The History of the Crow-Barbee House

History of Old Crow Inn

The “CROW-BARBEE House” is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places as ‘The Oldest Stone Structure West of the Allegheny Mountains’.  Today it is called “Old Crow Inn” in honor of John Crow, who settled here in 1775.  The estate was called “Oakland” by the Barbee family who lived in the house from approximately 1784 to 1874.

The history of the Crow-Barbee House must be approached from both the human and the architectural characteristics of the structure.  From the human aspect, records indicate that only six families have actually resided at Old Crow since the property was claimed in 1775 by John Crow.  Crow came to Kentucky in 1774 with John Harrod and a band of Pioneers.  Kentucky at that time was “western Virginia”, the ‘West’, of the American Colonies.  Each of the Pioneers was given a land grant based on their service in the militias of the Revolutionary War.  Crow, as a sergeant in the Virginia militia, was allotted 768 acres.  Each of the Pioneers had to claim their property by establishing a structure, planting crops or in some way demonstrating their intention to reside on that claim.

Historians believe that Crow built a log cabin on the property in 1776 when he planted his first corn crop to claim the property.  A land court record also states that he improved the property in 1777 when he built a 1 1/2 story stone cottage which is at the rear of what is now the main house.  The stone cottage, approximately 19 feet square has walls of 18” thick dry stacked stone.  After the main house was constructed, this stone structure was used as the main kitchen for the house. The stone was quarried on the property approximately one-half mile from the building itself.  Kentucky at that time was ‘virgin’ forest with huge black walnut, cherry, chestnut, and ash trees.  All of the beams in the stone cottage and in the center section of the house are 3” x 12” Cherry which are pegged together.  The rafters in the half-story attic are 4” x 5” Cherry pegged at the peak and at the knee walls with Walnut pegs.  The rafters have been marked with Roman numerals so as to properly align the mortise and tendon joints on the ground prior to pegging in place at the roof peak.

Crow sold the property to James Wright in 1781.  However, Wright was killed by Indians before he and his family could move in.  The culture of the time dictated that his wife could not claim full legal rights to the property.  The property evolved to his oldest male heir, who was not of age. Eventually, his heirs sold the property to Thomas Barbee in the late 1780’s.

Thomas Barbee, a landed statesman of that time, rose to the rank of General in the Kentucky Militia and became the first Post Master west of the Alleghenies.  All of the Barbee male family members fought, as John Crow did, in the War of revolution against England. All of these militia fighters received land grants in what was then ‘Western Virginia’ for their service based on their rank. Thomas was a Captain during the War and was granted over 1000 acres in western Virginia.

Thomas was born in Virginia around 1752, the eldest of 5 brothers.  When he was 17, he had an affair with a black slave that produced one daughter, Lydia.  When his step-mother discovered this, she threatened Thomas with a whipping from his father.  Thomas ran away from home and stayed with a distant cousin. Thomas joined the Continental Army as an officer.  He served during the war, as did his father and brothers.  After the war, along with the rest of his family, he moved to Danville.  Thomas and one of his younger brothers, Joshua, bought Crow-Wright property in the late 1780’s.  Thomas married twice, first to his distant cousin Lucy Slaughter. After her passing, he married again. However, he had no children with either of his wives. 

The death of Thomas introduced some interesting aspects of his life.  When he moved to Kentucky, he had his only daughter, Lydia brought to Danville.  She was still considered a slave. But she had married a Native American named Doram. They had several children. When Thomas died around 1797, he stipulated in his will that Lydia and all of her and grandchildren were to be considered ‘Free Persons’.  But he went one step further and stated that the children should all be educated.  This was at a time when women were not educated and it was generally considered a crime to educate blacks.

There is some disagreement as to who constructed the main Stone Manor House.  There is some evidence to indicate that Crow built the central portion in 1780 since the construction of the stone walls, Cherry beams and Walnut woodwork and doors is nearly identical to the craftsmanship in the stone cottage.  Certainly the stone facing of the stones laid in the central section is nearly identical to the stonework of the stone cottage.  The stone work of the two wings, attributed to Thomas and Joshua Barbee is much cleaner and more precise. In addition, all of the central portion of the house is pegged together whereas the two wings do not have the wooden pegs for the roof peaks or the knee walls. Moreover, the two wings have Chestnut beams as opposed to the Cherry beams of the central structure.

Thomas and his youngest brother, Col. Joshua Barbee, added the two wings onto the house as well as the 4 foot thick brick Doric columns and the triangle pediment Greek Portico.  Thomas started on the project in 1788 and the construction was finished in 1798 by Joshua after the death of Thomas in 1797.

Construction of the two wings, first the left and then the right, confirms the above historical view.  The stones for the two wings are cut and dressed in a much more sophisticated manner then those in the central portion.  The beams for the two wings are Chestnut, not Cherry.  Finally, the nails and other details indicate a difference in construction style and technique.

From the ‘Architectural’ aspect, Old Crow Inn is a 7 bay asymmetrical two story structure with the front door located in the fifth bay.  Walls of the structure are of 24” dry-stacked limestone, reaching from the underground foundation to the roof line 40 feet above.  The interior beams, floors, woodwork and doors are fashioned from cherry, walnut and ash cut down on the property.  One notes that ‘Western Virginia’ was a virgin forest wilderness in 1776.  Most of the rafters and floor beams throughout the house are 3” by 12” Cherry.  Most of the rafters and structural beams in the house are pegged together with mortise and tendons joints. All of the woodwork and doors are made from Black Walnut as is the windows.  The doors and windows are also pegged together.  Prior to 1800, nails of any kind were scarce in the wilderness.  Hence pegs were used or the nails were made on site.  The wood and lumber used in the building was cut and finished on site.  The planks used for sheeting the roof were “pit-sawed” which is evident from the sheeting used on the stone cottage roof.  Planks used for the interior windows, doors and floors were finished with hand held planes.  A close inspection shows the slight imperfection in the thickness of the boards.

The floors are White Ash. The floors are nailed to the 3” by 12” floor joists.  There is a stone fireplace in each room on the first and second floors as well as in two of the three basement cellars.  The center basement is of particular interest as the door leading to the cellar has a wooden box lock, that is, the box is made of wood while the interior workings of the lock are metal. This can be contrasted with the metal Box lock on the Travel room door which is massive.

The stone fireplaces have a roman arch with a keystone in the center of the stone-work to hold the arch in place. Two of the three cellars have fireplaces built with the roman arch.  The third basement cellar, which has no fireplace, was the cold storage cellar used to store dairy and vegetables. The temperature stays a steady 50-55 degrees all year long.  It is believed that the final configuration of the House was inspired by the architectural style of English Architect Inigo Jones.  Jones designed summer homes as well as public buildings during the 1640 time frame in England and was known as the ‘Architect to the Queen’.

This unique English Manor house built in a Greek revival style, has been most widely known throughout its 20th Century history as an inn and restaurant.  In 1899, the Adams family bought the house and grounds, with its farm acreage to be used for agricultural purposes.  But in 1934, upon the advice of friends, Miss Mary Adams opened the inn for meals and overnight accommodations.  For the next 40 years, Miss Mary, as she was known throughout the Bluegrass region, operated a restaurant in the inn.  She also hosted Weddings and Receptions, class graduation parties, teas, and other social events.  In addition she also provided some overnight accommodations to travelers.  The name “Old Crow Inn” was chosen by Miss Mary.  Her research, through correspondence with various Historians around the country as well as her interpretation of court documents, indicated that John Crow had much to do with the establishment of the House known as Old Crow.  She was in the process of committing all of this to paper at her death.

Today, because of the age and fragility of the House, it is no longer used as either a restaurant or for social events of any kind.  However, tours are provided with prior notice and the grounds, which have been transformed into more formal gardens, are open for receptions and other types of social events.   In addition, because of the 200 plus years of historical significance of the property, the house and grounds are once again open to the public for educational projects and study. The Crow-Barbee House has always been privately owned.  Only six families have actually lived in the house.  The six families have been the Crows, the Barbees (1785-1874), the McCartys (1874-1898), the Adams (1898-1992), the Moores (1992-1996), and now the Brousseaus (1996-Present).  Ignoring the differences in opinion concerning its early construction, the Crow-Barbee House is a historical treasure dating back over 200 years.