acts to save Preston Plantation
BEDFORD, Ky. A grassroots effort is under way in Trimble County
to save the historic Preston Plantation from development.
by Don Ward
Venard of Milton, Ky., explains
the historical significance of the
Preston Plantation to group members.
Eight people showed up at a Nov. 11 meeting organized
by Judge-Executive Ray Clem to discuss strategies for eventually buying
the property in hopes of some day turning the 455-acre site that overlooks
the Ohio River into a living museum and tourist attraction.
This historic site is sitting in Trimble County, but its
a national treasure, Clem said. Were at a starting
point. I dont know if we can get that property, but shame on us
if we dont try.
Clem said he hoped a volunteer group could be formed to take on the
project and start by researching sources of possible funding.
Paul Venard, a sculptor who lives on 180 acres adjacent to the property,
presented photos and history of the plantation, which once employed
dozens of workers and was later used in the Underground Railroad during
the Civil War.
The plantation is steeped in history, most notably its use by Delia
Webster in the mid-1800s to sneak slaves across the Ohio River to freedom.
It is also located adjacent to the home once inhabited by the late artist
and author Harlan Hubbard.
Venard and his wife, Pam, have been working with others to develop an
auto tour of historic places involved in the Underground Railroad between
Louisville and Maysville, Ky. They say a restored Preston Plantation
would be a jewel for visitors along such a route.
In its heydey, the plantation produced tobacco, produce, fruits and
vegetables and shipped its goods from four landings on the Ohio River.
The farm, located in what was then Virginia territory, originally consisted
of 7,947 acres in 1786 when it was given to John Howard as reward for
his services in the French and Indian War. Howard was an aide de camp
to Gen. George Washington during the war.
Howard had married a Preston and their daughter, Margaret, eventually
inherited it. Margaret married Robert Wickliffe, and their daughter,
Mary Howard Wickliffe, inherited the land. She married John Preston,
From there, the land passed through several hands: Jim Rogers, who bought
the farm in 1908, Gayle Rogers (Jims son) and John Wehner.
Current owner Darrell Wheeler of Bedford bought the 754-acre property
in 1980. He has farmed it ever since and is asking $1.48 million for
a 455-acre tract on which the circa 1790 Preston house sits. There are
also several other structures still standing, including a jail, ice
house, school, church and three slave quarters.
The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Nevertheless, Wheeler said he has had several developers interested
in the property for a residential community. Nugent Sand Co. at one
time also considered buying and excavating it.
Id like to see someone buy it and restore it as a farm like
it used to be, Wheeler said.
He's not alone. Historic preservationists and Underground Railroad scholars
say it would be a great asset for the county to make the property available
"It would be the best thing to ever happen to Trimble County,"
said Diane Perrin Coon, a post-graduate student at the University of
Louisville who has led a local effort to research and document the Underground
Railroad Heritage Trail through southern Indiana. The research is slated
to become part of an automobile tour of historic markers in both Kentucky
and Indiana and would include Webster's activities in Trimble County.
State archives officials and from local historical societies have supported
"To take a treasure that is right there in their midst and save
it for posterity would be absolutely marvelous," Coon said of the
Preston Plantation. "It's like Shakertown because of the uniqueness
of that plantation and the fact it is right across from Madison, with
all it has to offer."
Coon said the site is the best preserved plantation of that period in
northern Kentucky and, according to records, housed 66 slaves
the biggest known concentration in the area.
For Clem and his group, buying the property and then renovating it as
a tourism destination would require an all-out volunteer effort involving
applications for state and federal grants and possibly approaching private
sources for money. Clem has already discussed the project with officials
from the Underground Railroad Museum, now under construction in Cincinnati.
Hes also talked with officials from Frankfort, Ky., and Washington,
D.C. Local and state politicians also have been notified and have expressed
support, Clem said.
Other possibilities, Clem said, would be to float a county bond issue
or to raise just enough money to buy an option on the property until
more resources become available. Corporate and private foundations are
other possible sources.
Its not an impossible task, Clem said. Where theres
a will, theres a way, and I believe it can be saved.
Back to December 1999