Driving into Winchester last month (February 2022), I noticed a newly vacant lot where the Ratliff House had recently stood at 130 West Lexington Avenue. Once a showplace, it had fallen on hard times from lack of maintenance. A picture of the house on Google Street View from September 2021 shows a failing porch, deteriorated paint, rotting woodwork, compromised guttering, and openings around the eaves and windows. And, if I have this correct, the interior had been condemned by the health department.
So sad to see this happen to a fine old home. The survey of Winchester residences by the Kentucky Heritage Commission found the house in good condition in 1976. Even sadder when you pair this loss with the loss of the historic Bloomfield House next door, which was torn down about a year ago.
The Ratliff House had an even longer history. It appears as the Dudley House on the 1877 Beers & Lanagan map of Winchester. I was able to trace deeds for the house and lot back to 1848, before losing track of ownership due to entanglements with lawsuits involving the property. Former owners include some movers and shakers in 19th century Winchester: John W. Clay, Robert J. Didlake, John M. Riffe, Zachariah E. Bush, Henry Grant, Parker A. Artis, and Jesse T. Williams.
Frank H. Dudley purchased the house from Williams in 1874. Dudley had a fascinating career. He joined the “Forty-Niners” in the California gold rush, served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, was engaged in steamboating on the Mississippi, and was secretary of an insurance company in Cincinnati before moving to Clark County in 1868. There he was connected with the bankruptcy court, helped found Emmanuel Episcopal Church, and became a 32nd degree Mason. During the 1880s and ’90s, he operated a furniture and undertaking business on Main Street in Winchester.
In 1883 Dudley sold the house to W. W. Justice. Born in Indiana, William Wallace Justice kept a dental practice in the same office in Winchester for 48 years. He died in 1906, and his wife Sophia (née Croxton) died two years later. They left one daughter, Rosa. Unmarried, Rosa had lived in the house with her parents for 25 years, then resided there another 48 years after her parents died. She was a piano teacher and founder of the Winchester Music Club. Rosa sold the house to her cousin, Mrs. Blanche Grant, in 1948; language in the deed allowed Rosa to continue living there until her death in 1956.
In 1957, Blanche sold the property to Charles Bruce Ratliff and his wife Easter.
The Ratliff family would occupy the house for the next 64 years. Bruce Ratliff was a well-liked and respected businessman in Winchester. He was a co-founder of Ratliff Furniture Company, a real estate agent, and a farmer. In addition, Bruce had been a director of Peoples Commercial Bank, Clark County Hospital, and the Fish and Game Club. He was instrumental in bringing the Bundy Tubing, GTE Sylvania, and Pepsi-Cola plants to town. His daughter, Betty Ratliff Smith, a long-time writer for The Winchester Sun, was beloved by all.
Bruce died in 1985 and Easter in 1993. The year before she passed away, Easter deeded the house to her son Robert Samuel “Sam” Ratliff. Sam and his son Robert lived in the house until shortly before it was razed.
I spoke with Mike Butler about the house. He lived there as an infant with his mother, the aforementioned Betty Ratliff Smith. Mike remembered his grandfather’s house well. It had eight beautiful fireplaces, an unusual front door, and a grand front staircase in the entry. There were seven rooms and two baths on the first floor; Mike especially remembered a cedar-lined room that served for all occasions. He attended lots of parties and holidays there, as well as weekends eating popcorn and telling ghost stories.
According to Mike, at one time the south side of Lexington Avenue had parking, which disappeared when the city installed sidewalks. After that, the family practically ceased to use the front door, as their car was always parked behind the house.