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Historic Hopemont Welcomes Kentucky Hemp Museum

Updated: Jan 20, 2020

The Kentucky Hemp Heritage Alliance (KHHA) has partnered with the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation (BGT) to install a permanent museum dedicated to the Kentucky hemp industry at the Hunt-Morgan House located in Lexington.

The Kentucky Hemp Museum at Hopemont illustrates the significant hemp played in growing the state’s early economy, and how the house and its inhabitants, in addition to the surrounding Lexington community and bluegrass region, were significantly impacted by it. 

The The Kentucky Hemp Museum at Hopemont, The Hunt-Morgan House in Lexington, Ky.
The Kentucky Hemp Museum at Hopemont, The Hunt-Morgan House in Lexington, Ky.

The Hunt-Morgan House (Hopemont) was built in the early 1800s for John Wesley Hunt, who is remembered today as the first millionaire west of the Alleghenies. Hunt pioneered the manufacture of cotton bagging made of hemp fiber, and made a fortune as a commission merchant shipping hemp fiber and hempen goods.

The home is located at the corner of Second and Mill Streets in the historic Gratz Park district of downtown Lexington, in an area once surrounded by hemp rope walks and bagging factories. Many of the homes that still stand were built by the factory owners and those who made fortunes from the industry, like Hunt.

Today, the Hunt-Morgan House is maintained as a museum by the BGT. Its exhibits seek to engage, inform, preserve, educate, and protect the people and historic aspects of the community. The permanent hemp exhibit and display will expand the home’s narrative for the first time in nearly a decade, creating a unique opportunity for visitors to learn about the crop and associate it with Kentucky's rich hemp heritage.

As hemp production continues under the Kentucky Department of Agriculture Industrial Hemp Program, the Kentucky Hemp Museum plays a role in providing education to those unfamiliar with, or misinformed about, industrial hemp. Hemp crops became widely unaccepted and misunderstood during prohibition (under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970), so education is essential for the industry to flourish. Historical artifacts and items at the museum help educate guests about hemp in the context of the state’s heritage, while shedding light on the modern-day potential of hemp markets.

The Blue Grass Trust aims to educate visitors about the entire history of the Hunt-Morgan House, which includes the role the enslaved played in its operation. The enslavement of humans is one, too many, dark chapters in American history that should be taught and remembered for years to come. The hemp museum creates an opportunity to recognize and claim the harsh fact that the Hunt-Morgan House and its families were heavily involved with slave trade and claimed ownership of slaves themselves -- primarily due to hemp production.

The hemp they grew was harvested by the enslaved, was twisted into rope by the enslaved, was used to create bags for picking cotton further down south by the enslaved, and helped them to gain the capital to build the Hunt-Morgan House with the use of the enslaved as laborers. It is a hard fact about the family and the history of Kentucky, and the impact of the establishment of slavery still disturbs our country today. We aim to share this part of history to remember and honor the lives that were expended on behalf of sheer greed and arrogance. 

The BGT and KHHA are always seeking loan or donor items to display in the Kentucky Hemp Museum. This initiative still requires funding, and any contributions are appreciated. In January 2018, the Blue Grass Trust and KHHA was awarded a small grant from the Local History Trust Fund to assist with museum costs. All contributions help with museum construction, display materials, exhibit maintenance, promotion, etc.

To learn more about donating or loaning an item to the museum, contact us.

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