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Tragedy strikes historic home

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Treasured house destroyed by fire was on National Register of Historic Places

By Tom Watson

The people who knew about the Isaac Miller House with its beautiful winding stairway, 14 rooms and multiple fireplaces have nothing but fond memories of the Spencer County mansion. Memories are all they have since a fire Aug. 7 destroyed Field Hoagland’s 186-year-old treasure that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

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The house was almost a mile west of Fairfield and sat in that southern-most part of Spencer that hugs KY 48 between Fairfield and High Grove. It was also known as the Rogers or Ben Miller place, but shows on the national register as the “Isaac Miller Farm.”
No one was home when the fire broke out. Bobbie Jo Shelburne and four others lived there. A crew patching the road saw the blaze and called the Spencer County Fire Department. Bobbie Jo said she was told a fan that had been left on began showering sparks, which would make the cause electrical. The sparks were noticed by the road crew, she added.
“As far as I know, they didn’t come up with a cause,” Houghlin said. “It was my grandparents’ home and my mother’s home. It was more of a sentimental loss than a monetary loss.” Houghlin said he has not determined the dollar amount of the loss.
Charles Cornell’s family lived in the house for many years. The Fairfield resident recalled the interior of the structure.
“Slaves had a place in the back yard,” Cornell said. “It had a big fire place in the middle and big rooms on either side. As I understand, families of slaves lived on either side of the fireplace. The kitchen slave had a staircase to go upstairs because the kitchen slave lived over the kitchen.”
“The kitchen slave was not allowed in the other parts of the house,” Cornell said, quoting hand-me-down family history. “The kitchen slave could go directly into the dining room. The door was two-piece with a serving shelf on top of the lower half,” he explained. “The kitchen slave brought the food to the two-piece door and the ‘serving slave’ did all the serving.”
Judith Lalude of Louisville is descended from slaves whose servitude occurred at the Miller house. That story is worthy of another article or series at a later date.
Lalude is currently wrapping up a book on the underground railroad and gathering information on slavery in Spencer County.
Cornell said the hallways of the Miller house were like rooms because of their size.
“There was a front room my grandmother always called the ‘parlor.’ Right out of the parlor was a big winding staircase. Upstairs there was a big hallway. There was a piano in there, couches and chairs. The hallway was 20 feet wide. A back porch wrapped all the way around the back of the house.”
“My grandfather bought the place in 1916 or 1917. He was a Rogers who came from Taylorsville. My mother, Ann Rogers Cornell, was born in the house in 1919,” Cornell said.
His recollections continued during an interview: “There’s a spring house out in front of the house. I remember my grand- daddy said they would put their meat down in the spring water. The meat house also survived where they smoked meat.”