Growing Up at Blackacre

Sam Lord and John Smith’s Memories

Friends remember Emilie Smith as “elegant,” like this table setting she arranged.

Looking back on his childhood days at Blackacre, Sam Lord muses, “Heaven is not too strong a word to describe this place.”

Sam is the grandson of Judge Macauley (“the Judge”) and Emilie Smith, the couple who eventually donated their 170 acre homestead to the state of Kentucky. Sam grew up in Louisville, close enough to his grandparents that he was able to spend a lot of time with them at Blackacre. His memories are strong: “It was such a beautiful place,” he remembers, “this land, this cool old house.”

Emilie, cooking for her grandchildren in their kitchen. From left to right: Sam Lord, Nicholas Smith, Macauley Lord (Sam’s older brother), and Emily Smith (now baker), along with their two beagles, Bruce and Bullit. (click to enlarge)

Sam knows that he was lucky to have such a home-away-from-home growing up. “It was such a rich and spoiled existence out there,” he recalls. He speaks fondly of Emma, the Smiths’ helper and frequent cook, with her individually-wrapped brownies, and Clifton Clay—a relative of Cassius Clay (also known as Muhammad Ali)—the Smiths’ all-around aid of 60 years. He remembers the Smiths’ many musical guests, too, who would stay in the stone cottage—including George Mester, director of the Louisville Orchestra, and Mischa Schneider of the Budapest Quartet—and the other family friends who regularly frequented Blackacre’s farmhouse. What Sam loved the most about Blackacre, though, was the freedom he had as a child to explore—a freedom unusual today.

“I really did appreciate it then, and I appreciate it this day, I just crave it… the freedom to just wander around… It’s such a tragedy that children today don’t really feel free to just explore.”

Sam’s cousin, Nicholas Smith (click to enlarge)

“But boy,” he adds, “out at the farm, we had 168 acres to explore, and it was plenty.” John Smith, the son of McCauley and Emmy, lived at Blackacre off and on from 1950 and served on the Blackacre board for many years. He now lives on a small farm in Oregon with his wife Catherine. Here are John’s memories-
“When my family moved to Blackacre in 1950, the land was in poor shape. Much of the rich topsoil had been eroded from over-use and over-grazing. Deep gullies scarred the slopes that had been taken over by buck-berries and spindly cedar trees. And the fences? I was often awakened at dawn by my father with these memorable words: ‘John, the cows are out again, pull on your boots!’” Fortunately, they did have help. Mr. Jones, as Emmy called him, a Lincolnesque neighbor, hard worker and expert fence, began to rebuild the fences.

Judge Macauley Smith mowing his lawn

John recalls, “My father’s vision of Blackacre was inspired by the writings of Louis Bromfield of Ohio, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and an early environmentalist. Bromfield’s book, Malabar Farm was read to us in the evenings during World War II when our family was living on the East Coast while my served in the military. After returning to Kentucky and purchasing the farm, my father put Bromfield’s ideas about restoring worn-out land to work, and slowly Blackacre’s fields were returned to their original richness.”

John continues, “My bedroom was at the back of the house, on the second floor, directly over the kitchen – just where I wanted it to be. The kitchen, with its large pioneer-style fireplace, was the heart of the fine old house. There was a stove, sink, refrigerator, open cupboards for dishes and glasses, and next to the fire was a comfortable day bed for either dogs or humans, whomever got to it first. My father kept the fire stoked with split logs of oak, hickory, maple and cedar, and my mother dished up endless, remarkable meals. We would eat, then read and talk until the fire became glowing embers. Finally, we would head up to bed. As my nephew Sam Lord said, it was close to heaven.”

Family Photos by: John Smith