Rural land has all but disappeared in Jefferson County– and with it, our only ties to the history of Kentucky’s early settlement. The Blackacre State Nature Preserve and Historic Homestead exists to preserve the precious traces of our past that have been all but erased in Louisville’s expansion into and development of its rural lands. Blackacre’s boundaries make up nearly half of the 600-acre Tyler Settlement, a rural historic district that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 1986. Remarkably, the pattern of fields, woods, and streams at Blackacre remains much the same as it was 200 years ago.
Learn more about Blackacre’s history: read about The Tyler Settlement, The Tyler Homestead, the Families of Blackacre, and The Smiths, the visionary founders of Blackacre Nature Preserve and the Blackacre Conservancy.
“OUR WONDERFUL LOG BARN”
Reflections of Joellen Tyler Johnston
“I have often stood in the barn at Blackacre and been transfixed with the thought of the many things that barn has witnessed over the past two hundred years. It was built in the 1790s by Moses Tyler, with the help of family and neighbors. They used yellow poplar, cutting the tall old trees down in winter when there was little sap in the trunks. The felled trees were then stripped of their limbs and hauled to the barn site where they were shaped into squared logs using an adz and broad ax. After trimming the ends of the logs so they would fit together the men hoisted them into place to create a double-crib barn characteristic of the style brought to this area by early settlers from the Virginia region of Appalachia. And all this they accomplished using only their own strength and that of their horses.
“I have admired those massive logs forming pens for animals and lofts for grain but one question I often asked myself is – why did they decide on a two-crib barn? Could this barn have been for both Moses and his brother William to use? William’s farm was directly south, just across today’s Taylorsville Road. The brothers were close not only in the proximity of their farms but also in their feelings for one another. Their friendship and mutual respect can been seen in original deeds and felt even across the many years. I climbed the ladder to the loft, which has a sweet smell of hay. Barn swallows were flying about and nesting in the rafters. When I shut my eyes I could almost hear the sounds of wagon wheels and horses hooves. I thought of the many hours men have spent working in that barn, caring for the sheltered livestock and tossing hay into the lofts. (According to the Agricultural Census in 1850, Presley Tyler, who owned the farm after his father Moses died, had 15 tons of hay.) I thought about the Kroeger family milking their herd of dairy cows and then taking the large cans of milk to the train at Tucker Station. There were echoes also of the Wheeler family who lived and worked on the farm in the early 20th century, continuing those days when older children provided much farm labor. And I thought of the many school children coming in the last 25 years to stand in the barn and learn about the self-sufficiency required of early farm families.
“In 1983 the barn underwent extensive restoration and at that time, the Courier-Journal described the barn as ‘…. The oldest continuously used barn in Jefferson County.’ It is all that, and much, much more.”
THE FAMILIES AT BLACKACRE
The Tyler Family: Blackacre’s first permanent settlers
Moses Tyler was nearly 82 years old when he deeded his homestead, property, farm, animals, and equipment to his son, Presley, in return for food, lodging, care, and “a suitable horse and decent saddle and bridle.”
Ten years later, in 1844, Presley built the two-story brick house now known as the Presley Tyler 1844 Farmhouse. The house was situated on a portion of old Mann’s Lick Road that led to a prominent salt works in southern Jefferson County. By 1879 a new road, called Tucker Station in reference to a nearby railroad stop, replaced the old road as a public right-of-way.
Moses Tyler’s farm was one portion of an original land grant made out to his father, Edward Tyler, by virtue of a treasury warrant Edward had purchased in 1782. The elder Tyler was a merchant who lived and worked in Louisville while two of his older sons and a nephew began developing his land on Chenoweth Run. In about 1788 Edward and his wife Ann sold most of their holdings in Louisville and moved with their youngest son, Edward Tyler III, to the Chenoweth Run property. The farm they established lay just south of Moses Tyler’s farm and today’s Blackacre Nature Preserve.
Presley Tyler died in 1879 and two years later his farm was purchased by Joseph Sweeney. In 1885 Sweeney sold to John C. Kroeger whose son established a dairy operation at the farm and nurtured fruit orchards near the house. After milking his cows he would rush with the milk to nearby Tucker Station and put them on the train to Louisville. He and his wife raised several children on this farm.
After Kroeger’s death in 1902, local confectionery owner, T. L. Solger, bought the property for use as a summer home. He sold in 1910 to Joseph T. Wheeler who re-established a farming operation that lasted until 1939. In that year William and Elsie Woodward bought the property and was used once again as a summer and guest residence. Elsie took great interest in the old farmhouse and had both plumbing and electricity installed. The Woodward’s called their new residence Land O’Skye, but when friends Judge Macauley and Emilie Smith purchased it in 1950 the Judge renamed it Blackacre.
The final chapter of Blackacre’s history as a homestead is covered under
The Smiths Tab
THE SMITHS: VISIONARIES FOR BLACKACRE’S FUTURE
As the land became more beautiful, we felt ourselves stewards, not owners of this property.
-Emilie Strong Smith
Judge Macauley and Emilie Strong Smith lived on the property they called Blackacre starting in 1950. Judge Smith, who delighted in words, named the farm Blackacre, a legal term distinguishing one piece of property from another (called a Whiteacre). In 1975, after Judge Smith left his third term on the Jefferson Circuit Court bench, he and his wife turned their attention to their homestead’s preservation. In the face of increasing, encroaching suburban development, they wished to preserve their land in its idyllic state so that future generations might see and learn about farm life.
After nearly thirty years of devoted stewardship, the Smiths donated their 170- acre parcel to the commonwealth on 19 March 1979, dedicating it to the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission for the express purpose of preserving the land for passive recreation and interpretive nature education. Their gift created Kentucky’s first state nature preserve.The Articles of Dedication contained within the deed of conveyance recognized and met the needs of an urban population (such as Louisville) for a convenient, natural place for education and recreation. The principal visitor activities permitted by the Articles of Dedication are observation, walking and study. As a State Nature Preserve (SNP), Blackacre is a legally dedicated area that has been recognized for its natural significance and protected by law for scientific and educational purposes.
After it became clear that the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission would not be able to accept responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of the grounds and structures, the Smiths created the Blackacre Conservancy and established an endowment for the organization. The formation of the Blackacre Foundation in 1983, later renamed the Blackacre Conservancy, was designed to provide an on-going source of financial means to maintain the preserve and the historic homestead.The Smith family’s relationship to Blackacre continues to this day. In the last ten years, the Smiths have helped protect additional property surrounding Blackacre’s original 170 acres. Emilie Strong Smith, with support from her family, purchased 101 additional acres immediately south of the preserve in 1997 to provide a buffer against planned development. This acreage remains in the custody of the Blackacre Conservancy. In addition, the Smiths enabled the Conservancy to purchase a 17-acre easement to the north of the preserve in 2000 to secure the northern boundary from railroad and industrial park incursion.After over 100 years of life and over sixty on Blackacre’s land, Emilie Strong Smith passed away in April of 2011. Although her presence can still be felt by all who visit her beloved Blackacre, she is and always will be sorely missed by her friends.
Nobody has loved the house more than we do. We have been powerful happy here.
– Emilie Strong Smith
GROWING UP AT BLACKACRE
Sam Lord and John Smith’s Memories
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.”
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.”
“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.
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
“HOMESTEAD SLAVE LIFE”
When the Tylers cleared their land, built their homes and outbuildings, planted crops, and raised livestock, they were not working alone. They had slaves. From the 1820 census we know that Edward Tyler had 10 slaves and that Moses Tyler had two slaves. In 1850, according to the Kentucky census, there were two slave houses for 11 slaves on the Blackacre property. According to that census, Presley Tyler owned six female slaves and five male slaves.
Across the country where slaves worked on the farms or plantations, they did a variety of work; they cultivated crops, raised livestock, built houses and barns, and did household chores. Even though slaves were not supposed to be educated for reading and writing. slaves were sometimes taught special skills to help them get certain jobs done. According to folklore, slaves at Blackacre were taught basic masonry skills and were known to have constructed dry rock wall fences. Therefore we think slaves probably built the stone fences at Blackacre and they also might have laid cobblestones for the main farm road.
There is not much written about the work of the slaves who lived here. They were rented out to neighbors as the document shown above states. Their daily life is not as well-documented as is their masters’. We do know that during the 1850s the cost of a slave was about $500. By comparison, the main house at Blackacre was built for $236. Therefore, slaves were a valuable property. When one ran away it meant a serious loss to the owner.