps, LTC Nathan Bankson, Staff Judge Advocate for Cadet Command at Ft. Knox, and LTC Rich Gorini, SIA, 1st Theater Support Command all looked sharp in their dress uniforms and they solemnly placed the wreath at the gravesite. The ceremony was concluded with a solitary trumpeter playing Taps.
I have driven by the Holt house several times in the past four years since I moved to Kentucky. I was in awe of its beauty in the midst of the farmlands and have yearned to see the renovations inside. On Saturday I was thrilled to be able to tour the home and soak in the uniqueness of the festivities. I was transported back in time on one hand, and on the other hand, I felt like I was observing a living tribute to history. This area owes the highest accolades to the Friends of the Holt Home, Inc. for this wonderful preservation, and grand celebration. I can't wait to see what renovations they will unveil at the Holt Home next September!