Ratliff House, 130 West Lexington Avenue. An artist’s rendition.
Ratliff House, 130 West Lexington Avenue. An artist’s ren­di­tion. (Mike Butler) 

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.

Ratliff House, 130 West Lexington Avenue. Front facade.
Ratliff House, 130 West Lexington Avenue. Front façade. (Kentucky Heritage Commission)

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. 

Ratliff House, 130 West Lexington Avenue. Back side of the house.
Ratliff House, 130 West Lexington Avenue. Back side of the house. (Mike Butler) 

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.

  • Harry is a Mt. Sterling native who has lived in Clark County since1999. He has a pas­sion for the past and has researched and writ­ten exten­sive­ly about the his­to­ry of this area.