Can You Hide a House? Old 851 Mansion at Spalding University Proves You Can (Unseen Louisville No. 3)

July 9, 2007

851-entrance-13-100_0960.jpgYou know the Chinese box? The box inside the box inside the box.

Spalding University between Third and Fourth streets in Louisville has its own version of that novelty in the form of an 1800s Gilded Age mansion enclosed within its larger administration building.

Some of the tour books mention this attraction, but I know of nobody in my circle of acquaintances who is aware of it.

When I visited the mansion last week, Spalding’s administration building was quiet and almost lifeless. Summer is the slow time, as it typical at a university, and even though a few students and administrators wandered through the halls, I pretty much felt like I had the mansion all to myself. The tour is self-guided, so you can hang around the old dark house without anyone so much as noticing.

851-centerlight-100_0959.jpgThe mansion entrance is just a few feet to the right of the reception desk in the administration building. I flagged down a student to ask if she knew of anyone could turn on a few lights for better picture taking. She didn’t know but pointed to a table that was supposed to have a booklet explaining the history of the mansion. But there were no brochures available.

Obviously this is one attraction that is handled very informally by the university, which can be a good and a bad thing.

Bad because the lack of security makes me feel that some of the holdings here could be vulnerable to mischief. Good, because one can enjoy and contemplate the spaces without bother.

851-glass15-100_0933.jpgBecause the mansion mainly serves as a cut-through access point for the rest of the administration building it is probably not noticed by the university employees and student people going about their everyday business.

lioni-851-lionpot.jpgBecause of this integration, it would probably be impossible to charge a fee to see the mansion, and that’s OK because the mansion is really not a charge-worthy sight in my opinion.

But is it worth seeing? Yes, I would say so—if you’re in the area and have some time to check out a lovely curiosity that’s hidden and unknown to most folks. Finding such nooks is always cool.

Spalding’s website has some info on the 851 Mansion. The quick and dirty is that the house was designed and built in 1871 for local importer Joseph Tompkins and was later owned by some distillery tycoons. Spalding has occupied the place since 1920, but no reference is given as to when the administration building was built around it.

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People interested in home interior designs and accents will be very interested in the mansion’s features which include stained glass, Viennese glass, a gas chandelier, walnut stairway and lots of handcarved moldings and old furniture.

mainroom-851-73.jpgBecause it’s free and sort of unique, I’m going to give this attraction a respectable two-star rating. I wouldn’t put it at the top of my list, but if you want to see something different and don’t have much time and have empty pockets, this could be your destination.

The mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places.

851 Mansion
at Spalding University, Louisville, Ky.

GRAVY BREAD LOUISVILLE RATING: horse_head_rating_2_.gif

-EG (all photos in this posting copyright 2007 Evan G)

A few more:

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