Locust Grove Master Plan
Sharing the Story of America’s Beginning
Historic Locust Grove (HLG) is a museum and historic site that preserves and interprets the original 1790s Georgian mansion of William and Lucy Clark Croghan. Along with Lucy’s brother—Louisville founder and Revolutionary War hero General George Rogers Clark—the couple welcomed a generation of American luminaries to the home, including presidents Andrew Jackson and James Monroe.
Situated on 55 rustic acres, the centerpiece historic home is located just 6 miles northeast of downtown Louisville. With the goal of activating the entire site to enable HLG to tell a broader story of its history, attract new audiences, and help ensure a sustainable future for the organization, Louisville Metro Parks Department and Historic Locust Grove, Inc. solicited GS&P to develop a definitive master plan for the well-preserved property.
“Historic Locust Grove had been laying a lot of groundwork through other initiatives they’d undertaken, gathering information about their facility, processes and programming,” shares Jon Henney, GS&P senior landscape architect and principal-in-charge on the project. “So there was a lot of very useful background information that was readily available as we began the project, which was a great kick-start.”
“At the core of this project was Historic Locust Grove’s intention to create a sense of destination,” adds Amin Omidy, GS&P landscape architect. “The site sees approximately 25,000 visitors a year, which is a relatively low number given its historic importance, and was largely unknown to a lot of demographics throughout and outside of Louisville.”
Creating a Blueprint
Given the unique nature of the project, a six-pronged plan was conceived as the master plan blueprint. This included: activating the entire site to enhance audience experience; designing site-sensitive parking solutions; creating clear delineations between historic and recreated artifacts; integrating and utilizing the land beyond the historic core; exploring a wider range of interpretive programming; and creating a new layout to enhance the arrival experience.
“Historic Locust Grove assembled an advisory group made up of members of their board to work with us,” explains Henney. “Those early meetings helped us gain a clearer understanding of what the focus of our particular master planning efforts were. In many ways, it was those exercises that began to point us in the direction of those six major goals.”
A Collaborative, Multidisciplinary Approach
A National Historic Landmark, Historic Locust Grove was opened to the public in 1979. The site encompasses 13 buildings, inclusive of the main house, and features gardens, fields, a spring, farm buildings, and woodlands that stretch over the surrounding 55 acres. Although the main house attracts a wide range of visitors each year, the rolling field beyond the historic core was underutilized and offered the greatest potential for interpretive programming—critical in allowing HLG the flexibility to offer new experiences while maintaining their core values.
“The original focus of the site was on the buildings and structures as opposed to the 55 acres that were available,” explains Omidy. “Part of our role was identifying how to engage the entire site in new and exciting ways that would offer the client plenty of opportunities to bring in a variety of programming. For example, in the historic core of the site, we encouraged interpretive programming which tells a specific story that is tied to the property as a National Historic Landmark—a story that reflects the time period and the people who contributed to the history of the site.
“A little unusual and unique to our process, we selected a very diverse team of consultants to work with us on the project, bringing in specialists who could directly speak toward areas such as programming and the design of museum exhibits.”
The team included historic preservation architects John Milner and Associates, Inc.; landscape architects and environmental design consultants Environs Inc.; archaeologists Corn Island Archeology; and program design specialists Solid Light.
Omidy describes the individual roles of the multidisciplinary team:
“Our historic preservation specialist focused on the integrity of the site’s historic structures, while the environmental consultant concentrated on reaping the most from the property from an environmental perspective, helping to identify what’s historic and important to both the site and the core area surrounding the mansion. Our archaeological partner revealed what portions of the site had potential for historic features and needed to be used more sensitively. Our programming consultant not only worked on existing programming but also helped clarify future interpretive programming for the site. So through our process, we revealed a lot of new opportunities that might not have been considered initially.”
“It was a combination of identifying what different elements were needed to supplement our expertise,” adds Henney, “then selecting consultants who already had a solid working knowledge of the facility so we had a strong head start moving our effort forward.”
Informing the Process
With the consultant team in place, the site was evaluated based on physical, cultural, historic and environmental attributes to create a composite analysis. By viewing the site as a whole, certain patterns became apparent and guided the multifaceted planning approach.
“Our approach provided Historic Locust Grove the flexibility to utilize the site in a variety of capacities,” explains Henney. “It also allowed them to retain a level of historic accuracy to remain true to their mission as well as uphold their obligation for historic status.”
A site analysis revealed several zones that lent themselves to different levels of activation. By identifying these areas and informing the potential uses, the consultant team was able to accommodate the broad programming requests from the client while preserving the critical core of the site.
“We discovered that the site had different levels of authenticity,” notes Omidy. “For example, there’s a decline in historical authenticity as you move eastward from the main house, so those areas became the most appropriate for interpretive programming.”
21st-Century Sustainability Goals
With the master plan largely centered on the historic grounds, environmental stewardship became a central theme. Henney discusses the issues related to preserving and enhancing a historical farm, while still applying sustainable features:
“As you think about a historical gentleman’s farm, there were a lot of practices that may have been utilized when the farm was active that are no longer considered sustainable today. We had a lot of conversations about that, debating how to give a nod to the historic context without losing sight of 21st-century sustainability goals.”
Omidy breaks the sustainability piece down into three additional components: “One; there’s an existing stand of trees, so we recommended the tending of that asset, removing dead wood and invasive species to provide opportunity for more balanced understory and maintenance.”
The parking lot was the second consideration. The large area designed to accommodate overflow parking stretches across sensitive archaeological ground which has endured the duress of countless vehicles over time. Tire rutting that occurs after a rain has additionally left the ground battered. A typical fix might involve a standard blacktop treatment. However, in the spirit of sustainability, the master plan recommends the recovery of any historical artifacts, followed by the application of reinforced turf; a material that would not only integrate the space into the surrounding natural environment, but would also be permeable, allowing water to drain naturally into the soil.
“The third component,” Omidy continues, “is taking the large grass area in the middle of the site and creating a turf solution that’s mowed less frequently. That helps with maintenance costs and is more sustainable.”
Also recommended are varieties of plant species that will flourish with a similar maintenance regimen, and be more in line with how a yard would have been maintained historically.
Diversity in Visitorship and Telling the Story
While the master plan addresses a broad spectrum of elements designed to heighten the visitor experience, improve site programming, and raise awareness of both the history and importance of the site within the community, there is also an objective to attract wider visitor diversity in terms of age and ethnic demographics.
“Historic Locust Grove is reaching school-age children and the more senior population, but it’s the piece in the middle they aren’t making enough of a connection with,” explains Henney. “So, from the programming side, we explored better ways to draw that age group. We also discussed what kind of changes they could implement to attract more ethnically diverse visitorship.”
Omidy sees another challenge in how to tell HLG’s unique story, particularly on a 55-acre site that once spanned 700 acres:
“There are connections to the river that are part of the original property, so there are different programmatic aspects that really couldn’t exist on 55 acres. That took some distilling by the team and the Historic Locust Grove plan committee to think through and evaluate: What are the stories and which ones are the most important?”
Since being on the National Register of Historic Places demands certain historic requisites, and history is at the heart of the site, getting the story told accurately became a focal point.
“There is so much to be told, “ stresses Omidy. “Telling the stories from the original family. Telling the stories of the slaves who worked on the farm and their cultural heritage. Thinking through what it meant to build this house in Kentucky at the time it was built; a gentleman’s farm in the middle of wilderness at the western edge of a new world. Getting all that on one site was the most challenging part of the project as well as the most rewarding.”
Henney believes if the site can be viewed as both a testament to American history as well as a well-maintained asset offering a variety of experiences, its appeal will resonate with a wider range of demographics.
“A big part of the master plan was identifying ways in which the client could activate the entire property, providing attractions for visitors who aren’t necessarily history buffs. You can also go there simply because it’s a beautiful park-like setting where kids can play; you can have picnics or walk the trails. In many ways, external programming activities will broaden that reach.”
A Unique Process
By implementing a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to enrich the overall design solution, GS&P helped Historic Locust Grove meet key objectives to protect and preserve a significant historic resource, provide improvements to meet 21st-century functional needs, and offer a contextual understanding of the importance of those who lived and worked on the historic property.
“This project was as much about process as end product,” says Henney, referring to the collective effort that involved a broad spectrum of disciplines. “It provided unforeseen value to the client because the team led them through a unique process that clarified and refined their project goals, and resulted in a better understanding of their mission and ultimately what their vision needed to be.”
“One of the nice surprises revealed in that process was that it sparked a lot of great ideas,” adds Omidy.
“Determining how we could best put those ideas together for the final document was a real achievement. It was a circuitous journey at times, but the end result yielded a master plan that moves the organization forward to meet their goals, engage new audiences, and think through how they can be both economically and environmentally sustainable.”