|The Abner Gaines House|
July 26, 1899
The Boone County Recorder
An old inn was erected in 1791 by Colonel Abner Gaines and is situated on the Covington and Lexington Pike road, one mile north of the town of Walton. This house is haunted with tragic memories, which has been the object of so much interest recently, on account of the various happenings there.
It was formerly called Gaines Crossroads, and was the post office for many years, previous to the removal of the post office to Walton. The post office took its name from Colonel Gaines.
Colonel Gaines was one of the pioneers of the community, having settled there when the whole surrounding county was one vast wilderness. He acquired a large area of land and, subsequently, became a very wealthy man. The property remained in the Gaines family through four generations.
Colonel Gaines conducted the house as an inn or tavern, and it was also a station of the stagecoach, which ran between Covington and Lexington. It had, frequently, for its guests such men as Henry Clay; Richard M. Johnson, who was afterwards vice-president of the United States; the elder Breckinridge; and many others equally as prominent.
The house is a plain three-story brick front, with extension of frame. It contains 18 rooms and a ballroom, 35 feet in length.
Colonel Gaines had two sons, the elder of whom became famous as a general in the Mexican War. When the Mexican War broke out, John Gaines was made captain of a cavalry company. It proceeded to Mexico overland.
From Kentucky to Mexico, young Gaines rode a favorite horse called Black Sultan. A remarkable incident of his experience in the Mexican War was that after a long imprisonment, he sought and found Black Sultan, road him during the war, and with its close rode the same horse back to his home in Kentucky.
General Gaines served through the war on the staff of General Winfield Scott and went with General Scott’s army to the city of Mexico. He was elected several times to Congress and was appointed Territorial Governor of Oregon by President Zachary Taylor.
At that time, it was a difficult matter to get to the Pacific Coast. General Gaines went by way of New Orleans by steamer. During the voyage, two of his children were stricken with yellow fever. Both died and were buried at sea.
He afterwards returned to Kentucky and settled there at the old homestead. While living there, his wife, when riding in company with several others, was thrown from her horse and instantly killed.
This was the beginning of many tragic happenings connected with the Gaines house.
A few years after this a traveler named Benjamin Runyan stopped overnight at the tavern. As he failed to appear the next morning, a servant was sent in search of him. Unable to arouse him, he entered the room and found Runyan stiff, cold, and dead. He had shot himself during the night.
In the latter 1840s, the mansion became famous for its lavish style of entertainment. It was frequently the scene of great festivities. During the progress of a ball one night, a tragedy occurred, which is still fresh in the memories of many old citizens.
Two young men, Robert Harrison and William Northcutt, were suitors for the hand of the same young lady. Both were popular in society and of good parentage. The Harrisons were especially prominent, socially, because of their relation to Brekinridges and the Harrison family of which ex-President Harrison is a member.
The father of Robert Harrison was a Presbyterian minister, Rev. Joseph Cabell Harrison. Possessed of wealth, social position, and good looks, although slightly eccentric in manner, Robert Harrison soon became the favored of the two suitors. This so enraged Northcutt that he determined to seek revenge.
Harrison, who was baldheaded, was extremely sensitive upon this point and always wore a wig. During the evening in question, while the guests were dancing, Northcutt approached Harrison, who was dancing with a young lady, snatched off his wig, and threw it upon the floor. Harrison uttered not a word, but quickly turned upon his heel, drew a Spanish dagger, and plunged it to the hilt into the heart of Northcutt, who fell lifeless to the floor. The tragic event brought the ball to a sudden close.
Harrison had the sympathy of all present and of the entire community. Public sentiment was so much in his favor that he was never arrested for the deed.
The memory of the crime, however, seemed to overshadow his life. The slight eccentricity of the matter before-mentioned became, in later life, a distinguishing characteristic.
He never married, abjured women’s society, and became, in fact, almost a recluse. He died, suddenly and alone, some two years since in Covington. In the years that followed, the mansion continued popular as a hostelry. When General Kirby Smith and his staff, among whom was Colonel J. M. Arnold; who is, at present, the freight agent for the Cincinnati Division Queen and Crescent Railway.
In 1869 the house passed into the possession of Jerry R. Glenn, father of D. A. Glenn, the present Commonwealth’s Attorney of the Sixth Judicial District of Kentucky. With the occupancy of the house by Mr. Glenn, there was wont to gather under its hospitable roof; many men past the prime of life; who, having a taste for the chase, had not the leisure to indulge it; and with it the inevitable quiet game of cards after nightfall. Prominent among these was Major John A. Goodson, the father-in-law of Hon. John G. Carlisle.
One evening in March 1869 Major Goodson whiled away the evening hours, as usual, and retired to his room. Presently, the report of a gunshot startled the inmates. Intuitively hastening to the room of Major Goodson, the same in which Ben Runyan had taken his life 40 years before, they found him lying upon the floor dead, shot through the heart. He had evidently placed the gun on the bed, knelt in front of it, and reaching the trigger with his cane, discharged the weapon. The act was attributed to heavy financial losses, incident to oil speculations in southern Kentucky.
With the building of the L&N Railroad and the Cincinnati Southern Railways (CSR) to the front and rear of the mansion, the place was purchased by Robert Cleek and used, thereafter, only as a private residence.
Shortly after this, young Joe Blackburn of Walton, while walking on the track of the Cincinnati Southern watching the passing of an L&N train, failed to hear the warning whistle of an approaching CSR train and was instantly killed in full view of the house.
In the fall of 1877 Parker Mayo (a colored man), who was a prisoner for the alleged assault of a white woman, was taken from the sheriff of the county and hanged to an oak tree 300 yards north of the house. Under this same tree, Charles Smith (also colored) was hanged soon after.
Smith had been alternately employed in the neighborhood by Lucien Stephens and Justice Hudson, and having been discharged by each, set fire to Hudson’s barn, heavily stocked with farm produce, cattle, and horses. While the family was endeavoring to save the stock from the burning barn, Smith robbed the house, ran to Lucien Stephens, fired his barn, and escaped into Indiana. With capture, “Judge Lynch” was the executioner.
In 1863 the tollgate in the immediate vicinity was kept by Hugh Ingram. Some years previous to this, Ingram had been bitten by a mad dog. In mortal dread of hydrophobia, he often threatened suicide. Particularly was this noticeable with the recurrence of the date on which he was bitten.
At one such time, slipping out of the tollhouse at night, unknown to his family, he took his life by hanging himself to the railroad bridge over the Cincinnati Southern, just a few yards distant from the old inn.
In 1892 Miss Elizabeth Rice, the maiden sister of Mrs. Robert Cleek; who, at the time, lived on the place, committed suicide in the yard by pouring coal oil over her clothing and setting fire to it. Her mind was thought to be unbalanced.
Twenty years before this, her father had burned himself to death in the same way.
The property is, at present, owned and occupied by J. C. Byland, a nephew of William Northcutt, who was killed by Robert Harrison.
An historical incident of some interest in connection with the place is that, in September 1876, the great prize fight between Joe Gross and Tom Allen for the world’s championship took place immediately south of and within 1,000 yards of the inn.