History of Farmington

John Speed, came across the Wilderness Road from Virginia as a ten-year-old child with his father, Revolutionary War veteran Captain James Speed, six brothers and sisters, and his mother Mary Spencer Speed.

By 1800, John Speed had married Abby Lemaster and lived at Pond Creek in what is now Jefferson County, Kentucky. He was a thriving businessman, owning sixteen slaves who probably worked the grist and saw mills as well as the salt works as Mann’s Lick.

Soon widowed with two young daughters, Mary and Eliza, John Speed married twenty-year-old Lucy Gilmer Fry of Mercer County in 1808. Lucy’s father, Joshua Fry, taught at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Her maternal grandfather was Dr. Thomas Walker, an early explorer of Kentucky and also one of the guardians of young Thomas Jefferson. Purchasing a large tract of land on Beargrass Creek in early 1810, John Speed began building the fourteen-room federal-style brick house using master builders from Philadelphia and skilled slave craftsmen. The house, with its octagonal siderooms, is similar in concept to several of Thomas Jefferson’s domestic designs. Farmington’s name is shared with from the Charlottsville, Virginia, home of Lucy’s maternal aunt.

stream By 1811 John Speed supervised the continuation of the road from Louisville to Bardstown. According to court records, the labor was provided by the “plantation hands” of John Speed and of Samuel Bray. During the War of 1812 troops moved along the Bardstown road and were fed and clothed by the Speeds at Farmington.

Shortly before moving into the new house from a temporary log cabin, Lucy Speed gave birth to the first of eleven children. She would rear four girls and five boys who would reach adulthood, as well as here step-daughters Mary and Eliza.

Judge John Speed held progressive views concerning the education of women and encouraged his daughters to study diligently. This ran counter to prevailing custom which placed a higher value on the extensive education of men. Lincoln found these educated Speed women to be delightful company when he came to visit.

The Speeds were an educated and cultivated family, fond of music, literature and good conversation. The family so loved music that for several years they sponsored Anton Phillip Heinrich, a Bohemian composer. While living at Farmington he created a number of his famous works which appeared in his collection, The Dawning of Music in Kentucky. Later called the Beethoven of America, Heinrich is considered the United States’ first professional composer. he no doubt influenced John Speed’s eldest daughter Mary, who was an accomplished pianist and composer.

Civil War

During the Civil War Joshua and James Speed played important roles in keeping Kentucky in the Union. Joshua traveled frequently to Washington and was instrumental in arranging for weapons to be delivered to Union loyalists throughout the state. Because of this influence, Kentucky’s pro-Confederacy Governor Beriah Magoffin and the legislature, also sympathetic to the Southern cause, were never able to tip the scale toward secession.

Civil War and Slaves

Before the war and during it, some Speed family members freed their slaves. According to court documents, on the same day in 1845, Lucy G. Speed, John’s widow, and their daughter Lucy F. Breckinridge emancipated three slaves – Rose, Sally and her son Harrod. Other family members, such as sons J. Smith, Joshua, Phillip and daughters Mary and Eliza freed their slaves between 1863 and 1865.

Peachy Speed Peay, whose husband Austin died during the 1849 cholera epidemic, sold Farmington in 1865. Years earlier, the other children of John and Lucy Speed moved from Farmington to places of their own.


The interior woodwork, the fireplaces and brasswork are all original, as are many of the unusually large glass window panes. Most of the furnishings in the house represent items that might have been in place when the Speed family live there.

The legacy of Farmington with its architectural design, historic gardens, and rich and complex social history is shared with visitors today during guided tours. The research continues into the lives of all the people who have lived on the land known as Farmington prior to 1865. As scholarship grows, so do the stories of Farmington.

Farmington’s main crop was hemp. The hemp break, pictured below, would have been used to harvest the crop.