By Kelly McKinney
Register News Writer
It’s been a part of Richmond for more than a century and is surrounded by legends. Its park-like setting and architecture, including features such as a stable and maids’ quarters, remind those who see it of an earlier time.
It’s known as Elmwood, a majestic home that, by all accounts, was much loved by its owner, Emma Parkes Watts. It has remained in Watts’ estate for four decades since her death.
Now, it belongs to Eastern Kentucky University.
Watts, who died in 1970, stipulated in her will that the 20-acre estate, which includes a 9,000 square-foot home, could not be sold and was to be maintained in its current historical condition.
After an effort that spans more than 50 years, the EKU Foundation recently acquired the estate, the university announced Monday.
The property was donated to the foundation by Watts’ estate, according to an EKU press release.
Though the property is a gift, the foundation will reimburse the estate $400,000 for recent improvements to it, said Doug Whitlock, EKU president. Those projects would have been done by the university anyway if it had acquired the estate when negotiations began, he said.
The estate’s current value is $420,000, according to the Madison County Property Valuation Administrator’s office.
EKU has been trying to obtain the land and its buildings since the 1960s, but has been unsuccessful because of the will’s stipulations.
Watts insisted Elmwood could not be sold or put up as collateral for any kind of loan.
“(The trustee) shall have no power or authority to sell or in any manner hypothecate any of my real estate located in Madison County, Kentucky, or any of the furniture, furnishings, linens, china, silver, glassware, books, ornaments or other tangible personal property located in Elmwood at the time of my death,” the will reads.
It also mandates that Watts’ trustee resist any and all efforts that might be made to seize the property through eminent domain, or to put the property, or any part of the property, to public use.
Two months after Watts signed her will on June 10, 1970, she added a codicil in which she allowed for the sale of a tract of land she owned, known as Lancaster House, in the event her resources were not sufficient to preserve Elmwood as she wished and more funds were needed.
“It is my primary testamentary intention to preserve my residence, “Elmwood,” and to maintain it in its present condition, in so far as is possible, for the benefit of my cousins, Margaret Kilgore Cope, Millard Lewis Cope, Jr., and Margaret Parhan Cope,” she wrote.
The codicil also reaffirms the provision of her will that stipulates Elmwood was not to be sold.
The will’s provisions are enforceable as long as either of Watts’ cousins mentioned in the codicil is alive. After that, the will calls for the estate to be divided among her cousins’ then surviving blood relatives.
Whitlock said the trustee of Watts’ estate decided to give the property to the university to ensure it would be preserved according to Watts’ wishes.
“There was some concern about what would happen to the property,” Whitlock said.
The university has yet to decide how it will use the property, but Whitlock said he believes it would be a good site for an alumni development center.
Whitlock thanks the estate’s trustee, Cathy Burnam Flood, for helping the university acquire the home.
“She has taken her responsibility to the trust very seriously,” Whitlock said. “I am very appreciative of the trust she has shown us.”
Several stipulations in the deed restrict what EKU can do with the property. It cannot use it for commercial purposes or build anything in front of the home. Anything built in the back has be no taller than two stories. It also has to be maintained in its current state, and any new construction has to be similar in architecture to the house.
“We are committed to maintaining the name of Elmwood and the beautiful vista along Lancaster Avenue,” Whitlock said in an e-mail notifying the university community of the acquisition. “Further, we will use the property only for non-commercial purposes consistent with our mission.”
Because the cost to restore the home or build other structures likely will be substantial, he does not believe the university will do so anytime soon, he said.
The home, said to be the only chateau-style home in Kentucky outside of Louisville, was completed in 1887, according to placeography.org. It cost $35,000 to build.
In addition to the house, the property contains a stable, carriage house, smokehouse, barn and caretaker’s cottage.
Inside the three-story home, there are five bedrooms, a library, a dining room, kitchen, parlor, several sitting rooms, maids’ quarters, an attic and a cellar.
Long passages dominate the home’s interior.
The home was placed in 1984 on the National Register of Historical Places.
Emma Watts died at the age of 83 on Dec. 22, 1970, just six months after signing her will.
She never married and lived in the home her entire life.
Kelly McKinney can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6694.