This past Wednesday –February 12th, 2014– marked the 205th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. To commemorate the birth of the sixteenth President, who was born here in The Bluegrass State, one could travel to Hodgenville, Kentucky. There, only an hour’s drive from Louisville, one can visit The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park.
Louisvillians, however, can still follow in Lincoln’s footsteps without leaving the city. Instead of a trip to the national park in Hodgenville, one might consider a tour of The Farmington Historic Plantation, which sits just north of the Bardstown Road / Interstate 264 junction. Farmington, in fact, was the home of Lincoln’s closest friend, Joshua Speed, and in 1841 Lincoln spent three weeks on the plantation, visiting with his friend and recovering from a bout of depression.
Though Joshua Speed eventually owned and operated the plantation, the estate was actually established by his parents, John and Lucy Speed. Construction on the plantation’s Federal-style, brick home was completed in 1816, two years after Joshua’s birth. While, ultimately, Joshua would assume management of the estate when his father died in 1840, he first pursued a career in retail, relocating to Springfield, Illinois in 1835 to open a merchant’s shop. It was above that shop that Abraham Lincoln, who had moved to Illinois in 1830, rented a room from Joshua. From that connection, the two men became close companions, forming a friendship that would thrive up until Lincoln’s untimely death in 1865.
Farmington is linked to Lincoln in another way, too. In December of 1864, President Lincoln appointed James Speed, Joshua’s older brother who was also raised at Farmington, to the post of United States Attorney General, making him the 27th man to hold the position. James held the office for over a year and a half, but resigned after growing frustrated with the Johnson administration that followed Lincoln’s assassination.
Farmington’s prestigious connections, no less, do not end there. William Speed, Joshua’s younger brother, was also born and raised on the plantation. His son, James Breckenridge Speed, would go on to become one of Louisville’s most recognized citizens. Though James Breckenridge Speed (better known today as J. B. Speed) was actually born in Missouri, he also eventually settled in Louisville and had great success as a businessman. His legacy is still seen throughout The Derby City whether it be the University of Louisville’s J. B. Speed School of Engineering, The Speed Art Museum, or The J. B. Speed House, the grand Victorian home on Ormsby Avenue in which he resided.
Nevertheless, as history unfolds, Farmington’s most enduring legacy may not be its many famous residents or guests, but, rather, the influence it may have had on its most famous visitor, Lincoln. As noted on the historical marker by Farmington’s entrance, the reality of slavery confronted Lincoln when he visited the Speed’s plantation, which, at one time, had up to sixty-four slaves. As Lincoln traveled back to Illinois following his visit to Louisville, the true nature of slavery was even further illustrated for the future President. With regard to the shackled slaves he witnessed while returning home via steamboat, Lincoln remarked, “[The memory was a] continual torment to me.” Though impossible to know how much Lincoln’s experience at the Speed home influenced his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, the possible effect had by those observations of slavery is certainly a key component to appreciating Farmington’s significance.
For more information about The Farmington Historic Plantation, one can visit the Farmington page at www.historichomes.org. The historic site is located at 3033 Bardstown Road, adjacent to the campus of Sullivan University and across from The Gardiner Lane Shopping Center. While Farmington’s grounds are open seven days a week, house tours are only provided Tuesday through Friday. For more information on tour schedules, visitors are encouraged to call (502) 452-9920.
• For Examiner.com, I’m Guy Montgomery.
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