Holt HouseThe Judge Joseph Holt Home in Breckinridge County
After many years of blood, sweat and tears, grant solicitation, state partnering, and the assistance of scores of Kentucky volunteers, a hidden treasure in south central Kentucky is beginning to flourish.
The Judge Joseph Holt House, historic home of the nation’s first judge advocate general, soon will undergo an exterior renovation that will lead to complete restoration of the circa 1850 structure. The home and surrounding 19.5 acres, now owned by the Breckinridge County Fiscal Court, are expected to become major area attractions because of Holt’s significance in national history and politics. The three-story, Italianate brick structure also is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Holt (1807-1894) served President James Buchanan as postmaster general and secretary of war at the beginning of the Civil War and was appointed judge advocate general by President Abraham Lincoln. His most memorable role as JAG came following the assassination of President Lincoln when Holt presided over the trial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators, which included the first woman ever hanged by the federal government, Mary Surratt.
The Breckinridge County native also helped devise the plan to employ former slaves as Union soldiers, giving Lincoln the needed troops to be successful in the Civil War. Congress recognized the plan with an act of July 17, 1862, that authorized Lincoln to receive persons of African descent into service.
As the top legal advisor for Lincoln and the U.S. Army, Holt is pictured on the second Regimental print for the Judge Advocate General’s Corps standing over Lincoln as Lincoln signed into law General Orders Number 100 (Lincoln and the Lieber Code), an early attempt to regulate conduct of hostilities on the battlefield.
Holt still holds the record for serving the longest term as judge advocate general (1862-1875).
Throughout his time in Washington, Holt visited his Breckinridge County home frequently and hosted social gatherings. The interior of the house features both west and east stairways that extend to the third floor, decorative woodwork—including walnut handrails along the stairs—six fireplaces, 14-inch walls, 13-inch baseboards and 10-foot doors. The family cemetery with Joseph Holt’s burial site is located on a small parcel to the east of the home and recently has been renovated.
Four state agencies and a lifetime partnership with the Kentucky Heritage Council/State Preservation Office made possible the acquisition of grants to purchase the mansion. The Kentucky Historical Society made stabilization of the home possible. The Friends of the Holt Home, Inc., a nonprofit organization, coordinates fundraising efforts and events for the historical home. Because of a Transportation Enhancement Grant, the home will undergo exterior renovation in 2013.
The Holt Home is located at 6205 Highway 144, Hardinsburg. For more information, visit jholt-house.org or call (270) 756-2269 or (270) 756-2573.