Wendover was once home to Mary Breckinridge, an American nurse-midwife and founder of Frontier Nursing Service (FNS). Mrs. Breckinridge was a compassionate and visionary pioneer nurse who, with her nurse colleagues, traveled on horseback to deliver care and attend births in Kentucky’s rural Appalachian mountains.
Mrs. Breckinridge’s personal tragedy sparked her overwhelming motivation to devote her life to caring for children. In 1916, her newborn daughter, Polly, died, followed two years later by the unexpected death of her four-year-old son, Breckie. Mrs. Breckinridge viewed nurse-midwifery as central to caring for women and families.
Mrs. Breckinridge built Wendover’s beautiful log home, known as the Big House, in 1925. When it was completed, Mrs. Breckinridge held an open house and invited everyone in Leslie County to be a part of the celebration. To her surprise, nearly 500 people showed up, the majority of them on horseback. In 1925, Leslie County, Kentucky only had 5 bathtubs. Of these 5, two were in the Big House. For more the 80 years, Wendover served as the Historical Headquarters of the Frontier Nursing Service.
In 1931, the Garden House was built. This building contained the FNS administrative offices clinical space for the Wendover District Nursing Center, and lodging for FNS Couriers. In January 1942, The Garden House was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt that same year as a result of several donations that exceeded the renovation cost.
When World War II started in 1939, a number of the British members of the Frontier Nursing Service staff wished to return to their homes. Under war conditions, it was not possible to continue to send American nurses to train as midwives in Great Britain. Mrs. Breckinridge immediately pursued her dream of starting a graduate school of nurse-midwifery. The Frontier Graduate School of Midwifery admitted its first class in November 1939, and it has been in continual operation since that time.
The Big House became a National Historic Landmark in 1991. In 2001, Wendover became a licensed Bed and Breakfast. To learn more about the unique history of our Kentucky bed and breakfast, please visit Wendover’s historic photo and artifact gallery and gift shop.
For more on Frontier Nursing University, please visit Frontier.edu.
Mary Breckinridge on Wendover
It was one of my rides alone that I first saw Wendover. Of course it wasn't Wendover then, but I knew it would be. It was purely by accident that I happened to be riding along the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River. I was on my way to Stinnett and Beech Fork where the direct road lay up Muncy Creek and across a gap to Stinnett Creek. A dear girl, Pauline Brashear, whom I had met at the Buyers' dormitory in Hyden, begged me to turn off at Muncy Creek and follow a detour of some miles along the river that would take me past the home of some of her people.
She went ahead of me to tell them I would be there for the noon dinner. So the first of many thousands of times, I rode down Muncy Creek, forded the Middle Fork and rode slowly along its banks. I thought I had never seen anything lovelier than the lay of the land with its southern exposure facing the great North Mountain. When I raised my eyes to towering forest trees, and then let them fall on a cleared place where one might have a garden, when I passed some jutting rocks, I fell in love. To myself and to my horse I said, “Someday I'm going to build me a log house right there." Two years later I did (Wide Neighborhoods, pg. 121).
But Wendover's long breezy dogtrot, its bathtubs and the shade of its giant beeches were a refreshing spot to anyone who had spent a summer's day in the saddle. Whenever I rode up to it myself, I thought of Cowper's lines: Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness, some boundless contiguity of shade…(Wide Neighborhoods, pg. 188).