Description by Dwight Newton, 2006
This piano is displayed in the historical museum of the Blue Licks Battlefield State Resort Park. The Battle of Blue Licks was the last Battle of the American Revolution (1782) and was a terrible disaster for the Kentucky militias led by Daniel Boone and others, which was drawn into an ambush following an attack on Bryant's Station near Lexington by British and Indian forces. Outnumbered, Kentucky suffered great losses, including one of Boone's sons.
We visited the museum briefly in October 2006 on a road trip to another destination. We knew they had an old piano, but we had no details sufficient to warrant a special trip. The museum staff was reluctant to allow pictures, and we were able to make only a cursory examination. We were allowed to photograph the piano after explaining our credentials and the nature of our research. We were not allowed to open the instrument or document it as thoroughly as we would like. We got contact information for the park manager and we may schedule another visit when we are able to schedule it without interfering with normal operations of the museum.
One of the unpleasant aspects of this kind of historical research is discovering facts that belie assumptions and lore ascribed to some historical object. According to the tag describing this instrument, it was brought by flat boat to Washington (near present Maysville, and the port on the Ohio River at the head of the main road to Lexington) by Arthur Fox in 1800. Fox was an important founder of Washington, having laid out the town in 1785.
This instrument is clearly not from 1800. My initial estimate, because of its range, conformation and the presence of a partial iron brace, was at least 1820s, probably later. Pierce Piano Atlas shows Dubois, Bacon & Chambers in existence from 1838 to 1840. Previously it was Dubois & Bacon, and after 1841 it became Bacon & Raven, etc. This clearly places the piano in the late 1830s. This fact calls into question whether it could have belonged to Arthur Fox, as this would have been 45 or 50 years after he established Washington. Fox had a son, Arthur Fox, Jr. Perhaps there is a connection with this person that has been muddled over time.
From what we were able to determine without opening the top, this instrument is a transitional type with a large triangular iron brace. The range is a full six octaves. Nearly two octaves in the top range are apparently in a separate configuration in a manner like the earlier Southwell extensions under the soundboard, which projects over this portion of the action. The Action appears to be a typical English double. The bridges appear to be nearly parallel to the strings -- an extreme angle necessitated by the presence of the iron frame.
There is a single hole in the bottom, presumably for a missing pedal. There is a near complete lack of decoration on the case. The original varnish has be replaced, except, fortunately, over the makers' name. A number of the ivory keytops are missing.
Copyright © 2006 by Dwight Newton. All rights reserved.
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