A Day Journal: Lexington by Bike

For those that have followed this blog for some time, you know I think that Lexington is an amazing city. Whenever my sister comes to visit, I love taking her on a bike ride to show her what has changed in the city where we spent so many years growing up. So we did Lexington by bike.

We ventured recently on a 5-hour, 10.4 mile tour (no-destination-style at an ultra-leisurely pace) with just a couple of targets in mind: we wanted to enjoy a couple brews from stops on the Brewgrass Trail. I wanted to show her what’s going on in the Distillery District and we wanted to pass our old Kentucky home.

We pulled our bikes off the bike rack where we parked on North Limestone in front of LTMS. We passed the old the old Episcopal mission on Fourth Street before cutting through the campus of Transylvania University and beside Old Morrison.

Gratz Park until Second Street when my sister declared she wanted to pass her favorite house in Lexington, the Thomas January House.To Jefferson Street where, upon cresting the viaduct, I showed my sister how the Lexington Center would expand and the beautifully proposed Town Branch Park would overtake the area.

In, through, and past the Distillery District, we turned right onto Forbes Road and discussed the fire at the stockyards. Her mind raced as she considered the potential reuse for that 10 +/- acres.

Down Leestown Road and into the Lexington Cemetery where I told her the stories of King Solomon, of John Hunt Morgan, and of Henry Clay. As we left the cemetery and with five miles behind us, we began to think about that first beer. To Blue Stallion!

The Hefeweizen was the perfect beer on that hot day! We filled our waters and immediately embarked for pint #2 at West Sixth (and for a bite at Smithtown Seafood!) We journeyed down Smith and Willie Streets before taking in the rainbow colored shotguns on Bourbon Street – the highlight of what remains of historic Smithtown for which the seafood restaurant takes its name!


I, of course, gave her an update on the Old Courthouse as we passed it. Then to our old Kentucky Home in the Historic Western Suburb, the iconic mural of Abraham Lincoln by Eduardo Kobra, and the new Henry Clay mural on Vine Street.

We learned that East Second Street Christian Church is contemplating a new site (according to the “Future Home Of…” sign) before admiring their circa 1875 church building.

Brochures obtained from the Visitor’s Bureau

Another stop during the day was a new one for me: The Lexington Visitor’s Bureau which has relocated to The Square (formerly Victorian Square). If you are visiting Lexington for the first or fifty-first time, stop at the Visitor’s Bureau. You’ll discover something new!

Of course, isn’t that always the case with Lexington? We certainly did during our 10.4 mile ride. #sharethelex

A post shared by Peter Brackney (@kaintuckeean) on Jul 20, 2017 at 12:10pm PDT

The Lord Giveth and the Lord Taketh Away

St. Peter Claver Catholic Church is located at the northeast corner of Jefferson and Fourth streets in Lexington’s Northside neighborhood. On November 6, 2015, the demolition permit was issued for this holy place.

But we knew it was coming.

The demolition is part of Phase II of a rehabilitation of the campus for this parish which dates to the 1880s. According to an April 1907 edition of the Lexington Leader, a “Catholic Church for the Negroes in Lexington is now under organization [and] a chapel has been secured in the colored Catholic school on West Fourth street, near Jefferson, and it will be opened within a short time.” Previously, space was reserved “in the local Catholic Church for the colored people to worship.”

In Phase One, the ca. 1913 parish school was renovated earning high marks and awards from historic preservationists. Now, in Phase Two, the church builing (mid-20th century) is being demolished to make way for a larger sanctuary.

Although in 1995, the Diocese cut the number of priests at the three downtown parishes from 3 to 2, the St. Peter Claver Catholic Church has been bursting at the seams. The new facility will have seating for 450, up from about 250. It is a growing parish that is serving the needs of its community.

Saint Peter Claver was a Jesuit priest. A Spanish native who immigrated to present-day Columbia in 1610. Among other things, he is the patron saint of race relations and ministry to African-Americans. He was canonized in in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII.

A deTour of Temple Adath Israel TONIGHT

Lexington’s first Jewish congregation was and is the Temple Adath Israel. It was established formally in 1904 “for the purpose of religious services, a Sabbath school and other matters pertaining to the moral elevation among the Jewish people of Lexington and Central Kentucky.”

Temple Adath Israel is affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. According to reformjudaism.org, that movement of Judaism aims “to introduce innovation while preserving tradition, to embrace diversity while asserting commonality, to affirm beliefs without rejecting those who doubt, and to bring faith to sacred texts without sacrificing critical scholarship.”

Tonight at 5:30 p.m. the Blue Grass Trust’s deTours program will host its monthly event at Temple Adath Israel’s historic sanctuary which is located in Lexington at 124 North Ashland Avenue. Specific event details are available at www.facebook.com/BGTdeTours or by calling the BGT office at (859) 253-0362.

The congregation first met in 1903, before charter in “a rented lodge hall on short Street in downtown Lexington, where a dozen of the it’s most prominent Jewish residents met to hold services, listen to the lecture of a visiting rabbi, and set in motion the establishment of a new congregation” according to the book The Synagogues of Kentucky. The congregation constructed and began worshiping in a synagogue on Maryland Avenue in 1904 in what was the first physical synagogue in Lexington; that structure is still standing.

Temple Adath Israel Sanctuary prior to remodeling. UK Libraries.

The only physical sign that the Maryland Avenue synagogue was a Jewish house of worship was “nothing more than a wooden sign near its door.” That sign has been on display at the Ashland Avenue synagogue since the congregation relocated to the location in 1926.

Sanctuary of Temple Adath Israel, ca. 2014. Author’s collection.

The Ashland Avenue facilities were expanded in 1950 and 1955, but those additions were removed when the entire complex was remodeled in 1984. At that time, the sanctuary was also partially remodeled with changes including the removal of the old pipe organ.

The congregation and its members have played a vital role in Lexington’s growth as well as our community’s commercial and spiritual activities.

We hope to see everyone tonight at the Blue Grass Trust deTour which begins at 5:30. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/BGTdeTours or call the BGT office at (859) 253-0362.

225 Years of Ministry: Lexington’s First United Methodist Church

Reflection of the First United Methodist Church. Author’s collection

The First United Methodist Church on High Street was built in 1907, though the church’s ministry in central Kentucky extends much further into history. In fact, this year marks the congregation’s 225th year of ministry.

Originally known as the Lexington Society of Methodists when it was begun by Francis Poythress, an elder and circuit rider who had evangelized in the area since 1788. According to Collins’ 1847 History of Kentucky,

As a preacher, few in those days excelled him. His voice was clear and musical; his knowledge of the scriptures vast and accurate; his sermons bedewed with his tears in his closet, fell as the dews of life upon the hearts of his congregation; sinners trembled before the Lord, and the keen flash of the Spirit’s sword was felt passing all through the soul, discerning by its brightness, the “thoughts and intents of the heart.”

In 1790, Poythress invited Francis Asbury to Kentucky and Asbury then preached at the first Methodist conference in Kentucky which was hosted on the property of Richard Masterson about five miles from Lexington. A remaining parcel of this land remains undeveloped as Masterson Park.

The 1789 Lexington church first began on the east end of town and is considered the first Methodist church west of the Allegheny Mountains. It is also one of the first 100 Methodist Churches in America.

But during the early 1800s, the church outgrew its location. A lot was purchased on Hill Street (now known as High Street) and a new church was constructed in 1840. Expansion again occurred twice, but by 1900 the Lexington Methodist Church had again outgrown itself.

So in 1907, the old church building was razed in favor of the present structure which sits on the same site. The cornerstone of the present church was laid on January 13, 1908 and the church was dedicated a year later on January 10, 1909.

The cost to build the 700-seat Methodist Church was $65,000 and the Columbus, Ohio architecture firm of Richards, McCarty and Buford were hired for the project.

The building on High Street has had several additions over the past century and the congregation has begun a number of missions which have become churches in their own right. The church history, posted on the church’s website, concludes that even into “its third century, First United Methodist Church continues its mission to invite, equip and deploy faithful followers of Jesus Christ across the street and around the world.”

Majestic St. Rose Priory rises above Washington County

Saint Rose Catholic Priory near Springfield, Ky. Author’s Collection.

Few things are quite as majestic as traveling along one of Kentucky’s scenic roads when suddenly a grand church appears seemingly out of nowhere. The juxtaposition of the two sanctuaries, Kentucky’s undulating land and the house of God, almost always prompts me to stop for a moment.

Such was the case a few weekends ago when driving through Washington County along the road to Loretto. At once, the towering St. Rose Priory Church came into my line of sight. Its height was exaggerated, too, because of the high bluff on which the church stood overlooking the road.

Immediately dominant are the “majestic octagonal tower and inspiring stained-glass windows” which feature prominently in the church built in the Tudor-Gothic style in the mid-19th century. The tower’s tiered buttresses also add to the visual impression of great height.

St. Rose was established earlier, in 1806. Father Edward Dominic Fenwick, the son of a wealthy Marylander, used his inheritance to purchase a 500 acre farm near Springfield.

Work began on constructing a small monastery, also known as a priory, which was completed in 1807. Also built, completed in 1809, was a small brick church which remains standing as a chancel on the present church’s northern end. West of the Alleghenies, it is the oldest structure still utilized as a church. It is also the first foundation in the United States by the Dominican Order.

St. Rose Catholic Priory. Author’s Collection

The small brick church, though simple in form, functioned briefly as a cathedral for the Diocese of Bardstown prior to the completion of Saint Joseph. When the new Diocese of Cincinnati was created in 1821 from the Bardstown diocese, Fr. Fenwick was consecrated as its first bishop. The consecration services were held here, at St. Rose.

Added over the years was a convent and educational facilities. The small brick church was added to with the current larger, grander church which was begun in 1852 and dedicated in 1855. The architect for the new Saint Rose was William Keely, a renowned church architect, who also designed Louisville’s Cathedral of the Assumption.

The blue limestone used for the ca. 1852 church was quarried nearby.

Saint Rose of Lima (Peru) was the first American saint and for her this historic and beautiful church was named. In 1978, farming operations ceased and the old ca. 1867 Italianate priory was demolished in favor of smaller facilities. Much of the land originally purchased by Fr. Fenwick was sold leaving about 100 acres of property for the church.

Saint Rose Priory & Historic Marker near Springfield, Ky. Author’s Collection.

A state historic marker by the road reads:

Founded, 1806, by Fr. Fenwick from Maryland. First Dominican religious house and second oldest priory in the U.S. Site of first Catholic college west of Alleghenies, 1807. St. Thomas School here, 1809-28. Jefferson Davis, later President of Confederacy, student, 1815-16. In 1822 Fr. Wilson founded first community of Dominican Sisters in U.S. Present church built, 1852.

Today, Saint Rose has the designation of a proto-priory meaning that it previously served as a priory much in the same was as Bardstown’s Saint Joseph proto-cathedral retains its designation from its days as the cathedral for the dissolved Diocese of Bardstown. And the church remains an active and beautiful parish church.

Lexington’s First Synagogue was Ohavey Zion; Moving the Scrolls From Original Site Answers Last Week’s #TBT

Joe Bologna’s Restaurant once housed Lexington’s First Synagogue
Transfer of the Torahs
Photo: Herald-Leader/Steven Nickerson

The Streetsweeper answered last week’s puzzler in person at the Cheapside Pavilion last Thursday when he accurately recalled the news of May 1987 when the Torahs were relocated from Maxwell Street to the new synagogue on Edgewater Court. Carrying the Torahs were Charlie Rosenberg and Sidney Gall. It was a four mile sojourn on foot between the old and the new synagogue.

The old synagogue got its start nearly a century before, as a Presbyterian mission.

In March 1890, the front page of the Lexington Leader declared that the city’s First Presbyterian Church would start “Another Mission”in a “handsome building at Maxwell and Upper Streets” on land known as the Morris property. With “appropriate exercises,” the new Mission Chapel of the First Presbyterian Church was dedicated in the spring of 1891. Construction had cost $7,000.

Inside the old Maxwell St.
Presbyterian Church

In the early 1910s, the Maxwell Street Presbyterian Church had outgrown its facilities and relocated further east. The Presbyterians sold the old church to the Jewish community which here established the first synagogue in Lexington, Ohavey Zion Synagogue. Prior to the establishment of a permanent synagogue, the Jewish community in Lexington would celebrate wherever space could be found, most typically in the ballrooms of hotels or fraternal lodges.

When Ohavey Zion looked to build a new facility for itself in the 1980s, the question arose as to what would become of the old synagogue. Restrictions as a former synagogue prohibited certain uses: it could be used neither as a public urinal or as a slaughterhouse.

Stained glass window and
chandeliers remain.

Ultimately, the old synagogue was auctioned and purchased by Joe Bologna who owned a pizza parlor dive across the street. He turned his dive into a restaurant. (The old location did not have stained glass windows or original chandeliers.)

The old church/synagogue/pizza parlor has a Romanesque feeling with modern additions on both the rear and on its western side. The original entrance, off Jersey Street, is utilized only as an emergency exit with the primary point of ingress and egress being through the western addition.

The iconic symbol of the building, which has been adopted by the pizza parlor in its logo, is the “triple window framed by flat brick pilasters with acorn-shaped stone finials and horizontal stone bands that is crowned by a large arched window articulated with stonework.”

It is a spectacular structure with a storied and sacred past.

First African Baptist Church: A Historic Structure, a Historic Faith, and a Determined Future

First African Baptist Church at Short & DeWeese  – Lexington, Ky.

At the southwest corner of East Short and DeWeese Streets stands the oldest African-American church in Kentucky and the third oldest African American Baptist church in the nation. The strong edifice of the First African Baptist Church anchors this once residential block and seeks to once again anchor the East End community.

Labeled in the 1890 Sanborn insurance map as the First Baptist Church (Colored), its parenthetical used to differentiate between it and the anglo First Baptist Church on West Main. It is unlikely, however, that such a parenthetical would have been needed for any Lexingtonian then looking at the map for First African’s location in the East End suggested the racial identity of her members living in this southern city.

First African Baptist Church is, without a doubt, a Historic Structure representing a Historic Faith. And though the Baptists abandoned the building decades ago, those who love this structure have for it a Determined Future.

Front Doors of the First African
Baptist Church – Lexington, Ky.

A Historic Structure

Constructed in 1856 with the slave labor of its own membership, the significant architectural detail leaves no doubt that the structure’s design was prepared with great thought and attention. First African is described in the National Register as a “good example of a mid-nineteenth century Italianate style Protestant chapel,” though the windows on the eastern façade (when uncovered) are said to have a Gothic appearance.

In 1926, the Parish House was added in the Collegiate Tudor style on the western side of the old church. Also added to the façade of the church in the 1920s was the “colossal stone portico with four widely spaced Tuscan columns … across the front with a flat entablature.”

The interior’s description in its National Register application predates its conversion to the daycare center of Central Christian Church. This present use has converted the sanctuary into a gymnasium with basketball goals, toys, and cots. The description from 1986:

A well-proportioned rectangular hall, it is distinguished by a classical Georgian cornice. The most striking feature is the large mural of Jesus christ as a shepherd rescuing a stray lamb from the precarious edge of a cliff high over a river (presumably Jordan). It is flanked by red draperies and tall unfluted Corinthian columns. Similar red curtains protect the baptismal pool at the southwest corner of the sanctuary, where the sacred ceremony of total immersion takes place. In the opposite corner is the raised seating of the choir, whose musical participation is of paramount importance in the services. The walls are painted to resemble stone in soft beige tones, and the opalescent-glass windows cast pleasing soft colors over them.

Many of these interior features were removed when the FABC departed the location for Price Road in 1987.

A Historic Faith

Though the building itself was erected in the mid-19th century, the history of the congregation dates back to the prior century. Peter Durrett, a slave who came across the mountains from Virginia in 1781 with his master and the Traveling Church. Known as “Uncle Peter” or “Old Captain,” Durrett was an able preacher just like his master Lewis Craig,

In fact, Durrett had previously scouted the path and destinations the Travelling Church would take into Kentucky. This assigned task by his master revealed a great deal about Durrett’s character and intelligence, and the respect he garnered from all those – black and white – in that group of sojourners.

In 1790, Durrett established his own congregation in Lexington in what was easily the first black congregation west of the Alleghenies. When Durrett died in 1823, he left behind a strong church and a historic legacy.

London Ferrill, the second minister, assumed the pastorate upon the death of Durrett and remained as leader of the flock until his own death in 1854. During the time, he would baptize over 5,000 souls to Jesus Christ. He brought his church into the fold of the Elkhorn Baptist Association in 1824.

Ferrill was highly respected by all races, much like his predecessor. When some in the church sought to have him removed over a churchly matter, they attempted to utilize a state law requiring slaves freed from other states to stay no longer than 90 days in Kentucky. Ferrill’s friends in Frankfort passed special  legislation granting him the permission to stay here permanently.

During the 1833 cholera epidemic, Ferrill stayed in Lexington (one of only three ministers to do so during the epidemic) to pastor his congregation, administer medicine, and bury the dead.

He was so well respected by all peoples of Lexington that his funeral was the largest attended in the city’s history, a claim not to be eclipsed until the 1852 funeral of Henry Clay.*

* This funeral factoid is told in one of two ways, with the runner-up to Clay being either Durrett or London Ferrill, the second minister of First African. Either way, it evinces the significant role this church played in the community.

A Determined Future

Rendering of Restored FABC with Addition
Photo: First African Foundation

Yvonne Giles, a local historian and expert on the East End, emphasized the importance of interpreting First African within the neighborhood as she repeated that it was “not just a church, but a community center.” It was the gathering place for generations of the East End and African-American communities of Lexington.

When the congregation departed in 1986, Central Christian purchased the structure and found utility in it. It is altogether possible that the historic church could have been demolished in the late 1980s in favor of a surface parking lot were it not for Central’s intervention. In the 2010s, Central Christian has sought to unload some of its surplus property and for a time the First African Foundation was under contract to acquire the old church at Short and DeWeese and convert it back into a community center. The Foundation intended to restore the old sanctuary as well as the circa 1926 Collegiate Tudor addition. The complex would “include a theater space with 300 to 350 seats, conference rooms, exhibit areas and space for music education.” Unfortunately, this worthy cause failed due to a want of funds.

But a different future for the historic structure emerged in October 2017, with the announcement that Zeff Maloney was purchasing the structure from Central Christian with the intent of redeveloping it into a commercial space. Maloney has previously turned around the old Protestant Infirmary just a block away.

Maloney plans to “bring [First African] back to its former glory” according to his interview with the Herald-Leader. I, for one, can’t wait to see it!

Bio of London Ferrill; First African Foundation; Lexington Herald-Leader; NRHP; Owenton News Herald

This post was updated on October 6, 2017, to revise the “Determined Future” section to reflect changes to the First African Foundation’s progress and the acquisition of the property by Mr. Maloney 

Only a historic marker remains of Main Street Christian Church

Historic Marker #19 – Lexington, Ky.

On Main Street in downtown Lexington, in front of the police station, stands a historic marker recalling the Main Street Christian Church which once stood on the site.

Historic Marker #19 reads:

Built on this site in 1842. The 12-day Campbell-Rice debate on Christian Baptism, etc., was held here Nov. 1843, Hon. Henry Clay presiding.

The grand church once located here became too small for the congregation which ultimately became Central Christian Church.

The only physical vestige remaining of the historic church is this marker on Main Street. 

Inactive Fourth Street Church has Multiple Denominations in its History

St. Andrews Episcopal Mission Church – Lexington, Ky.

A carriage factory on West Fourth Street served as a house of worship for Lexington’s black population from the time Br. Thomas Phillips and his former master, John Brand, opened the Antioch Christian Church in April 1851. Brother Phillips departed this world in 1859, but his congregation continued to grow. In 1874, the old carriage factory was torn down and the congregation built a structure of its own.

One of the most impressive church buildings built for Lexington’s black community immediately following the Civil War, the structure was a simple brick three-bay church with a simple rose window above the inscription, “… the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” (Acts 11:26, KJV)

In only a few short years, though, the Antioch (Colored) Christian Church found it necessary to find larger quarters and they relocated to a newly constructed church on Second Street. Thereafter, that church would move again (to Constitution Avenue) but would remain known as the (East) Second Street Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

The old Fourth Street house of worship would not remain empty for long. Thomas Underwood Dudley, the second Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky, sought to expand the reach of his Episcopal Church. Overcoming many racist, segregationist views as well as the ghost of his own past as a Confederate veteran, Bishop Dudley pursued an integrated church: “God hath made of one blood all nations of men.”

The Episcopal diocese constructed a new church in the 1950s, but the mission founded by Dudley remained active until that point. Today, the old church structure is inactive and is used by its present owners for storage.

Sources: East Second Street History; NRHP

A “Most Attractive” Church at Mt. Horeb

Photos of the Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Church – Lexington, Ky.

Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Church is another of the small country churches that dot the bluegrass landscape. The congregation was founded April 21, 1827, at Cabell’s Dale – the home of Mary Cabell Breckinridge.

Robert Jefferson Breckinridge
Photo: Public Domain

Also born at Cabell’s Dale, albeit twenty seven years earlier in 1800, was Robert J. Breckinridge who would serve as the minister of the Mt. Horeb Church. He would also serve as a minister of great influence at Lexington’s First Presbyterian Church.

A historic marker at the church, no. 1687, reads

This church was organized April 21, 1827, at nearby “Cabell’s Dale,” home of Mary Cabell Breckinridge, widow of John Breckinridge, U.S. Senator and Attorney General in Thomas Jefferson’s cabinet. The original brick church, constructed in 1828 on this site, burned in 1925. Present building of similar design was dedicated in 1926. Presented by Kentucky Breckinridge Committee.

Old Mt. Horeb Church, ca. 1898. Photo: KDL

A photograph of that original ca. 1828 appears above, though it “was struck by lighting Saturday afternoon [June 6, 1925], during a severe electrical storm, and burned to the ground.” The congregation immediately went to setting plans to rebuilt and voted to rebuild eight days later.

Between the time of the fire and the completion of the new church structure, the congregation met first under a tent on the church grounds. As winter set in, the congregation began holding services on November 1, 1925, at the Russell Cave school.

On October 3, 1926, “impressive services … marked the dedication of the new building of historic Mt. Horeb Presbyterian Church, five miles from Lexington. … The edifice [is] a beautiful stone structure, described as one of the most attractive and completely equipped rural churches in the [Presbyterian] Synod.”

More photos of Mt. Horeb Church on flickr.
Source: local.lexpublib.org.