It’s time to take steps toward protecting our history

This was Friends of Nicholasville NOW’s Facebook status in early August:

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“3 steps forward, 2 steps back.” The three steps forward are easy to find in downtown Nicholasville.

New restaurants, bars and coffee shops are opening while old favorites continue to succeed. And last Friday evening, eight venues along Main Street featured the work of local artists at our town’s second Gallery Walk.

In short, it is a good time for downtown Nicholasville.

But those two steps back were too easy to find in that Facebook update…

During a Gallery Walk, my kids examined
the destruction along Main Street.
Author’s collection.

Rumors have swirled for several months that the building at 118-120 South Main Street, once the home of Ann’s Beauty Salon, would face the wrecking ball. Demolition began on a Friday morning last monthjust hours before many descended on Main Street for the gallery walk.

By the time the galleries opened, only the façade of the old structure remained. Demolition continued over the weekend. By Sunday, only a pile of rubble remained.

The demolition creates the second hole on a block that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Nicholasville Historic District (Caution: PDF)

In the Historic District’s nomination form, it is written that “the historic core of (Nicholasville) consists of a concentrated group of 19th and early 20th century commercial, governmental, residential and religious structures.” The District is a “well-preserved historic core of one of Kentucky’s oldest county seats.”

Importantly, the District “maintains a strong link to the past through its essentially unaltered town plan (a simple grid of streets with the courthouse on one of the quadrants of the principal intersection).”

And what was once Ann’s Beauty Shop was described in the nomination form as “one of the earliest remaining buildings in Nicholasville Historic District.”

The building at 118-120 South Main Street during its demolition. The structure
was the oldest commercial building in Nicholasville. Author’s collection.

The now-demolished structure at 118-120 South Main was originally constructed between 1825-1850. The 45-foot long three-bay, two-story log and frame building served as a commercial space on our Main Street for nearly 200 years.

Nicholasville was founded in 1798; its earliest map dates to 1802. That historic map identified the early in-lots on the “simple grid of streets” highlighted in the National Register nomination.

The lot of 118-120 South Main Street appeared on Nicholasville’s earliest map as Lot #38.

Map from the platting of Nicholasville, Ky., 1802. Jessamine Hist. Soc.

Decades later, the Sanborn Insurance Company drew its maps of communities across America. The earliest Sanborn map of Nicholasville dates to 1886 revealing that 120 South Main Street was occupied by a druggist and that a grocer operated out of 118 South Main Street.

Sanborn’s last map of Nicholasville was drawn in 1909. The 1909 map identifies a confectionary, bookstore and stationery shop in the old structure.

For all those years, the people of Nicholasville shopped and visited here. In its final chapter as a beauty salon, the structure was a gathering place where the community’s latest news and gossip was shared.

Admittedly, the structure wasn’t hugely significant in the long arc of history. Nor was it architecturally significant. But it contributed to both the character of the block and downtown Nicholasville at large. It was part of our community’s history.

It has been suggested that the cost to repair and repurpose the building would have been too great. This may be true, but we’ll never know.

Last year, the city rejected a historic overlay that would have required those proposing demolition in the heart of Nicholasville to show that rehabilitation wasn’t feasible. Creating such an overlay would have been a huge step toward protecting our community’s historic fabric.

Now, with another hole on our Main Street, is the time to renew the effort to preserve our history. Before it is too late.

A version of this column originally appeared in the Jessamine Journal on August 13, 2014. It should not be republished without permission.

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