Liberty Hall Museum opened in 1937 and became a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1971. Located in downtown Frankfort, Liberty Hall Historic Site was the home of the Brown family, one of Kentucky’s most notable families. From 1796-1797, American Statesman John Brown began construction of Liberty Hall after purchasing four lots in Frankfort. Thomas Jefferson helped Brown with the home’s design. Four generations of Browns lived at the five-acre site for more than 150 years. The site contains formal and informal gardens and two homes: Liberty Hall (1796) and the adjacent Orlando Brown House (1835).
Liberty Hall was named after Liberty Hall Academy, the school John Brown's
father, Reverend John Brown, oversaw in Virginia. It later became Washington
and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. Liberty Hall Historic Site is a
private museum owned by Liberty Hall, Inc. and the National Society of the
Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
John Brown, the patriarch of the family, was from Virginia where he had
studied law with Thomas Jefferson. In 1783, he settled in Danville and
established a law office. By 1784, Brown was representing Kentucky in the Virginia
Legislature. He was also a member of the Continental Congress and represented Kentucky in Congress beginning in 1789 and during that time, he
presented a petition to Congress to separate the county of Kentucky from the
state of Virginia. In June 1792, Kentucky became the fifteenth state, largely
due to Brown’s efforts. Brown served as one of the first U.S. senators from
Kentucky and served from 1792-1805.
In 1799, John Brown married Margaretta Mason of New York. The Brown family
moved into Liberty Hall and the home became a center of hospitality in
Frankfort from 1801 to 1835. John Brown is elected president pro
tempore (for the first time) and presides over the Senate’s
ratification of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. After losing
re-election to the Senate, John Brown retires from national politics in 1804. He
returned home to Liberty Hall and helps found the Frankfort Water
Company. In 1818, Margaretta Van Wyck Varick, Margaretta Brown’s aunt,
comes to visit and dies soon after arrival. The Gray Lady ghost said to haunt
Liberty Hall is presumed to be her spirit.
The house remained in the Brown family until 1955. Over the years certain
minor changes were made to the building by the Brown family. The attic stairs
were altered in 1833; a bathroom was constructed on the ground floor by
enclosing one end of the back porch in 1837. A cornice was added to the present
dining room in 1884 and the space under the windows in the two front parlors
were decorated with simple panels in 1908 and 1918.
Today, Liberty Hall and the adjacent Orlando Brown House are operated as a
historic house museums and historic sites. They are open to the public for
tours from March to December. The sites also host several special events
throughout the year. Liberty Hall Historic Site serves as a learning
center that engages the public in exploring the history, politics, social and
cultural life of early Kentucky through the homes, gardens, documents, and
artifacts of John Brown and his family.