Friday, February 22, 2013

Lexington's Phoenix Hotel

In 1806 Colonel Aaron Burr visited Lexington, Kentucky and stayed at a little place named Wilson's Tavern. This is one of the earliest famous national figures to rent accommodations at the address that would become the Phoenix Hotel.  In the late eighteenth century, Lexington was building a reputation among travelers as the "Athens of the West." Postlethwaite's Tavern opened in 1800 to provide comfortable lodging for visitors to the city. Over the next twenty years the tavern changed names many times. The Wilson's Tavern Aaron Burr visited was just one of the names for Lexington's finest lodgings before it burned in 1820. One of the Lexington newspapers printed a story about the mythical Phoenix being reborn from the ashes. The popularity of the story inspired the property owners to build a grander hotel on the site.

Out of the ashes, the Phoenix Hotel rose. Perhaps the owners should have considered the relationship between the myth and the hotel. The Phoenix lived up to the name. In 1833 the three story hotel burned to the ground. There are no known likenesses of the original Phoenix Hotel, but the hotel that replaced it was photographed in 1860.

One of the interesting things about this picture is that both the rooftop of General Leslie Combs' house and the steeple of the old Main Street Christian Church are visible beyond the hotel.  The church hosted the  1843 Campbell-Rice debate presided over by Henry Clay. General Combs home was considered one of the architectural jewels of the city. It was lost on May 14, 1879, when the Phoenix was again consumed by fire.

The history of the Phoenix doesn't end here, but this is the incarnation of the Phoenix Hotel that is part of my fictional world. Several scenes in Circle of Dishonor were set in or around the hotel. Concealed in Ash opens on the evening of May 14, 1879, and takes us into the grand ballroom on the fateful night the flames took her.

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