WILLIAM WHITLEY HOUSE STATE HISTORIC SITE
The William Whitley House, also known as Sportsman's Hill, stands today as a monument to pioneer ingenuity and resourcefulness.
It was the first brick home and circular racetrack built west of the Alleghany Mountains, completed in 1794 by William Whitley and his wife Esther. Dubbed the Guardian of Wilderness Road, the house was a gathering spot for early Kentuckians, including George Rogers Clark and Daniel Boone.
Hours of Operation
Grounds open seasonally.
The William Whitley house is a magnificent example of early Kentucky architecture. The Georgian style mansion was built between 1787 and 1794. The residence with brick walls two feet thick laid in Flemish Bond was designed to protect its occupants from Indian attack. Whitley had the windows placed high above the ground so attackers could not shoot straight through at those within. He also ordered that no porch at the front or ell at the rear of the house be built. This would leave no hiding places for those who attacked his home. Prideful of his home and his accomplishments, Whitley had lighter bricks designed for his initials, WW, and placed above the front door. To the rear of the house he had the brick initials EW placed in honor of his wife Esther.
Although a virtual fortress, the Whitley House was also a home. Behind the thick hand-carved wooden doors that are reinforced with iron, there is a stately and comfortable home. Whitley named his home Sportsman Hill, although many referred to the house as the Guardian of Wilderness Road. An avid horse racer, he laid out a racetrack in 1788 that forever influenced American horse racing. Since he did not approve of customs associated with the British, he ordered that his racetrack be laid out opposite to theirs. Instead of running clockwise, his was a counter-clockwise track. He also insisted that the track be made of clay instead of turf as preferred by the British.
The main floor of the house has three rooms and a large hall, with two rooms and a hall on the second floor, and a large attic. The main staircase is decorated with carved eagles holding olive branches. The paneling is walnut and pine. The attention to detail in the woodwork is evidence that Whitley wanted nothing but the best for his home.
The memory of Whitleys exploits lived on. In 1818 the Kentucky legislature named a county in his honor. His home became a symbol of his life and times. The desire to preserve and maintain Whitleys home became a reality when the Kentucky parks system began operating the house and grounds a state park. Between 1948 and 1955, the house underwent extensive renovations. The rooms of the Whitley home are furnished with period antiques. Since 1952, a curator has been on duty to conduct tours of the house.