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The Phoenix Hotel opened its doors as a tavern in 1797 in what is now downtown Lexington. Throughout its 180 years, the Phoenix Hotel was witness to the violence of the Civil War and the struggle for equality during the Civil Rights movements of the twentieth century. Although it was demolished in 1981 and replaced by Phoenix Park, the legacy of the Phoenix Hotel still stands as a testament to the complicated history of Lexington.

  • A vintage postcard of the Phoenix Hotel in its former glory. The hotel was a frequented spot by locals (and supposedly a few presidents) on the corner of Limestone and East Main Street in downtown Lexington.
  • After the hotel was demolished in 1981, the site where Phoenix Park now stands went through several changes before its creation. The park serves as a spot for locals and visitors to enjoy the community of downtown Lexington.

Opening in 1820 as the Postlethwaite Tavern, the Phoenix Hotel soon became one of the most famous hostelries of its time. Throughout the 180 years that its doors were open, the hotel hosted many famous visitors and was the site in which several important organizations were formed. 

The hotel became a famous site during the Civil War. After the Battle of Perryville, located south of Lexington, General John Hunt Morgan and his men retreated to receive some Southern hospitality. Whilst resting, they were surrounded by the Union troops who were also stationed in the area.1 Later, upon his reinternment in April 1868, Morgan's soldiers formed the Morgan's Men Association as a tribute to their fallen leader. They created the society at the Phoenix Hotel under the oath that they would pledge "fidelity and affection for each other for as long as they lived" and hold the "memory of our illustrious and beloved leader shall ever be as indelibly stamped upon the tablets of our hearts as his name is written on the undying page of history."2

In addition to the Morgan's Men's Association, several other important organizations had their inception at the hotel. One was the Alpha Theta chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity at Transylvania University that was started at the hotel on April 4th, 1891. Additionally, the Kiwanis Club of Lexington, an organization dedicated to serving the community, was founded at the hotel in 1919. 

As the world moved into the twentieth century, the hotel was unfortunately still rooted in its Southern prejudices. The hotel became known for its discrimination of black visitors. Before a pre-season game at Memorial Coliseum in October of 1961, African-American members of the Boston Celtics were refused service by the Phoenix Hotel. As a result, the players boycotted the game and left Lexington, taking a brave stand against this discrimination.3 In December of 1961, Louis Armstrong came to visit the hotel to perform for a private party. When he arrived, he was met by protesters who were speaking out against the hotel's discriminatory policies. A young Lexington man named Calvert McCann was able to capture this historic moment on his camera. This was crucial because the Lexington Herald-Leader had refused to provide press coverage of the demonstration. 
A historical marker was placed on the grounds of Phoenix Park in 2015 by the Kentucky Historical Society. The marker commemorates the significance of the Phoenix Hotel as the "oldest hostelry in the whole western country," as well as the centennial of the Rotary Club of Lexington which first began meeting at the famed hotel on June 23, 1915.5

1. Houlihan, Ed. Ashland Clash Makes it Mark- Civil War in Lexington. Lex History. Accessed April 01, 2019.

2. Morgan's Men Association History. Morgan's Men Association, Inc. Accessed April 01, 2019.

3. Spears, Valerie Honeycutt. Four black photographers with Kentucky roots were witness to history. Lexington Herald-Ledger. February 22, 2013. Accessed April 01, 2019.

4. Brackney, Peter. Lost Lexington Kentucky. (The History Press: Charleston, SC). 2014.

5. Newest Historical Marker Tells of Phoenix Hotel in Lexington. Kentucky Historical Society. Accessed April 01, 2019.