The historic Melcombe Estate was designed by John Bacon Hutchings & Sons of Louisville. | Photo by Steve Wiser

By the first decade of the 20th century, the mansion-building boom in Old Louisville had slowed down.

The automobile had first been introduced to Louisville in 1897, and by 1905 there were about 400 of them in town. Paved roads were following suit. Louisville’s wealthy now were casting their horizons farther out, some as far out as the Glenview area along the Ohio River.

The society architect of choice in those days was John Bacon Hutchings. He was the son of a banker so he was well-connected with those people who wanted to, and were able to, build large showplace homes. And so he did.

Among his first productions was the Allenwood estate on Glenview Avenue for Maj. Charles James Allen and his wife, the former Carrie Belknap, built in 1900 and 1901. It’s a large squat brick house with lots of pitches, gables and dormer windows in the roof line. It also contained a number of Tudor touches. Tudor would become one of Hutchings’ signature styles.

Many of Hutchings’ homes were built in the upscale Glenview area near the Ohio River.

Today, he might not be as well-known to Louisvillians as some of his contemporaries – such as Arthur Loomis, Charles Clarke, Mason Maury and Henry Whitestone. But Steve Wiser intends to put John Bacon Hutchings, and his son Eusebius (E.T.) Hutchings, front of mind.

Wiser, an architect himself (as well as an author and Louisville historian), has made a mission of finding great period homes in the Louisville area for his books and frequent presentations. But he’s also interested in the collected works of all the various architects who’ve filled our landscape with their homes over the past 150 years.

Wiser will discuss the father and son in his presentation, “Architecture of John Bacon Hutchings and E T Hutchings,” on Thursday, June 15. And, as with most of Wiser’s historical presentations, it will discuss not only the subjects but also the period surrounding the subjects that gave their work its context.

“It was a period of wealth in Louisville, due to the rise of the manufacturing industry,” Wiser says of that late 19th to early 20th century era. “Those were the people who could afford those early cars, and who wanted to build showplaces – similar to Old Louisville – in more remote neighborhoods, especially east and northeast of the city.”

The Frederic Law Olmsted-designed “emerald necklace” of public parks had just been completed here, and many of those people wanted to build big homes near the parks. Others decided to go out to Anchorage and Glenview, where land was plentiful.

In those cases, says Wiser, “they built their own parks. Many of those Glenview homeowners hired the Olmsted organization to design and landscape their estates.”

In fact, one reason that Hutchings may not be as well-recognized today, Wiser surmises, is that so many of his great homes were out in the neighborhoods, where most people didn’t readily see them. “Especially in Glenview,” he says, “they were set off the road, surrounded by gates, long driveways and all that Olmsted greenery.”

However, even if those homes had sat right on the curb, Hutchings might not have been recognized because there wasn’t much that was uniform about his work.

“He built a lot of Tudor homes,” says Wiser, “but mostly he built what people asked him to build, in whatever style they asked for. And all of his wealthy clients wanted something different, unique, not what their neighbors’ houses looked like.”

The architect did seem to favor grand portico entrances and elegant, sweeping interior staircases – often two elegant staircases that met on a second-floor balustrade.

One of his most well-known designs was the spectacular arts-and-crafts and Tudor-style “Akers carriage house” on the grounds of the mansion of Dr. William Shallcross Speed and Virginia Speed, on Altagate Road in Cherokee Gardens. But not the mansion itself.

The Akers carriage house in Cherokee Gardens is more renowned that the mansion it sits behind on Altagate Road. | Photo by Steve Wiser

“The main house was subsequently designed by a nationally known architect named Charles Platt,” Wiser explains, “in a very formal classical style.”

Why the difference? “I believe the original owner, Matthew Akers, saw this beautiful carriage house being built and wondered, ‘If that’s the carriage house, how much is the main house going to cost me?’ So he sold the entire property to the Speed family.” 

Hutchings was prolific. Between 1909 and 1913, the architect completed eight significant housing projects, Wiser says. And they were spread all throughout the city, from Glenview back to the Cherokee Triangle area and over to Alta Vista.

“You couldn’t do that today,” says Wiser, “especially these big mansions and sprawling estates. Eight houses in four years. And he had to be on-site for all of those, overseeing the work of the contractors and craftsmen. How in the world did he do that?”

It apparently burned him out. Hutchings died in 1916, at age 59. By that time, son E.T. had become an architect after studying at the University of Kentucky and Cornell University, and had joined his father’s practice, now called Hutchings & Sons. (Another son had also joined the firm as a civil engineer.)

This house near Willow Avenue and Cherokee Road was one of numerous houses the Hutchings designed in close proximity to Olmsted parks. | Photo by Steve Wiser

E.T. had a longer career than his father and was just as prolific, changing the name of the firm to Hutchings Architects after John B’s death. “E.T. did more work in town than his father had,” says Wiser, “and did some larger projects which are more prominent today than his father’s works.”

His most well-known remaining project is the Woman’s Club at 1323 S. Fourth St., built in 1923 between Ormsby and Park avenues. It was the headquarters building for Louisville’s society women, the wives’ version of the men’s smoking, drinking and card-playing social club. And it’s hard to imagine the men having such a spectacular place to meet as these women had – and still do.

E.T. Hutchings designed the Woman’s Club on South Fourth Street. | Photo courtesy of Steve Wiser

E.T. also ventured far afield. In 1923, he performed the official restorations on the old Federal Hill mansion in Bardstown, commonly referred to now as “My Old Kentucky Home.” In 1935, he designed the elegant Spindletop Hall in Lexington for Patsy Yount, recently widowed from the newly oil-rich Yount family. (It’s currently headquarters for the University of Kentucky staff and faculty, and home of the school’s alumni club.)

E.T. died in 1958, at 72. During his long career, he was, in 1919 and 1920, the president of the American Institute of Architects, Central Kentucky Chapter. John Bacon Hutchings had been president in 1915.

Wiser’s presentation will cover the full extent of the two architects’ 60 years of creativity, discussing many more of their projects as Louisville grew as an important architectural hub. It will be packed with historical information, personal anecdotes, profiles of some of the notable clients, a little local gossip and a huge array of visual images. Wiser says he has 190 pages in his presentation to share, covering those seven decades in which Hutchings senior and junior worked.

The event, free and open to the public, will be at 7 p.m., Thursday, June 15, at the Douglass Community Center, 2305 Douglass Blvd.

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