PROFILE: Magical place once home to governor
CHILLICOTHE — In 1807, the state of Ohio was as fresh as new fallen snow. That was the year Thomas Worthington moved into his new estate, Adena, designed by the hot architectural ticket of the day, Benjamin Latrobe.
The place was so beautiful Worthington gave it its special name because it the word is “given to places remarkable for the delightfulness of their situation,” Worthington once wrote in his diary.
Four years earlier Ohio, carved out of the Northwest Territory, had officially become a state.
Latrobe had designed the U.S. Capitol during the presidency of Thomas Jefferson and his work on Adena, outside of Chillicothe, elevated the estate to the higher echelons of architectural royalty.
Whether at that time anyone had an inkling that Worthington would become the sixth governor of the state, he was definitely thought of by his contemporaries as a mover and shaker of his time.
The native-born Virginian was just finishing up his first term as one of the fledgling state’s first U.S. senators when he moved into his new estate of 2,000 acres.
He would again get elected to Washington, D.C. from 1811-1814. After that he would serve two two-year terms as governor of Ohio.
Now the mansion he called home and the 300 acres surrounding it are open to the public for tours of the grandeur of the early years of Ohio that give a walk through the state’s history.
“Chillicothe was the capital of the Northwest Territory, “Brigitte Hisey, education specialist at Adena, explained. “ That is why political things were happening before statehood. Then it was the first Ohio capital, then to Lancaster and back to Chillicothe and then to Columbus.”
Guests to Adena made up the who’s who of early 19th century American politics, like Henry Clay, James Monroe, Aaron Burr and William Henry Harrison.
“This is a place that people were coming to,” Hisey said. “In 1807, most people didn’t have their house designed by an architect.
The square-shaped house with 20 rooms was made entirely of sandstone that was quarried from the property.
The walls were two-feet thick. During the two years the mansion was under construction, the Worthingtons lived in a log house on the property as they watched the dream mansion rise from the acreage.
Befitting such a public man, the house was divided in two distinct sections: one for the politician’s public visitors and the other as a place of respite for him, his wife and their 10 children.
The mansion was given to the Ohio Historical Society in the late 1940s after it has been purchased by a Ross County businessman George Hunter Smith.
Smith had bought the house as a summer home for his family. It offers a variety of unique architectural features for its time.
“The kitchen was attached, which was unusual for its time,” Hisey said. “Benjamin Latrobe wanted a nice clean look.”
More typically for houses of that magnitude, kitchens, often the source of wayward fires, were separate structures as a practical matter to protect the larger structure.
As Worthington was a friend of Jefferson and a visitor to his Monticello, there are features at Adena inspired by the third president’s dream house.
“We have revolving servers where the servants placed dishes on the servers (and moved them) into the whole dining room area,” Hisey said.
There are also a couple of windows that double as doors, one in upstairs room and one from the drawing room.
“The windows push out and Mrs. Worthington could go right out into her gardens,” Hisey said.
From archaeological work some of the original paths were found so historians know that the extensive gardens were terraced with flower and vegetable gardens and a vineyard.
Much of the restoration work comes from information found in diaries of Worthington and his family.
“He was a very forward thinking person,” Hisey said. “He was for public education, building the canals. … He thought all children should be educated, even the girls.”
A person of wealth, Worthington discovered his acreage in Ross County when he came to area to do some surveying for a fellow Virginian.
“He fell in love with the place,” Hisey said.