The City Built from Bur Oak


There are few cities for which we can say exactly what trees built the city, but we can for the city where I live. Lexington, KY, was founded in 1775, but the first permanent structures were not built until 1779.  On April 17, 1779, Josiah Collins and others cut down a huge bur oak. From that tree, they built a blockhouse – basically a windowless cabin with portholes from which to shoot if defense from Indians was needed (it wasn’t), surrounded by a stockade fence.  The blockhouse is long gone, and today there is only a brass plaque memorializing the original location at Vine and Mill Streets.  Soon after, Josiah Collins helped build the first houses.  These were simple one-room squared log cabins with log ‘puncheon’ floors.  Remarkably, one of those cabins, built for James Patterson, still exists on the campus of Transylvania University.  (story continues below slideshow)

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Although this cabin got its start near what is now Rupp Arena, it has wandered around quite a bit.  When Patterson become prosperous enough, he built a mansion and the cabin became slave quarters. Later, it was a tool shed.  When Patterson moved to Dayton, OH, he took the cabin with him, perhaps for sentimental reasons.  Later, his property became part of a Dayton city park,  When Dayton tired of maintaining the cabin, it was offered to Lexington.  In 1939, the cabin returned to Lexington and resides today on the Transylvania University campus, a mile from its original location.

The cabin has been rebuilt several times.  A few of the original cants (squared logs) that made up the original cabin may still be part of the structure, but we can’t be sure.  The cant shown in the picture is one of two oak logs that I think could be original.