The 13th annual Community Day for the Holt Home was on Saturday, September 25, 2021. The day began with a heavy rain, but by the time I reached the Holt Home in Hardinsburg at 9:00 a.m. there was only a drizzle. Because of the rain the programming for the open house was slightly delayed.
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 (TJAG) 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.
At 9:30 a.m. everyone was welcomed to the open house and invited go to the rear of the home where a platform had been constructed. A string quartet from Jubal’s Academy performed a few Civil War era songs and concluded with a poignant rendition of Ashokan Farewell. A two-act play written by Ed Ford, The Final Curtain, was presented then presented. The first act took place in the Holt home with two women discussing the effects of the Civil War in their area. The second act took place in the White House on April 15, 1865, the day when Abraham Lincoln later went to Ford’s Theatre where he was assassinated. On the set were General Ulysses S. Grant, Judge Joseph Holt, and President Abraham Lincoln. The actors portraying them were Col. Lance Turlington, Judge Kelly Easton, and Larry Elliott. Mr. Lincoln was excited that the war was essentially over since Robert E. Lee had surrendered to General Grant. They all related their feelings about the events leading up to the surrender and where the Union would go from there. President Lincoln reiterated how he wanted to mend the Union and not severely punish those who had rebelled. Mr. Lincoln quoted from his second inaugural speech given a month earlier, on March of 1865; “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” As the play closed the president said it was a time to celebrate and he was looking forward to that evening’s play at Ford’s Theater.
Following the theatrical presentation, the Holt Home was open for tours and the Breckenridge County High School Concert Band arrived to serenade everyone with music such as My Old Kentucky Home and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. A lot of restoration has been done on the Holt Home since last year’s open house. Some grant monies had been received to provide stunning Tiffany style chandeliers, new flooring, and replica oriental rugs. Most of the rooms on the first and second floors are completely renovated except for the fireplaces. Our tour guide, who is a student at Breckinridge County High School, told us that there was only one fireplace insert that was left intact in the home. The rest had been vandalized during the years the house had been left abandoned. Another bonus this year was being able to access the restored staircases on both the east and west wings of the house. Judge Holt’s mother, Eleanor, lived with him in the Holt House until she passed away in 1871. When she became too feeble to travel far, he built her a chapel across from the Holt House. That chapel fell into disrepair and is no longer there, but a chandelier from it was saved and is now hanging in a wing of the Holt Home.
At 11:00 a.m. the sun came out strong and the main program began on the front porch of the Holt Home. The ladies from the Berea Festival Dancers sang a beautiful rendition of America the Beautiful. The master of ceremonies for the program was Hardin County Circuit Court Judge Kelly M. Easton. Before the program began Judge Easton related that during last year’s Civil War baseball game one of the players, Jason Flood, a key member of the Community Day baseball game, fell ill and died following Saturday’s game. Jason is remembered as one who loved the game of baseball and worked hard to make sure Holt Field was prepared and ready for the event he so loved. This year’s game was cancelled due to the loss of one of the player’s parents. The team wanted to attend the funeral Saturday to support their teammate.
Judge Easton introduced Susan B. Dyer, President of the Friends of the Holt Home, Inc. Susan is the catalyst behind the preservation of the historic Holt Home. 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.
Also on the platform were Jon Rollins, the GRW architect for the Holt Home, Craig Potts, Executive Director, KY Heritage Council/State Preservation Office, Senator Steve Meredith, and Representative Josh Calloway. They each gave short speeches commending the progress of the renovations. The front parlor on the west wing was dedicated as the Centre College room by Dr. Bryce Meredith, an alumnus of Centre College. Judge Joseph Holt attended Centre College before studying law and setting up his practice in Elizabethtown. Col. Lance Turlington, the Staff Judge Advocate, Recruiting Command at Fort Knox, dedicated the front parlor in the east wing as the JAG Room.
He assured everyone that in the future that room will be utilized for JAG professional development classes and other activities.
The keynote speaker was Jim Weise, Lieutenant Colonel, retired, of the Army JAG Corps. Col. Weise related that there had been other JAG’s before Judge Holt, but Holt is credited for the formation of the JAG Corps. He went to congress and petitioned the president to set up lawyers as field commanders. A memorable quote by Abraham Lincoln is: “The better part of one’s life consists of his friendships.” It was well known that Abraham Lincoln valued his friendship with Judge Joseph Holt and trusted his wisdom. Col. Wiese also encouraged each of us to be better students of history and he quoted from a speech historian David McCullough made, “History cultivates every faculty of the mind, enlarges sympathies, liberalizes thought and feeling, furnishes and improves the highest standard of character.” If we are students of history, it will draw us to historical sites such as the Holt House and we will strive to be sure that these sites are restored and maintained.
Following the main program everyone moved to the Holt family cemetery adjacent to the home for a wreath laying ceremony. Major Dave Trainor, Brigade Judge for Third Brigade, US Army Recruiting Command, presided over the ceremony and it concluded with a bugler from the Kentucky Home Guard Band playing Taps.
The rest of the afternoon the Holt Home was open for tours. Also, the Kentucky Home Guard Band played period music, the Berea Festival Dancers performed, and the Guilderoy Byrne Band provided a concert of traditional and contemporary music. Monday’s Menu food truck was on site selling tasty cheeseburgers, chicken strips, hot dogs, French fries, tater barrels, and a selection of soft drinks and water. It was a blessing to have the food truck set up out there since there were no food establishments anywhere nearby to satisfy our hunger.
The 14th Kentucky Light Artillery fired their cannon several times during the day and the day’s festivities ended when they fired the cannon twice. Once again, I was thrilled to be able to tour the home on Saturday and enjoy 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 look forward to next September to the 14th annual community day at the Holt Home. It will be exciting to see the unveiling of new renovations.