Luigart & Harting Complex

Luigart & Harting Complex

At the northeast corner of Limestone and York streets is the old Luigart & Harting complex, which has been known by many names over its long history. 

The earliest reference to the parcel in the local newspapers occurred on March 23, 1850, when The Kentucky Statesman reported that at “about one o’clock on Thursday morning last, the Rope-Walk and Bagging Factory of the Messrs. Randall, situate on Mulberry street, near the city limits, was discovered to be on fire.” Although two fire companies responded to the blaze, the fire “could not be arrested before all the buildings were consumed” and the loss was estimated at $4,000.      

In its place is the still standing 1850 structure described in Perrin’s History of Fayette County, Kentucky as “the first hemp factory in Fayette County operated by steam power.” Perrin went on:

After Randall & Bro., the factory carried on for a time by Dr. Gillespie, a son-in-law to Judge Robertson. It was first used as a malt house by Swigert [sic, should be Luigart and corrected hereafter] & McLellan, in 1870, and, after running it about eight months, Luigart bought McLellan out, and for two years conducted the business on his own accord and alone. In 1873, Mr. Harting was admitted into partnership, since when the firm has been, as above, Luigart & Harting. The grounds comprise four acres. The water is obtained from a spring nearby; there is also a well on the ground, which is used in dry weather. … The floor of the old building is 12,800 square feet; the new building in process of erection (1881), will have a floor space of 15,000 square feet. The warehouse holds over five thousand bushels of barley. The firm handle annually 75,000 bushels of malt, make 30,000 bushels , and with the new building (now being erected), will make 75,000 bushels per annum; 75% of the barley used is purchased in the county. One thousand bushels of coal is consumed annually by this establishment. …

Joseph Luigart, incorrectly identified by Perrin as having the last name Swigert, was an immigrant from Württemberg, Germany. A brewer by trade, Luigart was born in 1829. Upon his arrival in America in 1855, he worked first as the foreman at a brewery in Cincinnati, Ohio and later at a brewery in Logansport, Indiana. While in Logansport, he and Gerhard Fuchs patented a beer cooler technology that remains in use today. Luigart returned to Cincinnati to manufacture the technology then sold his interest in that operation before relocating to Lexington, Kentucky in 1875. Here, Mr. Luigart worked at the Wolfe and Yelham brewery and introduced Lexingtonians to the German lager style of beer, whetting their appetites for his own brews that he would make after acquiring the old hemp factory.     

Luigart’s partner, William Harting, also hailed from Germany. Born in 1833 and immigrating to the United States in 1854, Harting, too, settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. Four years later, Harting relocated to Lexington, Kentucky in 1858 where he became a respected jeweler and watchmaker. He joined Luigart in the malting business in 1873, but continued the jewelry trade as well. Beginning in 1881, Harting served for two years as the president of the Lexington City National Bank before retiring from poor health. He died in 1887.     

The historic value of the 1850 structure as the “first hemp factory in Fayette County operated by steam power” is made that much greater by its continued presence in the neighborhood. It stands today as one of the oldest hemp factories in Kentucky and among the oldest in the nation. (Langsam: FANL-41). The historic building was given a second story in 1927 and, along with it, a

very fanciful treatment, with round-arched openings on the front-section, a balcony on center of the Limestone St. front, a shingled oriel over a high first-story window on the south; the entire second-story on the south side overhands on shaped and carved beam ends; there are variegated pilasters, panels, and plaques between round-arched single and double openings on the new front section and along the south upper walls; there is also an interesting batten door on the alley. Grotesque human heads and busts, lions’ heads, foliage in relief, and figurative gutter spouts enliven the surfaces.

Dixieland Gardens

Originally, this ‘new’ second story was occupied by the Star Hotel and the structure also served for a time as a dancehall known as Dixieland Gardens. For decades in the middle of the twentieth century, the spot was a popular luncheonette for the discussion of Democratic politics. Langsam described it as “one of the most interesting examples of ‘primitive’ decoration in the city and, combined with the significant industrial structure behind, a major urban landmark.” 

In 1980, the building housed a repair shop and supply storage in the warehouse section while the front section of the building had first-floor storefronts with second-floor apartments. As of this writing, the first floor of the front contains the Charmed Life Tattoo parlor, and the second story contains apartments. The warehouse is used as storage, and a variety of other uses.

The 1881 addition mentioned in Perrin’s History was the design of architect Herman L. Rowe and was among Rowe’s earliest Lexington designs. Rowe, another German immigrant, would later design both the Lexington Opera House in 1886 and the Lexington Public Library (now the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, located in Gratz Park). It was not the only project Rowe completed for Luigart; according to Langsam, Rowe later designed a planing mill complex further east on York Street as well as other Luigart residences and buildings.

The bushels of barley described by Perrin provided several cities with Luigart & Harting Malt. The variety of barley, however, was winter barley. This variety fell out of favor as demand for northwestern spring barley spiked. Business waned, and Luigart died on June 26, 1896. During Luigart’s final decade, Sanborn maps identified the project as the “Joseph Luigart Malt House.” Five years after his death, however, it was “formerly” the malt house and identified as “Old and Vacant.”