Phoenix Hotel Historical Marker
Opened in 1797 in what is now downtown Lexington, the Phoenix Hotel has a rather infamous history involving both the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement. Most notably, the hotel was the site of CORE protests in the 1960s, due to its owners’ discriminatory practices. The hotel was demolished in 1981 and replaced by Phoenix Park; today, a historical marker erected by the Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky Department of Highways and the Rotary Club of Lexington stands on the site.
Backstory and Context
Opened in 1797 as the Postlethwaite Tavern, the Phoenix Hotel (renamed in 1820) soon became one of the most famous hotels of its time. Throughout its 180 years, the hotel hosted many famous visitors and was the site in which several important organizations were formed.
The hotel became a famous site during the Civil War. After the Battle of Perryville, located south of Lexington, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and his men retreated to the Phoenix. Whilst resting, they were surrounded by Union troops who were also stationed in the area. Later, upon his reinterment in April 1868, Morgan's soldiers formed the Morgan's Men Association as a tribute to their fallen leader. They created the society at the Phoenix Hotel under the oath that they would pledge "fidelity and affection for each other for as long as they lived'' and hold the "memory of our illustrious and beloved leader shall ever be as indelibly stamped upon the tablets of our hearts as his name is written on the undying page of history."
Several other important organizations began at the hotel, such as the Alpha Theta chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity at Transylvania University, which was launched at the Phoenix on April 4th, 1891. Additionally, the Kiwanis Club of Lexington, an organization dedicated to serving the community, was founded at the hotel in 1919.
As the world moved into the twentieth century, the hotel was unfortunately still rooted in its Southern prejudices. The hotel became known for its discrimination of black visitors. Before a pre-season game at Memorial Coliseum in October of 1961, African-American members of the Boston Celtics were refused service by the Phoenix Hotel. As a result, the players boycotted the game and left Lexington, taking a brave stand against this discrimination. In December of 1961, Louis Armstrong came to visit the hotel to perform for a private party. When he arrived, he was met by CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) protesters who were speaking out against the hotel's discriminatory policies. A young Lexington man named Calvert McCann was able to capture this historic moment on film. This was crucial because the Lexington Herald-Leader had refused to provide press coverage of the demonstration.
A historical marker was placed on the grounds of Phoenix Park in 2015 by the Kentucky Historical Society. The marker commemorates the significance of the Phoenix Hotel as the "oldest hostelry in the whole western country," as well as the centennial of the Rotary Club of Lexington which first began meeting at the famed hotel on June 23, 1915.
1. Houlihan, Ed. Ashland Clash Makes it Mark- Civil War in Lexington. Lex History. Accessed April 01, 2019. http://lexhistory.org/wikilex/ashland-clash-makes-it-mark-civil-war-lexington.
2. Morgan's Men Association History. Morgan's Men Association, Inc. Accessed April 01, 2019. http://members.tripod.com/~Morgans_Men/.
3. Spears, Valerie Honeycutt. Four black photographers with Kentucky roots were witness to history. Lexington Herald-Ledger. February 22, 2013. Accessed April 01, 2019. http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/education/article44405220.html.
4. Brackney, Peter. Lost Lexington Kentucky. (The History Press: Charleston, SC). 2014.
5. Newest Historical Marker Tells of Phoenix Hotel in Lexington. Kentucky Historical Society. Accessed April 01, 2019. https://history.ky.gov/2016/06/27/newest-historical-marker-tells-of-phoenix-hotel-in-lexington/.
Calvert McCann photographs, University of Kentucky. Accessed February 9th 2021. https://exploreuk.uky.edu/fa/findingaid/?id=xt741n7xpf3k.