Questions Answered About Elmwood

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Questions Answered About Elmwood


Since the Richmond Area Arts Council's very successful event at Elmwood last fall, a number of persons continue to ask about the history of that old estate and its mistress. Miss Emma Watts, an only child who never married, lived her life as a wealthy, somewhat reclusive, Southern lady at the 20-acre estate her father had built in 1887, the year of her birth. Except for a period of education abroad and a degree from Vassar in 1910, she lived there with her servants and collie dogs until her death on Dec. 22, 1970. (Some have said it was Christmas Eve, but The Richmond Register reported her death in the Dec. 23 issue.) Her father, William Walker Watts (1836-1912), was a Confederate soldier and native of Madison County. He earned a fortune in Texas after the Civil War with a cotton plantation and with cattle on the open range. Returning to Madison County in the late 1880s, he and his wife Mary Parkes Watts (1848-1934) bought the 20-acre site from State Sen. John D. Harris. Called Elmwood because of a grove of elm trees originally there, the large estate on Lancaster Avenue faces the Eastern Kentucky University administration building. The Cincinnati architect des Jardins designed a grand estate, including the three-story, 20-room house and a number of outbuildings. Many features of the house are very interesting, such as the divided chimney in the dining room, with a stained glass window right in the middle of it. Local brick mason Samuel Rice, who laid the brick for a number of fine houses and buildings in Madison County, was employed to make all the pressed brick there at the site. Those interested in a more detailed description of this Chateauesque style mansion would do well to consult Lavinia Kubiak's recent book, Madison County Rediscovered: Selected Historic Architecture. Miss Emma's will (recorded in the county clerk's office) provided for her estate to be preserved just as it was at the time of her death, as an example of how the wealthy Southern lady lived, with the Watts fortune in trust providing for the upkeep. Charles C. Hay III, secretary of the Madison County Historical Society, states in a short history of Elmwood: "Today, Elmwood still stands as a tribute to a lady with definite opinions and ideas who probably could be characterized as an individual that time passed by."


Dr. Robert Grise




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Dr. Robert Grise, “Questions Answered About Elmwood,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed March 29, 2023,