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Our Rich History: 200+ years of Southgate/Thompson House in Newport, last 44 as entertainment venue

Part 52 of our series, “Resilience and Renaissance: Newport, Kentucky, 1795-2020.”

By Jacob Koch
Special to NKyTribune

For the last 44 years, the Thompson House at 24 East Third Street in Newport has been a place that has garnered much attention for musical acts. It has drawn many national acts, as well as given birth to a host of local bands that would go on to contribute to the national scene. But while many people know of this venue’s roots in music, few realize the 200-year-old legacy that this house has given to the city of Newport.

The main stage at Thompson House. (Courtesy of Thompson House Productions.)

Built by Richard Southgate (1774-1857), in circa 1814-1821, it is reported that the property was partly constructed using British prisoners of war from the War of 1812, held at neighboring Newport Barracks. The property originally encompassed  nearly a city block, but over time was parceled off. Richard Southgate, son of Captain Wright Southgate and Mary Lush Southgate, was originally from New York and achieved his license to practice law in 1797 after having attended William and Mary College in Virginia.  Previously when studying in New York, he had the opportunity to hear from great founding political figures, such as Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

Arriving in Newport in circa 1795, Southgate quickly gained notice in the community. He married Anne Winston Hinde Southgate, daughter of revolutionary war officer and Kentucky’s pioneer doctor, Thomas Hinde. From this marriage six children were produced, all of whom lived to adulthood and continued to make an impact on the local and national scene. In 1803, Southgate was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives. He would become a member of the Kentucky Senate from 1817-1833. During this time, he would entertain many popular guests of his day, including future president Abraham Lincoln in 1855. Southgate died on July 24, 1857, passing his home to his eldest daughter Frances Mary Taliaferro Parker (1804-1883).

Parker modified the house, adding the entrance tower, the widow’s walk, and the mansard style roof. In 1869, Frances bequeathed the house to her eldest daughter, Julia Thompson (1837-1908), with the understanding that she would spend the rest of her days on the estate. Julia Parker was the mother of the famous firearm inventor. John T. Thompson (1860-1940).  Thompson’s father was a colonel in the Union army during the Civil War, having graduated from West Point in New York in 1851. Much like his father, Thompson would go on to attend West Point as well, graduating in 1882. After being promoted to 2nd lieutenant, Thompson would be assigned to the army Ordinance department in 1890. (See the NKyTribune story on John T. Thompson here)

The Thompson House, night view. (Courtesy of the Thompson House.)

Thompson served in the Spanish-American War, being promoted to lieutenant colonel and chief ordnance officer. During that war, he witnessed the demonstration of a Gatling gun deployment, sparking an interest in automatic firearms, which he pursued upon his promotion. Thompson was influential in the development of the Springfield 1903 rifle used in World War I, as well as the trials and development of a 45 caliber sidearm for the United States military which resulted in the Colt  1911, still very popular among modern shooters. But perhaps his most notable invention, the Thompson Sub-machine gun, achieved notoriety in the hands of the mob. Thompson died in 1940, however, his invention would be redeemed in WWII, when the US military used this firearm extensively, bringing more positive acclaim to Thompson’s genius.

Preceding Thompson’s death, the house would be sold out of the family line to Fannie and Lewis Maddux. In 1914, the Knights of Columbus of Campbell County purchased it. They added a brick porch as well as a large backroom, following a fire that destroyed part of the property in 1948. This would leave the house with its current look. The Knights would additionally add a balcony overlooking the basement where the main stage is located.

First floor of the Thompson house. (Courtesy of matterpoint.)

Today the three-story mansion continues to host local and national music acts in the basement/first floor and second floor. The first floor originally served as the parlor, library, and dining room. It now houses the bar and billiards rooms. The second floor originally encompassed the bedrooms and ladies’ sitting rooms, but today hosts a smaller stage for concerts. Finally, the third floor was believed to have housed more bedrooms and is currently an art gallery.

In addition to having a colorful musical and historical past, the house has an active following in the paranormal community of Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. Concertgoers, workers, and paranormal enthusiasts have identified three persistent entities, as well as other entities that are not as common. The first persistent entity is believed to be a woman named Elizabeth or Francis Parker. There were reported sightings of a female entity who would open and close doors during the evening, confusing patrons and workers. The second entity is believed to be that of a six-year-old boy who had died on the property. Often knocking can be heard on the walls of the house, which is attributed to this apparition. The third entity is believed to be that of a Civil War soldier who had died on or near the grounds. Identified as a Confederate soldier by his uniform, he is often reported to have conversations with patrons and to appear in places such as the men’s bathroom on the first floor and the landing of the second floor. This is just a short list of the common paranormal occurrences reported at the Thomson house — many other paranormal events have been experienced in many other locations at the Thompson House.

While the house has changed between many owners and even its name over the years, the legacy of this home continues to have an impact on Newport and the surrounding area culture and history. From politicians and military men to a noted firearms inventor, to ethereal residents, and to its present-day entertainers, the Southgate/Thompson House haunts our historic imagination

Jacob Koch is a local historian who primarily focuses on 19th and 20th Century American history, having received his BA in History from the University of Cincinnati. He is currently a graduate student at Northern Kentucky University.

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of many books and articles.

The Southgate/Thompson House, day view. (Photo by Paul A. Tenkotte.)

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