By: Donald E. Clare, Jr., Rabbit Hash Historical Society
Originally published: June 26, 2008 in the Boone County Recorder
Funny how people don't take an interest in something until it's gone. Case in point: the John Quincy Adams Stephens log house on Hathaway Road “on the ridge above Rabbit Hash.” Seems like everybody wanted to know about it after it burned last Christmas. Several local news stations reported that it was close to 300 years old. Let's bust that myth right here and now. The loss to fire of this important Boone County landmark was indeed a tragedy to the Chapman family. Thankfully, there was no loss of human life. But local history and heritage suffered from the loss of this treasured local landmark.
As with most National Register properties, the assigned historic name reflects the original property owner, builder, or steward of the property at the earliest public record of the place. The standard identifier we use in Boone County is often the name of the owner listed on D.J. Lake's 1883 Atlas of Boone, Kenton and Campbell Counties, Kentucky.
Built sometime in the 2nd quarter of the 19th century, probably in the early 1840s, the Stephens House was actually a rare example of log house architecture in Boone County. It was one of only a few two story dog-trot style log houses. A dog trot consists of two separately built log pens next to each other with a vacant passage between them, the whole of which is roofed over with a single gable roof running the entire length, thus creating a central breezeway or passage which is framed in and enclosed, forming another room or hall between the two pens. When covered over with clapboard, as they all initially were, it gave the appearance of a style known as the three bay center passage house. Another rare feature of the house was the presence of a log ell built perpendicular to the rear of the house. There are two other log homes in the county with this feature, but both were relocated from elsewhere.
The name John Quincy Adams Stephens seems to be a peculiar name, doesn't it? John Quincy Adams wasn't even President until 1825. So what made the namesake so special in 1817 when Stephens was born here in Boone County? That was the year that Adams was called back as minister to Great Britain and appointed Secretary of State under James Monroe. Before that, he was the chief negotiator for the U.S. of the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the War of 1812.
Stephen's father was Benjamin, Jr., the Stephens family patriarch who came to Boone from Orange County, Virginia and settled along Gunpowder Creek sometime around 1807. J.Q.A. was one of 14 children. He married Lucy Ann Berkshire in 1839 and they had 6 children. Their first two sons were born in 1843 and 1845 respectively, and it is proposed that they were established in the log house by this time, built on a section of the old home place on land given him by his father. Lucy Ann died sometime after 1855, the year their last child was born (and later died at the age of 6 months).
In 1865, J.Q.A. married his second wife, Elizabeth Bowles. They had 3 children together. In 1869, they sold the place to T.C.S. Ryle and moved across the river to Indiana. Thaddeus Constantine Sobieski Ryle was J.Q.A. Stephen's nephew by marriage. He married America Nelson Stephens, who was the daughter of J.Q.A.'s brother, James Nelson Stephens. This is the point at which the old Stephens' place became the old Ryle place. It remained in the Ryle family until 1967.
Now just where did these Ryle names come from? Evidently, either Thad's mother or father was a fan of the author Jane Porter, who, in 1803, published her historical novel, Thaddeus of Warsaw. It was a late 18th Century war and romance novel set in England and Poland. The hero was, Thaddeus Sobieski, the illegitimate son of an English aristocrat and Polish nobleman. The child was raised in Poland by his mother and grandfather, but passed off as the son of a legitimate widow. The boy grows to become a Polish patriot, fighting against the oppressive Russian Army until he becomes a refugee to England and assumes the surname Constantine. He is thrown into debtor's prison, only to be rescued by one of his former prisoners from the war, with whom he developed a dear friendship. But it gets better. This friend, named Pembroke Somerset, is actually Thaddeus's own half brother. He promises a share of his expansive inheritance from their wealthy father to Thaddeus, making it possible for Thaddeus to marry and settle down to the comfortable life of an English gentleman. Oh, by the way. Guess the name of T.C.S. Ryle's next youngest brother: Pembroke Somerset Ryle, of course.