In 1883-84 The Commonwealth House was the residence of the family of Col. Robert E. Edmonson, who was an important developer of Lexington in the 1880s-90s. From 1888-1902, it was the home of the Spotswood family.
Today, the house's first floor contains a library, the Dr. Marcus McEllistrem Conference Room (seating approximately 12-18), as well as a 'living room' area and a kitchen facility. At the side of the house are a brick patio and a veranda which includes stairs to the second floor veranda. The Commonwealth House's second story contains the Seminar Room where the Gaines Seminars (HMN 301 & 302) are held, as well as a smaller classroom often used for Honors classes, undergraduate and graduate seminars, or study groups, the Sustainable Campus Internship Program office, and an apartment for visiting scholars and speakers. A second-floor veranda is accessible from the Seminar Room, and via outdoor stairs from the first-floor veranda.
The Bingham Davis house is thought to have been constructed shortly after 1871. Warren Featherston and his wife, Myra D. Hart, as well as at least six children occupied it in 1887. John C. Curd lived there from 1888 to 1895. Dr. Robert L. Willis, a noted physician and surgeon was listed as residing there in 1898-99 and Charles E. Willnot lived there in 1902. Martha C. Drake, widow of William Drake, resided in the house in 1906-07 with the Misses Drake, popular milliners. The house is now named for Mary Bingham and Margarite Davis whose generosity enabled the University to restore the building for Gaines Center use. The house is now used by Gaines Fellows and other UK students, faculty, and staff, as well as by community members for a variety of purposes.
The first floor's large seminar room has digital projection technology, making it useful for classes, meetings, and presentations; the kitchen makes hosting receptions or dinners in the building easy for hosts or their university-approved caterers. The infamous Torture Chamber—a small, intimate interview room seating approximately 5 people—is so named only because applicant interviews, Gaines seminar oral exit examinations, and senior thesis defenses occur there; the room is, in actuality, a well-appointed parlor, suitable for small meetings not necessarily involving this sort of academic scrutiny! The Bingham Davis house's second floor contains study rooms and a computer lab for the usage of Gaines Fellows, as well as an apartment for visiting scholars and speakers. The second floor also houses the the office of wind: a journal of writing and community.
The Raymond Betts House is the the administrative house of the Gaines Center. In addition to Center staff's offices, it contains an upstairs apartment for the resident caretakers of the Gaines Center's houses and the office for the Kentucky Women Writers Conference.
Prior to becoming home to the Gaines Center, the three buildings were used as fraternity and sorority housing. The Betts House was home to the UK chapter of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and then Delta Chi Fraternity (1974-80). During the 1974-75 academic year, Delta Chi member Chris Johnson painted the fraternity crest on the attic wall, where it can still be seen today. In addition to the crest, Delta Chi members were responsible for some interior renovation (fresh coats of paint, etc.). We believe (research continues) that Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity members lived in the Bingham Davis House in the late 1970s. By 1980, the university ceased leasing the houses on Maxwell Street to fraternity and sorority chapters. We have been told by long-time faculty and former students that the Commonwealth House and Bingham Davis House once played host to impressive theme parties in this period: a room painted all black for a haunted house and sand piled inch-deep on the floor for a beach party bash. In the early 1980's, Dr. Raymond Betts began working with the university and friends of The Gaines Center to restore the houses, taking care to preserve their historical integrity and charm. The Gaines Center thanks Christopher Johnson and Diane Kohler for sharing their memories of the buildings from Greek life years with us. If you have information about these historical homes from any period, we would love to know. Please contact us!