A farm foundation

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By Brad Bowman

The Callaway-Goodridge-Robertson Farm located just west of Smithfield gives another snapshot into one of the most influential families in Kentucky’s infancy as a state and the evolution of farming over the last 200 years in Henry County.


The Beginnings

Elizabeth Callaway and Fleet Goodridge married five months after Elizabeth’s father, Col. John Callaway — veteran of the War of 1812, builder of the Highlands house and who lived as a captive amongst the Shawnee for three years — died in 1825.

For historical perspective, in 1826 Beethoven finished his famed late string quartet No. 14 opus 131 in C sharp minor. The same month former U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died five hours apart on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Elizabeth Callaway and now husband Fleet H. Goodridge built their Federal home on 93 acres she inherited from her father’s estate.

Five years later, the 1830 census shows a prosperous farm with the increasing new family. The Goodridges had four children under the age of 10 and owned 15 slaves. By 1830, the Goodridge farm began developing into a production farm instead of one of subsistence. The 1840 census records show that within 14 years Elizabeth had given birth to seven children under the age of15 and the estate had grown to include 24 slaves.

The former Col. Callaway had been one of the first farmers in Henry County specializing in livestock and the Goodridge farm continued to prosper from subsistence farming to a production farm including cash crops of hemp, tobacco, corn and wheat. Goodridge’s farm was valued at $14,475 in 1850. By comparison, average farm value in the county was $2,612.

Production numbers indicated the farm harvested 4,000 bushels of corn compared to the county average of 937-bushels. By 1850, The Goodridge’s livestock numbers dwarfed the county farm average of 59 sheep and swine per farm with 131 sheep and swine.

By 1850, the Goodridge farm had increased to 520 acres. They had purchased land from Elizabeth’s brother, another part of her father’s estate. The farm included two ponds, a spring still active today, two wells, at least one servant house still standing and a smokehouse.

The proximity to the railroad in Smithfield sped up the transition of most farms in the area from a settlement and land clearing farmland use to larger farm productions in a commercial capacity. Farming methods evolved during this time with access to the new machinery and production methods. Henry County had 850 farms in 1850 with an average size of 135 acres.

Elizabeth died in 1864 before the end of the Civil War. Her husband Fleet Goodridge downgraded farming operations and sold 201 acres by 1869. The end of slavery possibly contributed to the farms decline as a large workforce would have been needed to maintain its production levels. Goodridge sold the farm to his son James.

By 1880, James Goodridge was listed as the farmer of the property with his wife and  two children, which encompassed 200 acres according to the 1880 Census.

Goodridge renovated the Federal style home with fashionable Italianate elements for the time period. Three children acquired the property after his death and continued to sell off tracts of land. The house fell into disuse and Goodridge’s son Fleet Goodridge bought the property from his sisters and rented the property to tenant farmers. Between 1896 and 1911, hay and grain were stored in the once palatial Federal home.

New Life

Tenant farmer Charles Robertson bought 52.4 acres, which included the home in 1911. Robertson renovated the property, used the house as a family dwelling and continued farming on the remaining property. An existing barn constructed with pegs, not nails, was most likely added during this time with most of the late 19th century structures still intact. A two-story ell was added to the house, a kitchen and the Robertsons changed the original windows. Robertson added a Classical Revival style porch to the front of the house removing the Italianate entry from Goodridge’s son James’ renovation. The four posts still supporting the porch’s roof are said to be made from walnut trees on the property that were sent to Louisville to be milled and returned by the railroad.

The new renovations brought new memories to the historic property.

Edith Robertson Jones grew up on the farm and wrote about her fond memories including a special walnut tree still standing near one of the ponds on the property.

“…I remember our hush-a-bye tree, a huge walnut tree in a field near our house. A huge limb grew straight out from the trunk,” Jones wrote. “…we would hold the end down so the others could climb on. Then the one holding it would pull on it and get it swaying. It may sound silly…but it was as much fun as riding a horse much less dangerous—no bucking and kicking. Morris sent us a Christmas card with a picture of our hush-a-bye tree and an original poem.”

The poem:

The old walnut tree…

What a memory

Of brothers and sisters and dear to me.

From its sweep limb, swinging glad and free; our childhood shrine…

Our Hush-a-bye tree.

The winters have come, the years have flown

The children have scattered

The tree stands alone.

But at Christmas time

Sadie, Hugh, Frank and Edith

All swing with me

On the memory limb

Of our Hush-a-bye tree.

The property changed owners several times before the present owners bought the property in 1986. They repurposed old barn lumber for roofing a renovated kitchen. They have restored the house as a labor love to its original late 19th century glory and many descendants of the former owner families still visit the property today.