Marker 185: "Morgan Row"

Historical Marker #185 tells the story of early businesses and architecture in downtown Harrodsburg.

Morgan Row extends throughout an entire block in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. It is the oldest row house built west the Allegheny Mountains. Squire Joseph Morgan acquired multiple lots to build this structure in the early nineteenth century. A row house is a type of town house that is a uniform structure with multiple levels, with each individual unit sharing a common wall between them. Morgan Row consists of four brick units that span the block across the street from the Mercer County Courthouse. As Harrodsburg developed, the building played a pivotal role in the town’s bustling business and social scene through the early nineteenth century. The architectural uniqueness of this structure encouraged its flexible use as the home for several different businesses in its earlier days, including a gambling house, an inn, a public tavern, and a stagecoach station.

A contract available at the Mercer County Circuit Clerk’s Office suggests that Morgan intended for the first portion of the house to be completed in 1816. Although the exact date of completion for the row house is unknown, it is estimated that all units were finished by the 1830s. The architecture for row houses originated in Dutch and Belgian society throughout the sixteenth century. Morgan Row is designed in the Federal architectural style and is based on the English traditional plan—it features Flemish bond brickwork. From the American Revolution until around 1820, this was a popular style in growing urban areas.
Unique features of the internal structure include the connection of individual units through passageways and a large bar located at the center. That bar remains in place. The original woodwork of the building’s interior is attributed to Matthew P. Lowery, a craftsman who settled in Mercer County in the early nineteenth century. Lowery is remembered for his specialized craftsmanship of artistic mantels, presses, cupboards, and other styles of interior trim.

Joseph Morgan was an early nineteenth century businessman and developer in the Mercer County area. He bought the plots of land for the row house for a sum of $1,000 from James Slaughter. Morgan used the profits he made from a warehouse located in Warwick, Kentucky, to build the row house, as well as his personal residence, Round Hill. Morgan’s warehouse profited from storing products such as tobacco, corn, and bacon before they were transported down the Kentucky River.

Less than a decade after Morgan acquired the land and began building the structure, he sold the property to John G. Chiles, the husband of his daughter Elizabeth, between 1823 and 1824. Chiles Street, which extends past the block of where the row house is located, is named after Chiles. His success in developing the row house as part of Harrodsburg’s commercial center overlapped with the economic, political, and social life for residents of the town and surrounding areas. During Chiles’ ownership of the row house, it served as a connection for early stagecoach travel and for US mail stagecoach routes. Chiles obtained stage contracts connecting Morgan Row to mail routes that extended throughout Kentucky. At one point, it contained what many considered to be Harrodsburg’s ‘finest hostelry.’ In 1845, Chiles sold the row house and moved to Lexington to manage the famous Phoenix Hotel. After the sale, the row house ceased to serve as a public meeting center and was transferred to private ownership.

Although the Mercer County Courthouse has been rebuilt twice over the past two centuries due to fire, Morgan Row remains oriented in a position facing the present-day courthouse. Despite its private ownership and use as a rental property for an extended period, this row house maintained much of its architectural and structural integrity over the past two hundred years. After purchasing a portion of the structure in 1964, the Harrodsburg Historical Society began working toward restoration of the site. Morgan Row has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. The northern portion of Morgan Row owned by the Harrodsburg Historical Society is open to the public and serves as the primary headquarters for the Harrodsburg Historical Society and the Mercer County Public Library. The southern portion of the row house is under private ownership.