A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Historic Foster-Sandford house (aka ‘Lady Burlington’) could tell stories of 186 years of history

By Leasa Souza
Special to NKyTribune

I knew the moment I walked inside the Historic Foster-Sandford in Burlington that it was my dream home. I took the leap and made my first home purchase in the fall of 1993.

About a year later, while studying dance at NKU and Belly Dancing at the Jerusalem Café in Cincinnati on the weekends, I had the idea of turning the lower level into a Mediterranean Café, serving exotic cuisine made from scratch using grape leaves and herbs grown in my back yard and entertaining diners with a belly dance.

It was quite an interesting concept for the sleepy little town of Burlington, which still was in the early 90’s. I was the belly dancer who served hummus in historic Burlington — and I had the time of my life.

In the fall of 1999, my youngest daughter was accepted into a performing arts school in Honolulu, Hawaii. We followed her dream of becoming an actress, packed up and moved to the islands. Closing the restaurant was bittersweet. It was a struggle maintaining a building nearly 200 years old 5000 miles away, but I wasn’t ready to let go of my home.

Two years after moving to the islands, I awoke to a 5 a.m. phone call from my tenant in a panic. The building had been hit by a van clocked at 55 mph, and the damage was extensive. My tenant was ordered to evacuate immediately by the building inspector. I feared the worst and cried.

The entire front corner had to be rebuilt and finding brick to match proved to be impossible. Speaking with historic brick masons, I learned that the clay bearing soil and sand used to make the brick was local. The original brick was fired on site and the kiln used to fire the brick is buried somewhere in the yard. This is how an 1830’s brick home was built, so we did our best. The restoration took about a year and it was then that I coined the name Lady Burlington, The Grande Dame.

She survived.

In May 2015, 14 years later, I opened an email with a photo of the exterior wall collapsed with brick all over my sidewalk. It was on the same side just further down from where the vehicle had hit the building in 2001. I was shocked and felt helpless being so far away. I could not believe what I was seeing again. I called around town in search of an engineer to take immediate action to stabilize Lady B.

This time around we were surprised to find a chimney inside the wall that had collapsed and the sheer force blew out the exterior wall. Finding an old charred newspaper from the 1930’s instantly took me back in time. Luckily, this time around, I found historic brick from an old building demo in Cincinnati that matched well. My mason shaved it down to match the size of the existing brick and we salvaged and reused what we could from the house. The exterior restoration was done in about 3 weeks, but it took me 2 years to completely restore her, flying back and forth from Hawaii three times a year.

There was a lot of work needing done and I wanted to bring her back to all her glory adding elements of historic lighting, period paint colors and restoring the absolutely stunning original Kentucky tulip poplar flooring. I also wanted to create a patriotic feel and used the colors of our Federal American flag, red, white and blue on the outside.

I am very pleased with the outcome of the restoration. The place is absolutely amazing inside and out. Located in the heart of Historic Burlington, the yard is a soothing green space with grape vines, fruit trees, evergreens and one of the oldest silver leaf maple trees in Boone County.

The original well remains on the property, but the chicken coop and the coalhouse noted in the land survey are long gone. The second time around I realized the importance of documenting the restoration process to preserve as much of her history as I could gather.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was built during our country’s 7th presidency (Andrew Jackson), around 1831. Joseph Foster purchased the parcel of land for $350 and built the home in the Federal style. The second owner Robert Sandford made the Greek revival alterations in the 1840’s.

I think about this fascinating place, a part of Burlington, Boone County, Kentucky history and the people who are a part of her.

I think about the skills and craftsmanship that went into building the home and the quality of the materials used. They are rare and not seen in homes today. Old wood is much different than new wood and everything was hand-hewn because they didn’t have tools like today. The wood used to build the staircase is heart of pine steps, flaming tiger maple spindles and a cherry banister. The staircase is truly a masterpiece of its time and noted in the historical records as such.

There are Roman numerals carved in the ceiling joist on the 3rd floor in consecutive order and 3 names of girls etched in a windowpane. All of the windows on the first and second level are original and the glass has beautiful waves. I am sure there are things hiding around the property I have yet to discover.

Working in my garden one summer day I saw something flickering, half buried in the dirt. It was a liberty head mercury dime, something from the past.

There is a gorgeous view of the Historic Boone County Courthouse inside and out. At night the bell tower is all lit up and it is stunning. It was built around the time President Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act forcing my Cherokee ancestors from their homelands to walk what became The Trail of Tears, to Indian Territory, Oklahoma.

Shortly after being built, historical records note the second owner Robert Sandford traded two slaves, Almeda, age 18, and Roger, age 12, to afford the Greek revival modifications. He also traded Turkish carpets, Windsor chairs, a silver set and feather beds. His slaves were housed on the 3rd floor.

Fortunately, all of the previous owners have preserved and maintained much of the originality down to the front door rim lock and skeleton key. The very key that opens the front door has passed through every new owners hand. I love that.

Lady Burlington stood the test of time while a whole lot of changes in our county followed. The California Gold Rush, American Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, Gilded Age, Gay Nineties, Progressive Era, Prohibition, World War 1, Roaring Twenties, Jazz Age, Great Depression, New Deal, World War 2, Cold War, Red Scare, Vietnam War, Feminism Wave, Energy Crisis, Regan Era, Dot com Bubble, Housing Bubble and War on Terror and she is still standing strong.

If these walls could talk, I would sit and listen for 186 years.

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