Born on his family’s farm near Armstrong Mill, Robert Ward McMeekin’s forebears had received a land grant from the Virginia Commonwealth before Kentucky’s establishment in 1792. His pride in his homeland is imbued in his work. “I’ve always been preoccupied with the beauty and gracious lifestyle” of the Bluegrass, McMeekin shared. Local materials, too, were favored, with Kentucky River Marble often utilized as his preferred stone. While McMeekin claimed the “livability” of his homes to be his biggest point of pride, his homes are noteworthy today for their timeless, gracious manner, usually influenced by Colonial or Federal styles.
A fortuitous opportunity solidified McMeekin’s reputation as a young architect. A contest was announced for the design of a grandstand and clubhouse for the newly-formed Keeneland Racecourse. Recently graduated from the University of Kentucky and facing the post-Depression economy, McMeekin was eager for the work. When he submitted his plan to the board, his competitors grumbled his plan had been unfairly advantaged by his presentation-a leather binder with brass handles, McMeekin recalled. Explaining later that he was “just catering to [his] clients’ taste,” he earned the contract.
Within a year, he had also been commissioned to build an estate at Calumet Farm and the work kept coming. His portfolio grew to include an estimated 75+ homes, restorations, and other buildings, including work on Walnut Hall, Poplar Hill, Mansfield, Hamburg Place, Griffin Gate, Escondida, Meadowcrest, Audubon, & the Hollys. His homes also dotted the city, centering on the Fairway neighborhood and the Richmond Road corridor, but also includes much of Deepwood and other areas.
His own home, a federal masterpiece on the Tates Creek Pike, boasted more than seven acres of formal gardens—as well as a private exotic animal quarantine facility. The only such facility in the state, it had been built to complement the exotic animal zoo McMeekin and his family owned on the banks of the Kentucky River in Nicholasville. There, on 100 acres, they cared for big cats, camels, apes, kangaroos, elephants, exotic birds, historic breeds of horses and more. Today, his McMeekin estate anchors the modern neighborhood of the same name.
Discover more by viewing the Robert McMeekin Architectural Drawings found in the University of Kentucky archives.