Mt. Brilliant is steeped in rich history and tradition. From its first owners to the rebirth that is taking place today, the stories of the farm unfold one after another and never cease to amaze.
It all started in 1774 when Thomas Jefferson granted 2,000 acres of land north of the Kentucky River to William Russell in recognition of his brother Henry’s outstanding military service in the French and Indian War.
The land was eventually divided between William’s two youngest sons, Robert Spotswood Russell and William Russell, Jr. Shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War, young William laid claim to the smaller portion (800 acres) so he could enjoy the mystical cave and ever-flowing spring that add an enchanting ambiance to what is now known as Mt. Brilliant. Russell chose the name to commemorate the Virginia estate of Patrick Henry’s family.
In 1792, Russell built the central portion of the house. Cuming remarked in his 1807 book, “Tour of the West”, that Mt. Brilliant, surrounded by a wall with turrets at each end, lacked “only the vineyards” in its similarity to the French Provincial regions of Languedoc and Provence.
Russell died in 1824 and his heirs sold Mt. Brilliant in 1863. The farm changed hands several times, until 1905 when it was purchased by James Ben Ali Haggin. The Haggin family owned the farm for the next 85 years, and it became a fixture in the Kentucky political and social scene in the 20th Century.
In fact, it was at a political rally held near Russell Cave, which lays on the Mt. Brilliant property, that the infamous duel between abolitionist Cassius Clay and Samuel M. Brown took place. Clay, Henry Clay’s cousin, was saved by a stroke of astonishing fortune when the bullet aimed directly for his heart ricocheted off the silver-lined sheath of his Bowie knife.
Mt. Brilliant was also well known for its beautiful gardens. Owner, Greg Goodman, has returned the gardens of Mt. Brilliant to their splendor. The gardens include a vineyard, a kitchen garden full of berries, herbs and vegetables, a formal English flower garden surrounding a pond, lines of dogwood trees and rose bushes, and a twisting and winding taxus maze. The gardens at Mt. Brilliant were recognized in 2002 by the American Society of Landscape Architects Design Awards.
Several large parcels of land known as Poplar Hill and Old Lemons Mill parcels have been acquired and today, Mt. Brilliant sprawls over 1,200 acres of well-manicured grasses, lined with horse fences and dotted here and there by several newly, renovated buildings and polo fields.