A steward of history and land
By Luca Le

Mary McClinton Clay, who many friends call "Clay", sits in her living room. Much of the woodwork was salvaged from Ellisle, an early 19th century Bourbon County house. The mantle came from another house, The Cedars. She has a deep interest in local history.

In 1780, Martin’s Station, one of the earliest frontier settlements in Kentucky, was destroyed by British troops along with native tribes. Shortly after that, a stone house named Fairfield was built on the site by James Garrard, who would later become the state's second governor.

The land and building have undergone many changes, but one constant is the women who have helped preserve it.

Mary McClinton Clay, 73, known as “Clay'' to her friends, is the current owner of Fairfield Farms. Her great-great grandfather was Brutus Junius Clay, brother of emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay.

The land includes part of the oldest buffalo traces and aboriginal roads in Central Kentucky. Clay inherited the farm from her grandmother, Mary Catesby Clay Broun.

“When she inherited it, it was nothing but thistles … it was ugly,” says Molly Clay, her daughter.
Clay farms and cares for the land with the help of other strong women.

Her farm manager, Rhonda Kincaid, 60, is a retired firefighter and was a nationally ranked archer in the 1980s. She learned to love and respect land from her grandparents. “She knows I take care of the land like it’s my own,” Rhonda says.

They have known each other for 12 years. “We’re two women trying to make it in a man’s world, and we’re showing it can be done and it can be done with respect,” Rhonda says.

When she isn't working on the farm, Clay spends her time at her office, where she is a real estate appraiser. She focuses on properties involving eminent domain and environmental damage, such as soil and groundwater contamination.

“She does so much for the community that goes unnoticed," her daughter says. "She's big into preservation.”

Clay was one of the first women in Kentucky to hold the MAI, a prestigious designation from the Appraisal Institute.

“She uses that talent to help make sure the land continues for the next generation,” says Margaret Layton, a close friend and co-owner of Loch Lea Antiques in Paris. They share a passion for books, history and antiques, which Clay has everywhere in her home. Clay’s interest in antique furniture began after college, when she was working her first job with the Museum of Southern Decorative Arts, known as MESDA, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“She was a wonderful bridge because she knew the local families and she could take the people from MESDA, who were interested in the treasures, and say that they were ok, because it was a privacy thing,” Margaret says.

Clay has expanded her historic house to accommodate two generations and, she hopes, generations to come.

“I hope that my daughter Molly and granddaughter Gracie will be the 4th and 5th generation of Clay women to steward Fairfield," she says.

Clay points to a photo of the Fairfield stone house that had burned down in 1951. Some of the stone was used to construct the stone wing of her house that is currently used as a bed and breakfast.

Rhonda Kincaid (left), who helps Clay on the farm, helps prepare her horse Molly for an upcoming visit from the vet. Clay has had horses since she was a teenager.

Clay and Rhonda talk to Valerie Linse (left), their local equine veterinarian, about Molly and local events.

Clay tidies up the stone cottage that she rents out as a bed and breakfast before guests arrive. Her English Setter is named Cooper.

Clay and Rhonda discuss which walnut branches to trim off with Timothy Johnson of Kendall Vegetation. Clay's farm has many walnut trees and some have branches that are in the way of power lines.

Clay picks up loose walnut limbs around her farm and gathers them on the back of her truck to be hauled to a burn pile. Doing this work will make it easier for Rhonda to mow the grass later. Maintaining her 245-acre farm land is a continual process.

Clay's trapper, Larry Jones, and Clay listen while Rhonda tells a joke. Larry is one of the few men Clay works with on the farm.

Clay works in her office, where she does real estate appraising. The job helps with income to sustain the farm.

Clay walks her dog Cooper around the outside of the house. The left section of the house was added later so that the entire house could accommodate at least two generations.