A Civil War Legacy

Researchers plan to write book
about Ky. Confederate Home

Pewee Valley Confederate cemetery
last remnant of home

By Ruth Wright
Contributing Writer

PEWEE VALLEY, Ky. (August 2002) – The Kentucky Confederate Cemetery, located at the end of Maple Lane in Pewee Valley, is the resting place of 313 southern veterans of the Civil War.
Small, weathered headstones lined in uniform military fashion mark the graves of the men buried there, all of whom spent their final days at the Kentucky Confederate Home.

A Civil War Legacy Cover

The home, which occupied a tract of land close to the cemetery off Hwy. 146, opened in 1902 as a state residence for indigent southern veterans of the Civil War. Although the home no longer exists, its historical significance is documented in records kept by the Kentucky Historical Society.
These records, which include admissions, pension applications and ledgers of cost, are the focus of a research project being conducted by Lexington, Ky., resident and Civil War enthusiast Sam Flora.
Flora, a member of the Kentucky division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, says he was inspired to research the home by a long-time friend, the late Frank Rankin, who often told him stories about visiting the home as a child. By sifting through the records stored on microfilm and interviewing people with knowledge of the home, Flora is compiling information for a book that he plans to co-author and publish with associate Steve Lynn.
According to Flora, the idea for a Confederate Home was conceived by native Kentuckian, Bennett H. Young. A businessman and former Confederate officer, Young noticed the need for a shelter for aging Civil War veterans who often suffered from war-related illnesses and were unable to provide for themselves.
Rallying support for a confederate home, Young formed a group that began to raise funds for the purchase of property for the home. After securing more than $16,000, the group proposed a bill to the state legislature asking for support of the project. The bill passed unanimously in both houses and a board of trustees was appointed to oversee the project.

Confederate Survivors

Confederate Survivors

The 15-member board, headed by Young, purchased the Villa Ridge Inn of Pewee Valley. The inn, which originally opened as a luxury summer resort for Louisville businessmen and their families, was an impressive three-story structure that boasted the majestic architecture of the period. But despite the beauty of the inn and its grounds, it failed to be a major attraction and was closed after a couple of seasons.
After being sold and operated unsuccessfully for a short time as a private high school, the building once again became available. Because of the unsuccessful ventures of the previous occupants, the Confederate Home committee was able to purchase the building for a fraction of its original construction price of $90,000. The committee began accepting applications, and after a few minor repairs, the Confederate Home opened its doors to the first occupant in November 1902.
Flora says that the requirements for occupancy of the home included that the applicant be an honorably discharged Confederate veteran, a resident of Kentucky for six months prior, of sound mind and free of addiction to alcohol. Applications came from across the state, and soon the home became a sanctuary for as many as 350 aging and disabled veterans at a time.
Because the home was state supported, additional funds were appropriated from time to time for improvements, including the addition of an infirmary that was built on the grounds close to the home. In addition to improvements made by the state, occasional grants by private individuals allowed for additions such as an entertainment hall and library.
As well as providing shelter, food and medical care, the home provided many activities for the inmates including religious services and entertainment. Most of the activities that occurred at the home and general information about its daily operation were documented in the Confederate Home Messenger, a monthly newsletter published by the home.

Confederate Home

Confederate Home

Jefferson County resident James R. Hicks acquired a complete set of the Messenger dating from 1907-11 and published it into a book, which he currently sells. In addition to the newsletters, Hicks has collected other memorabilia of the home, including post cards, souvenir dishes and pictures. He also has two gavels made of wood from the remains of the home before it was completely destroyed. Hicks says that he acquired many of the items from Civil War shows.
On March 25, 1920, a fire destroyed a large section of the home. Fortunately, no lives were lost due to the tragedy, but the main building, the laundry and one ward of the infirmary were ruined. What was left of the property was sufficient to house the remaining inmates, whose numbers had dwindled over the years.
Although the home housed more than 700 veterans through the course of its operation, by the middle of 1934 only five inmates remained. After 32 years of operation, the decision was made by the state to close the home in July 1934. The five remaining inmates were transferred to the Pewee Valley Sanatorium and eventually what was left of the home was razed.
A remnant of the home, a gate bearing its name, can be seen at the Confederate Cemetery, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nearby stands a monument inscribed, “In Memory of Our Confederate Dead,” which was erected at the site in 1904 in honor of those laid to rest there.
Sam Flora continues to collect information about the home and is interested in speaking to anyone who may have knowledge about the home or its residents.

• Anyone with information may contact Flora at (859) 299-7679. To purchase a copy of Hicks’ book, “Confederate Messenger,” call him at (502) 897-5845.

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