William A. Gunn, a noted civil engineer from Shelby County, built this Italianate residence in 1866 for his uncle, Winn Gunn, a wealthy Virginia farmer and strong Union supporter who moved to Lexington after the Civil War. Winn proceeded to subdivide the 14 acres behind his house into narrow lots; between 1867 and 1889, he primarily sold these to former slaves who were moving into town from the countryside to find work. Largely consisting of shotgun houses, the neighborhood was known as Gunntown.
Gunn also donated land and $1,100 for the construction of a new Methodist Episcopal Church at the northern terminus of Dewesee Street. The resulting brick building, which was constructed between 1870 and 1873 under the supervision of Rev. George Downing, was valued at $4,000 in 1882. By that time, the church had attracted 265 members to its congregation.
In 1926, the now-wealthy Ellen Davis obtained the Gunn House at auction for $6,000. She lived there until her death the following year, at which point it passed to son Robert Henry Hughes (see the post on the Ellen Davis House for the full family history).
Both mother and son used their fortunes for philanthropic purposes. Davis’s will provided $500 donations to St Joseph’s Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Colored Orphans’ Home, and the Julius Marks Sanatorium. Upon his death in 1935, Hughes left $10,000 apiece to the Old Ladies’ Home on W. High Street and the Lincoln Institute, a Black boarding school in Shelby County. The bulk of his remaining assets – around $100,000 – were lodged in a trust for the education of “deserving white and colored persons” who would be chosen by the principal of Dunbar High School.
After serving as a doctor’s office until 1954, the Gunn House was purchased by Smith & Smith and converted into a funeral home.