(click picture for an enlargement)

Clovercroft (once located at the corner of Ash Avenue and LaGrange Road) was the home of pioneer, prize-winning, female photographer Kate Matthews, who was the model for the character “Katie Marks” in the “Little Colonel” stories. In fact as well as fiction, she spent her lifetime recording the Valley’s people, places and gracious lifestyle through the lens of her bellows-style camera. It was in Clovercroft’s third story tower that she worked on the photographs used for “Little Colonel” postcards and to illustrate Johnston’s 1929 autobiography, The Land of the Little Colonel. While Matthews’ works can be found at New York’s Whitney Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art, the University of Louisville’s Ekstrom Library boasts the largest collection of her photographs. Kate’s niece, Elizabeth “Bet” Matthews Feagan, also visited Clovercroft during her youth. Her love of writing and poetry inspired Betty’s character in the “Little Colonel” novels. Later in life, after her children were grown, Bet returned to Pewee Valley and lived with her aunt until Kate Matthews’ death in 1956. Kate’s ca. 1866 home was destroyed by a fire on June 19, 1960.

The home, according to Land of the Little Colonel, privately published in 1974 by Mrs. John S. (Katie) Smith, was built by M. M. Rohrer in 1866 and, just as Annie Fellows Johnston describes, was located at the corner of 146 and Ashwood (now Ash) Avenue next door to the fictional Lloydsboro Seminary, in real life the Kentucky College for Young Ladies. In the late 1880s, it was purchased by the Matthews family.

Kate Matthews’ parents, Charlotta Ann Clark Matthews (above)
and her husband Lucien, purchased Clovercroft in the late 1880s 
when the family moved to Pewee Valley from Indiana.
Kate Matthews photo from "Historic Pewee Valley."

Kate Matthews’ great-great niece, Marjorie Fletcher Thompson, spent a great deal of time at Clovercroft visiting her Aunties Kate, “Flissie,” (Kate’s niece, Felice Matthews Guttenberger) and Bet (Kate’s niece and Felice’s sister, Elizabeth Feagin, who, during a visit to Pewee Valley when she was a child, met Annie Fellows Johnston and became the authoress’ model for Betty) – and watching “Rin Tin Tin” on their television – while she was growing up at Pewee Valley’s Peace Farm during the 1940s and 1950s. She remembers that the front door opened into a large hall with an imposing staircase that led to the four bedrooms on the second floor and then climbed to the third floor tower, where her Aunt Kate’s photography studio was located. “I was never allowed in the tower,” she recalls. “I was told there were bees up there that would sting you to death!”

On the left, at the front of the house, was the music room with an organ or upright piano and grand piano, where Kate’s divorced sister, Jesse Matthews Joy, gave local Pewee children piano lessons for many years. Jesse’s bedroom was in back of the music room.

This picture of Marjorie Fletcher Thompson as an infant, from her private collection,
was taken in Clovercroft’s music room. The grand piano is to the left in a window bay.
The bookcases were on the hall wall.

On the right was the sitting room, shown in the photo below. “It was furnished with old oriental carpets and antiques, such as a Belter couch and chairs,” she recalls.

Kate Matthews with her nephew, Hollywood producer and screenwriter Charles Brackett, 
standing before Clovercroft’s sitting room fireplace, from the Kate Matthews
 clipping file at Louisville Free Public Library’s Main Branch on York Street

The dining room was located at the end of the hall and had a large table. “When my family would go there to eat dinner, the three Fletchers and the three aunties barely took up half the table,” she says. Behind the dining room was the kitchen. 

Thompson attended many teas at her aunties’ home, similar to the one pictured below. “They observed all the formalities, dressed for tea and wore white gloves,” she remembers. “They were very proper and always set the table correctly, from the placement of the silver, salad dishes and soup bowls to the candle arrangements.” One aspect of dining at Clovercroft Thompson fondly recalls is the oyster soup. “Aunt Fliss always dropped a pearl into mine,” she reminisces.

Mom Beck, The Walton's and the Little Colonel at a tea at Clovercroft

Florence Dickerson wrote the following vignette, called “Christmas at Clovercroft” for the December 1975 edition of the Call of the Pewee. It illustrates very well what life was like at the Matthews family home during the holiday season:

Christmas at “Clovercroft,” the Matthews’ spacious family home, was always a very exciting and festive time of year. Weeks before the day there was an air of secrecy and much went on behind closed doors for everyone was making gifts. No one would even give a hint so that the recipient of each gift could be completely surprised.

Although the Matthews usually did not have a Christmas tree, the house was carefully decorated. Hemlock and holly were cut from the trees on the property and Kate, the photographer, would drive her pony cart into the woods and gather cedar. By the day before Christmas all the pictures, sconces and fireplace mantels were framed with evergreen boughs. The stairway to the second floor was twined with garlands and greens and even the gateposts had their holiday decorations.

Christmas eve the Matthews would go caroling to the houses of all their friends. Each year they and the neighbors stopped at Mr. Frank Gatchel’s to hear him read Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.”

The night before Christmas, whenever an adult awakened from his sleep, he jingled sleigh bells. This was to the delight of the children because they believed it to be Santa Claus going about visiting the homes in Pewee.

The year that Aunt Jay (Jesse Matthews Joy) returned from Berlin was the most exciting Christmas. She had been abroad studying piano with Thedor Leschetizky, the renowned teacher. When the doors to the parlor opened, there was a magnificent grand piano, a gift from her father.

Another year the husband of one of the granddaughters who lived in the East brought a radio. No one was to know about it until Christmas morning, so in the middle of the night he managed to open one of the parlor windows and put this marvel of the age on a table amid holly and hemlock decorations. Everyone was ecstatic when the radio, one of the first in the community, was revealed.

When Grandfather Matthews (Lucien Jex) was unable to plan any unusual gifts, he would give everyone a gold coin. A marble top table was draped with velvet and the coins arranged on this. Grandmother Matthews always received the largest gold piece and the others received one of less value down to the youngest members of the family who were given the smallest.

Before the day of pre-tied bows and rolls of Christmas paper, gifts were wrapped in original designs. The gifts, too, were original endeavors, beautiful handmade creations, embroidery or paintings. Kate very often gave a photograph, one that was especially apropos. The gifts were not opened until Christmas morning and then there was much ceremony. It was a tradition that if you were to say “Christmas gift” to anyone, they were to give you a gift, although you were not required to give them one. Since much thought and preparation had been made for this occasion, no one was overlooked and there was a gift for everyone. The poems that accompanied the handmade remembrances were as cherished as the gift, and these were read aloud before the gift was opened.

Often during the holidays friends gathered in the parlor to hear the Matthews’ music and to sing the Christmas songs they liked so much. Jay played the piano or organ; Florence, the piano; Edwin, the violin; and Kate, the violin. ‘Tis said that Kate never played the violin very well and some would sing a big “off key,” but all joined in heartily.

A typical Clovercroft Christmas dinner menu included Cornish hens, wild rice stuffing, artichokes and mushrooms, cranberry port mold, individual plum cakes flambé, hot rolls, coffee and well chilled Chablis. Recipes for this dinner can be found in “History by Food: Recipes and Stories About the Food and Families of Oldham County, Kentucky,” copyright 2006 by the Oldham County Historical Society. The cookbook also includes the following recipe for Mrs. Jesse Joy’s Jelly Cookies:

1 cup sugar 
1 cup butter 
3 egg whites 
2 cups flour 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
¾ cup sweet milk

Drop cookie batter by teaspoonful on greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees. When cookies are done and still warm, spread small amount of favorite jelly on one cookie and place other cookie on top to make a sandwich. Sprinkle with powdered sugar while still warm.

After Kate Matthews died in 1956, Thompson says that Bet and Fliss left Pewee Valley and headed to Macon, Georgia, where Bet had family. Clovercroft was then sold and shortly thereafter burned to the ground around 1959 or 1960. It was rumored that arson was the cause of the blaze.

Marjorie Fletcher Thompson as a child standing at Clovercroft’s gate.
The photo is in her private collection and was taken by her Great-Great Aunt Kate Matthews.

Clovercroft’s gate during the Little Colonel years
with the walk along Ashwood (Ash) Ave.
Another photo by Kate Matthews

-  page by Donna Russell

Read more about Kate Matthews, her life, her photos and her career