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Maxwell Springs was named for John Maxwell, one of the founders of Lexington. Historically, the springs were used for political gatherings, celebrations and agricultural fairs. By the mid-19th century, an amphitheater and the Bullock house were on the grounds of the present site of Maxwell Place.  These were burned in 1861 when an Union encampment surrounded the springs. Troops also burned trees for fuel, stripping the area of its old-growth trees. The thirteen and a half acre tract which became the site of Maxwell Place was first separated from the original Maxwell holding and sold in 1820.

Shortly after the war it was purchased by Dennis Mulligan, an Irish immigrant who became a prominent Lexington businessman and politician.  He had Maxwell Place built, an Italianate villa, for his son James Hillary Mulligan and daughter-in-law Mary Jackson Mulligan. James Hillary Mulligan went on to become a journalist, jurist, legislator, orator, poet, and diplomat.  His served on the Recorder’s Court and earned the title “Judge” which he was known as for the rest of his life.  After his first wife’s death, and a remarriage that caused strife between children of the first and second marriages, Judge Mulligan passed away in 1915 estranged from his second wife. 

After the death of Judge Mulligan, UK purchased the property in 1917 for $40,000. A major renovation took place in 1918 which included additions and enclosures at the rear of the house and a long, narrow pergola leading from the drive to the tower vestibule.  In 1918, Dr. Frank L. McVey became the first university president to live in Maxwell Place.