The Love of a Place: Richard Taylor’s Elkhorn

Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape by Richard Taylor

As readers of this blog know, I am passionate about Kentucky and Kentucky history. Although not a native to the Commonwealth, I have lived here for most of my life and have developed a deep love of place. Kentucky, however, is an expansive place with different locales and environments. From the urban cores of Lexington and Louisville to the Appalachian hills to the wide fields of western Kentucky, Kentucky’s topography is not homogenous. Yet, I still love this place.

A new book published by the University Press of Kentucky, Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape, explores the rich history of a creek that cuts through central Kentucky.

The author, Richard Taylor, explains in his introduction, his passion for this place. For forty or so years, Taylor had developed a passion for a narrow slice of Kentucky and he wanted to share his passion with his readers. Taylor introduced me to what he described as “a new name for an old concept – the love of place”: topophilia.

Topo” means “place” in Greek and “philia” is “love of.”

Taylor’s topophilia for the microregion he has inhabited for the past forty years is infectious and his telling of its history most informative.

Through the course of ten chapters, Taylor examines the prehistoric past, the Native Americans who once hunted here, the arrival of the white settlers and their attempts at taming the waters of the Elkhorn Creek. The tenth chapter is reserved as a miscellanea for other anecdotes and stories that might not best fit into other chapters.

Among the anecdotes I found most interesting were those related to “ghost bridges.” Of course, the Switzer Bridge is well known and remains intact following a 1997 restoration following a devastating flood. Not all bridges that crossed the Elkhorn, however, have been so luck. At one time, over four hundred covered bridges crossed Kentucky creeks and rivers. According to Robert Laughlin, author of Kentucky’s Covered Bridges, only a dozen covered bridges remain. But “ghost bridges” can be found across Kentucky and several are noted along the Elkhorn. Stone abutments evidence old paths which would have carried travelers and commerce alike.

The character, however, who serves almost as Taylor’s protagonist is one the author admits “is hardly a household name.” Judge Harry Innes.

I know of no monument to him other than his tombstone in the Frankfort cemetery, not even a street name in a capital dedicated to commemorating its notable dead. Ask the name of the first federal judge west of the mountains and only a handful of local historian can name him. Ask who presided over the first treason trial of Aaron Burr and most will draw a blank. Yet Harry Innes was an important player in the formation of Kentucky, active in eight of the ten conventions that resulted in Kentucky’s separation from the mother state of Virginia at its beginning 225 years ago as the fifteenth addition to the Union.

Judge Harry Innes.
Portrait by Matthew Harris Jouett

Yes, Judge Harry Innes was a significant force in Kentucky’s history. Taylor paints an excellent portrait of the man, one self described himself “first a Kentuckian, and secondly, an American.” As I seek here to review Taylor’s work and not share its secrets, suffice it to say that Innes is a challenging character as well.

In recent history, we have learned that this is true of many of our revered founders and historical figures. Taylor notes the benefits of “historical hindsight” and observes that “history does not paint in black and white but in hues and shadows.”

Similar to how the artist Paul Sawyier painted his beautiful watercolors of the same watershed with hues and shadows, so, too, does Taylor with his words. If you love the Elkhorn or have a general topophilia for our Commonwealth, Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape is worthy of your time.

Disclaimer: The author was provided with a courtesy copy of the book by the publisher for the purposes of writing a review. Additionally, links in this post to are affiliate links.

Fun With Flags: Kentucky Edition

I’m kind of a flag nerd. I’ve always had a thing for flags. When I was little, I’d always get the flag for the state or country I was visiting. Sometimes, I’d even correct an improper flag display. And I love Dr. Sheldon Cooper Presents Fun With Flags segments on CBS’ Big Bang Theory!

So when I saw the cover of today’s Herald-Leader, I was excited to see the prominent display of the flag for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government prominently placed above the fold. And below the fold was the headline: “Does Lexington need a memorable city flag?

The short answer is a resounding YES! But the longer answer is, of course, more interesting. The article notes two groups (Lexington firefighters and 8th graders at Lexington Christian Academy) that  are pushing for a new flag and promoting a few of their own designs.

The H-L article prompted me to watch an 18-minute TED talk by Roman Mars which I’ve embedded below.  Mars discusses the elements of a good flag and gives examples of both good and bad flags. Countries are pretty good at making strong banners, but American cities are pretty horrible at the task. Mars even featured Lexington’s own flag as a “bad flag” example, which is what prompted the firefighters mentioned above to take on their effort.

What makes a good flag? According to the North American Vexillogical Association, or NMVA, (far bigger flag nerds than I), there are five key principles:

1. Keep it Simple
2. Use Meaningful Symbolism
3. Use 2 or 3 Basic Colors
4. No Lettering or Seals
5. Be Distinctive or Be Related.

All of this makes sense. In fact, these are pretty good design principles overall. So how do Kentucky flags stack up on this scale? The Kentucky flag itself is, like the Lexington flag, an SOB (seal on a bedsheet). It’s just a blue background with the state seal on it. Pretty boring, indistinctive, and not simple (in that the details of the seal itself are complex).

Other cities in Kentucky vary…


In 2004, the NMVA conducted a survey ranking the flags of American cities. The two best were Washington DC and Chicago, but I was really surprised to see that Louisville was ranked #9! Go Louisville!! (In case you were wondering, Lexington ranked #112 in the same survey.)

Really, it is a great looking flag! But wait… Louisville merged with Jefferson County in 2003 to form a Metro Government.

Louisville’s old flag

Surely wisdom (and better design) prevailed and the old flag was retained? Nope. Instead, the ‘Ville now flies this lesser banner which is, predictably, another SOB:

Louisville-Jefferson County Flag

Ugh. Another example of Kentucky just not being able to have nice things.


Frankfort also makes the NMVA Survey at #140 (out of 150). I can see why.

Bowling Green

Bowling Green didn’t make the NMVA Survey. It’s current flag isn’t an SOB, but it is close. If it were just the fountain, it might work. But I’m not so sure you could read the text if it were flying in the breeze at 100 feet away.

Like Lexington, Bowling Green is contemplating a new flag. There’s a movement afoot to change the flag to this distinctive banner:

The green background is self-explanatory for a town called Bowling Green. The gold represents prosperity, the blue the Barren River, and the grey represents the roads that connect in Bowling Green. It’s a good, distinctive flag that follows the 5 Principles.

Hopefully, something good will come Lexington’s way. The Portland (OR) Flag Association maintains a list (including Bowling Green) of municipalities in America looking at improving their flags. I imagine Lexington will soon make the list!

(and here’s that TED talk from Roman Mars I promised…)

City of Frankfort Seeks Demolition of Old YMCA

At the Old YMCA in Frankfort. Franklin County Trust for Historic Preservation.

Young man, there’s no need to feel down.
I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground.
I said, young man, ’cause you’re in a new town
There’s no need to be unhappy.

If the Village People’s young man is a historic preservationist, then he might be unhappy. Especially if his new town is Frankfort, Kentucky.

That’s because nearly a week ago, on August 24, the city issued a letter to the owner of the Old YMCA on Bridge Street that the property owner had one week to either demolish the structure or to appeal the city’s decision. If neither occurs by the deadline, the city may take action to demolish the structure on its own.

The city is acting under its nuisance ordinance which provides for immediate demolition if the structure is viewed as being an “imminent danger.” Especially convenient is that such a designation eliminates the role and review conducted by the local Architectural Review Board.

If you don’t like the idea of a demolition of a historic structure occurring under the cover of darkness, this story is of importance to you.

The Old YMCA in the 1970s.  Franklin County Trust for Historic Preservation.

A City’s Repeated Attempt at Demolition

Now, this isn’t the first time the historic circa 1911 structure has faced the prospect of the wrecking ball. In 1971, the new YMCA opened in downtown Frankfort leaving the old location vacant for the first time in sixty years. The building served as office space for a number of years, but then it sat empty for many years as well.

In 2007, the structure faced demolition. The city went so far as to obtain bids for demolition. The low bid came in at $186,000, but city commissioners halted demolition and instead sold the property to preservationist John Gray. Gray’s company, Old Y, LLC, for $1. Old Y had 2 years to revitalize the project. Of course, the economic of collapse of 2008 intervened and development could not timely occur.

The State Journal reported that the fate of the building was “in question again” in 2011, while the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation included the Old YMCA in 2015 on its endangered list. In 2015, the BGT wrote of the property

The 1911 Old YMCA at 104 Bridge Street in Frankfort, designed in the Beaux Arts style by a a Frankfort architect, was a state-of-the-art facility featuring a gymnasium, indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, meeting rooms and guest quarters. While a local developer is hoping to transform it into a boutique hotel, there is also a push by the city of Frankfort to demolish this structure. If saved, this could be a transformative project in our capital city.

Old Frankfort YMCA. Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation

A Historic Structure

At over 100 years old, the Old YMCA is more than just ‘old’. It is historic. The building’s importance and its unique position was best described by Eric Whisman, the President of the Franklin County Trust for Historic Preservation in an opinion piece published in the State Journal. So well stated, much of Eric’s text is included below:

The Old YMCA was designed by someone significant to the history of Frankfort. This is part of the additional criteria used to determine whether a building has historic significance. The work of Frankfort’s architect, Leo Oberwarth, as well as that of his son, Julian, is important to our community and is much of what makes our City special and unique. … Leo Oberwarth was a personal friend of Paul Sawyier, another person of historic significance to our community. One could argue that they both provided us with the “sense of place” that we call home.

The Old YMCA has architectural integrity. Despite decades of neglect, much of its original architectural character remains. Its Beaux Arts design is evident and someone with training would be able to look at this building and tell you the approximate construction date which was 1910. That means it provides an opportunity to teach us something about our past, and it should be considered a cultural resource. This is yet another reason it meets the definition of a “historic” structure. The front portion of the structure is solidly intact with interior features of arches, moulding, trim, and re-lights that were visible to the public as recently as the ‘Designer Showcase,’ in 2011. For the temporary use application permitting that event, structural assessments were done and validated by licensed engineers. The gymnasium space and third floor guest rooms to the rear are not stable for access as they have experienced the most deterioration due to a failure of the roof deck. But the masonry walls remain intact, which is a testament to the quality of the original construction.

The Old Y, with two other public facilities, including the Governor’s Mansion and the downtown train depot, were part of a capital construction campaign spurred by the building of the new Capital’s. These public facilities have defined and served our community for generations. Many still recall utilizing the Old YMCA before its replacement by a modern ‘new Y’ which was developed as a part of the Edward Durell Stone Capital Plaza development.

While unfortunate that the flood wall was placed where it was, it allows the building, which has already withstood seven significant floods (over 40’ major flood stage), to continue to offer the rare amenity of a water side terrace and a riverside landing area with a designed stairway to communicate up the steep bank. And it is a privilege of the historic structure to be able to place these amenities back in service, as new construction would not be allowed within the flood plain. This offers another important opportunity for the downtown Commercial district to connect to the potential of the riverfront.

A Call to Action

The Old YMCA remains, for now. As noted, the existing structure is the highest and best use for the site given its location in a flood plain — new construction is simply not an option. The city would be better served by spending $200,000 in improving the structure rather than demolishing it which can provide no return on investment and no increased future tax revenues. Economics favors preservation, especially with regard to this project.

So what can you do? A few things, really.

  1. Stay tuned for updates. On Facebook, follow the KaintuckeeanBlue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation, the Franklin County Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Kentucky Heritage Council. (There are others to follow as well, but this is a good start!)
  2. Share the updates with those you know who share a passion for history and historic preservation. Rinse and repeat.
  3. Especially if you’re a Frankforter, contact your city commissioners. Encourage them to save the  Old YMCA. 
  4. If you’re not a Frankforter, contact any Frankforter you know about #3. Then repeat #s 1 and 2.

Old YMCA Building in the 1970s. Franklin County Trust for Historic Preservation.

Jefferson Davis Got His Citizenship Back, But Fortunately the Statue is Gone

Jefferson Davis. Library of Congress.

This post was originally written in 2015 and entitled “Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back”, but was updated in 2020 following the Historic Properties Advisory Commission voting 11-1 to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis from the rotunda of the Capitol. Changes are in bold

It is not often that I review a book that came to print more than thirty years ago, but events of late have brought Jefferson Davis to the forefront of our national psyche. In Kentucky, we are asking whether a statue of Jefferson Davis should or should not be removed from the rotunda of the state capitol. In South Carolina today (2015), the Rebel flag is likely to be permanently removed from the grounds of the state capitol in Columbia.

Back in Frankfort, Davis’ statue stands in a ring of four around a larger, central statue of Abraham Lincoln. The other three Kentuckians recognized in the statuary collection are Ephraim McDowell, Henry Clay, and Alben Barkley. That is, until Davis’ statue was removed. On June 12, 2020, the statue was removed following an emergency meeting of the advisory commission which oversees the rotunda. The recommendation and motion to remove the statue was made by the state curator, Carol Mitchell. Following discussion, the motion carried 11-1. The statue will ultimately be relocated to Jefferson Davis’ birthplace in Fairview, Kentucky, where it can be appropriately contextualized.

But it is the fifteen foot tall statue of Jefferson Davis that is drawing attention. The question and discussion is good: should Kentucky recognize and honor in her seat of government a man who was a traitor to the United States by leading a rebellion against the Union for the cause of enslavement of millions of Americans?

In considering the question, I wanted to better understand Jeff Davis. I turned to a book on my shelf that I had not before read: Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back. Written by Kentucky-native Robert Penn Warren, this 114-page short history of Jefferson Davis was first published in 1980.

Both Davis and Warren are natives of Todd County, Kentucky. In late 1978 and nearly nine decades after the former Confederate president’s death, Jefferson Davis’ U.S. citizenship was posthumously restored. Warren took the opportunity to recall Davis’ life and legacy which he intertwined with his own memories of Todd County.

It is in Todd County that the great obelisk to Jefferson Davis stands. The building of the obelisk in Fairview, Kentucky was begun in 1917 and suspended during the war effort (World War I). At the age of about twelve, Warren was driven by his family to see the construction site. His conflicted opinion of both Davis and the monument follow as he was unsure “about the mystery of the pain, vision, valor, human weakness, and error of the past being somehow transformed into, glorified into, the immobile thrust of concrete (not even the dignity of stone).”

By the time this construction had begun, the former Confederate president had been laid in the ground some twenty years earlier. In his life, Jefferson Davis served valiantly in the Mexican War leading a regiment of the Mississippi Rifles, most notably, at the Battle of Buena Vista. For his valor and success on the field of battle, President James K. Polk promoted Davis to the rank of brigadier general. But Davis “decorously [threw] back into [Polk’s] face with a lesson in constitutionality: no one but the governor of Mississippi could legally promote a colonel of the Mississippi Rifles.”

Davis’ commitment to states rights and to Mississippi were without doubt. The resurrection of such a commitment to the ideal with today’s Tea Party movement would have seemed odd to Robert Penn Warren, just as he observed the oddity of it 150 years ago:

How odd [the overemphasis on states’ rights] seems now – when the sky hums with traffic, and eight-lane highways stinking of high-test rip across hypothetical state lines, and half the citizens don’t know or care where they were born just so they can get somewhere fast.

Warren notes, too, that it was this commitment to state that, in part, might have cost the South the war. Just as the new colonies declaring their independence from England could not survive under the Articles of Confederation, the Confederacy was doomed because of its form. While Lincoln could order men to fight for the Union, Davis possessed far fewer powers when he served as President of the Confederate States.

It is the conflict of the man Jefferson Davis – his weakness, his ideals, his weak role in an institution that was structurally defective, his military success in the Mexican War, his personal love and loss – that make Robert Penn Warren’s book a beautiful story. And it is through the lens of history, circa 1980, that Warren makes what I think may be a profound point: if Davis “were not now defenseless in death, he would no doubt reject the citizenship we so charitably thrust upon him.”

The monetization of America would have distressed Davis (just as it would both Lincoln or Grant) such that Warren questioned whether any of these men would accept a “nation that sometimes seems technologically and philosophically devoted to the depersonalization of men? In a way, in their irrefrangible personal identity, Lincoln and Grant were almost as old-fashioned as Jefferson Davis.”

But in discussing Davis’ views on Lincoln’s emancipation of the slaves, Warren didn’t delve deep enough for our more modern lens. Davis was a slaveholder, true, but he believed in a lesser and a superior race thinking that it was a moral duty of the superior race to care for those in the lesser class. This omission leaves a chasm in the person of Davis. This superior-inferior representation and description by Warren went too far in restoring Davis to a better light than is appropriate.

Notwithstanding that omission, Robert Penn Warren weaves a portrait of Jefferson Davis that is complicated and the book – Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back – is worthy of reading.

And fortunately, the statue of Jefferson Davis has now been removed from the Kentucky Capitol. 

Shortly before removal, the statue of Jefferson Davis (behind Linoln). Joe Gerth, C-J.

Explore Historic Frankfort on the next #BGTdeTours

On Wednesday, June 3 you can join the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation’s deTour of the Old Governor’s Mansion and Old State Capitol in the state capital of Frankfort. The program will begin at 6 p.m. at the Old Governor’s Mansion, 420 High Street in Frankfort.

The event is free and open to the public; parking is available on-street as well as in the parking lot of the Kentucky Historical Society. Please help share pictures from the event on social media with the hashtag #BGTdeTours!

Old Governor’s Mansion

Old Governor’s Mansion. Image provided by Eric Whisman.

Built in 1798-98, the Old Governor’s Mansion remains one of the oldest executive mansions in the United States. It remained in this role until after the state capitol was moved across the river and the new governor’s mansion was completed in 1914.

Thirty-five governors called this building home while they served the Commonwealth and it also was their workplace until 1872 when an annex was built next to the Old State Capitol.

After the governor moved out, the building both served various official roles and sat vacant for several years. The building deteriorated and after World War II, many considered its demolition.

But Governor Simeon Willis found money in the budget to stabilize the project (no doubt influenced by his preservationist wife, Ida Lee Willis) and the home was fully renovated in 1956. It then became the official residence for Kentucky’s Lieutenant Governor.

More about the Old Governor’s Mansion is available from the Division of Historic Properties.

Old State Capitol

HABS Survey of Old State House in Frankfort, Ky.

Kentucky’s third state house was designed by Gideon Shryock. Built from 1827 to 1830, the National Historic Landmark’s design was inspired by the Temple of Minerva. Six massive Ionic columns under a classical pediment convey the strength of the Commonwealth. Finished in Kentucky River marble (aka, limestone), the beautiful structure is even more exceptional on the interior.

A self-supporting staircase splits into a double circular square under the cupola which sheds light on the interior. The chambers of both the House and Senate are adorned with some original furnishings. The entire structure is today part of the the Kentucky Historical Society complex.

More about the Old State Capitol is available from the Division of Historic Properties.

I hope to see you at the deTour. Reservations aren’t necessary, but you can ‘join’ the event on Facebook by clicking below.

Also, don’t forget to use hashtag #BGTdeTours!

Regional Look to Blue Grass Trust’s 11 Endangered List

Photographs of Select Sites on the Blue Grass Trust’s Eleven in Their Eleventh Hour List

Each year, the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation assembles a list of historic central Kentucky properties which are threatened. For the 2015 edition of the “Eleven in Their Eleventh Hour” list, the BGT has looked primarily beyond Fayette County to sites across 11 central Kentucky counties.

The list of counties largely resembles those included in the 2006 World Monument Fund’s designation of the Inner Bluegrass Region. The Blue Grass Trust included Madison County on its “11 Endangered List” while omitting Anderson County. All Kentucky counties, however, have “at risk” structures and deserve the attention of preservationists.

The BGT’s list is a great step toward recognizing that preservation can and should occur throughout Kentucky and not only in our urban cores. The 14 structures within the 11 counties also reflect that theme.

According to the BGT, “the list highlights endangered properties and how their situations speak to larger preservation issues in the Bluegrass. The goal of the list is to create a progressive dialogue that moves toward positive long-term solutions. The criteria used for selecting the properties include historic significance, lack of protection from demolition, condition of structure, or architectural significance.”

The sites are listed below.

Bourbon County – Cedar Grove & John T. Redmon House 

Both Cedar Grove and the Redmon House are architecturally significant houses from the early 19th century. The circa 1818 John & John T. Redmon House has a steep roof more often found in Virginia than Kentucky and has lost its original one-story wings. Though both buildings are vacant, they have undergone partial renovations recently and the BGT believes these structures could be still restored.

Boyle County – Citizens National Bank & Dr. Polk House

Mostly empty for two-plus years, the Citizens National Bank building at 305 West Main Street in Danville was built in 1865 with a double storefront that housed First National Bank of Danville and a drug store. Bank-owned and listed for sale, a demolition (or partial demolition) of this structure could affect adjacent structures with which the building shares walls.  Dr. Polk House at 331 South Buell Street in Perryville sits across from Merchants’ Row and is arguably the historic landmark most in need of restoration in the downtown. Built in 1830 as a simple Greek Revival house with two chimneys and two front doors, the structure was purchased by Dr. Polk in 1850. A graduate of Transylvania University, he was the primary caretaker of wounded from the Battle of Perryville and his 1867 autobiography details the gruesome battlefield.

Dr. Polk House in Perryville, Kentucky. Photo courtesy of the BGT.

Clark County – Indian Old Fields 

Indian Old Fields in Clark County was the location of Eskippakithiki, the last known Native American town in what became Kentucky. Located on Lewis Evans’ 1755 map of Middle British Colonies, this highly important site was significantly impacted during construction of a new interchange (which opened September 2014) for the Mountain Parkway crossing KY 974 near the center of the Indian Old Fields.

The Kentucky Heritage Council noted in 2010 that “’Indian Old Fields,’ is a historic and prehistoric archaeological district of profound importance,” with 50 significant prehistoric archaeological sites identified within 2 kilometers of the interchange. These sites cover the Archaic Period (8000-1000 BC), Woodland Period (1000 B.C. -1000 AD) and Adena Period (1000-1750 AD), with several listed on the National Register of Historic Places. These include villages, Indian fort earthworks, mounds, sacred circles and stone graves. The site also has substantial ties to the famous Shawnee Chief Cathecassa or Black Hoof, Daniel Boone, and trader John Finley.

With the new $8.5 million dollar interchange now open, there are significant concerns that these sites with be under threat from pressure to further develop the area.

Fayette County – Modern Structures 

The Blue Grass Trust’s 2014 “Eleven in Their Eleventh Hour” focused on the historic resources at the University of Kentucky. Many of those included on the list (and most of those demolished) were Modern buildings designed by locally renowned architect Ernst Johnson. Research into Johnson’s work by the BGT and others such as architects Sarah House Tate and Dr. Robert Kelley was joined with education and advocacy programming focused on his architecture and legacy as a master of Modernism. This research and programming led to other efforts by the Blue Grass Trust, namely working to educate the public on the historic value of mid-century architecture.

In our continued education and advocacy effort surrounding these structures, the Blue Grass Trust lists Fayette County’s mid-century Modern architecture as endangered. Often viewed as not old enough or not part of the traditional early fabric of Lexington and surrounding areas, the Modern buildings of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s are being substantially and unrecognizably altered or demolished. It is important to recognize that buildings 50 years of age are eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, a length of time deemed appropriate by the authors of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 for reflection on an era’s importance. Read more from the Kaintuckeean’s earlier post on the People’s Bank branch on South Broadway.

People’s Bank in Lexington. Photo by Rachel Alexander.

Franklin County – Old YMCA & Blanton-Crutcher Farm

Both the Old YMCA in downtown Frankfort faces potential demolition and the Blanton-Crutcher Farm in Jett are slowly deteriorating from neglect and both structures are worth saving. The 1911 Old YMCA at 104 Bridge Street in Frankfort, designed in the Beaux Arts style by a a Frankfort architect, was a state-of-the-art facility featuring a gymnasium, indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, meeting rooms and guest quarters. While a local developer is hoping to transform it into a boutique hotel, there is also a push by the city of Frankfort to demolish this structure. If saved, this could be a transformative project in our capital city. 

The Blanton-Crutcher Farm in Jett includes an architecturally and historically significant circa 1796 house built by Carter Blanton, a prominent member of the Jett farming community. In 1831, Blanton sold the farm to his nephew, Richard Crutcher, the son of Reverend Isaac Crutcher and Blanton’s sister, Nancy Blanton Crutcher. The 1974 National Register nomination for the farm notes: “The Crutchers were excellent farmers. Three generations of the family farmed the land and made improvements on the house until 1919 when the property was sold. It has remained a working farm with a large farmhouse, at its center, that has evolved over 180 years of active occupation.” In the 1880s, Washington Crutcher significantly increased the size of the house, turning it into the Victorian house that stands today (although the porches were removed due to deterioration and other modern features have been added).

Harrison County – The Handy House aka Ridgeway 

The Handy House, also known as Ridgeway, is located on US 62 in Cynthiana, KY. The nearly 200-year-old house was built in 1817 by Colonel William Brown, a United States Congressman and War of 1812 veteran. The farm and Federal-style house were also owned by Dr. Joel Frazer, namesake of Camp Frazer, a Union camp during the American Civil War. In the 1880s, the house underwent significant renovations by W. T. Handy, the owner from 1883-1916 and for whom the house remains named.

The Handy House checks almost every box when it comes to saving a structure: an architecturally and historically important house in good enough shape to rehabilitate, a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, qualification for the Kentucky Historic Preservation Tax Credit, and a group, the Harrison County Heritage Council and a descendant of the original owner, willing to take on the project. Unfortunately, the Handy House is jointly owned between the city and the county. County magistrates voted to tear it down, and the city opted not to vote on it with the hopes that the new council will come to a deal with the Harrison County Heritage Council, which has offered to purchase and restore the house as a community center. Read more from the Kaintuckeean’s earlier post on Ridgeway.

Jessamine County – Court Row 

Completed in 1881, Nicholasville’s Court Row is located right next to the Jessamine County Courthouse. Italianate in design and largely unchanged exterior-wise, Court Row is one of the most significant and substantial structures in downtown Nicholasville.

In a broad context, the listing of Court Row is a comment on the status of all the historic resources in downtown Nicholasville. Several threats exist that are culminating in drastic changes to the fabric of the town. Foremost, Nicholasville failed in 2013 to pass its first historic district, an overlay that would have encompassed the majority of the downtown and helped to regulate demolition and development. Then, within the past month, two historic structures were demolished, including the Lady Sterling House, an 1804 log cabin very close to the urban core. Additionally, Nicholasville is on the ‘short list’ for a new judicial center, the location of which has yet to be determined but will almost certainly have an effect on the downtown. Together, these threats present the potential for the loss of significant portions of Nicholasville’s charming downtown.

Madison County – Downtown Richmond 

Preservation has had a lot positive movement in Richmond. The Madison County Historical Society is active; the beautiful Irvinton House Museum is city-owned and the location of the Richmond Visitor’s Center; and the downtown contains a local historic district. Like most local historic districts (also known as H-1 overlays), though, the Downtown Richmond Historic District protects historic buildings and sites that are privately owned. That means that city- and county-owned sites are exempt from the H-1 regulations.

The potential damaging effects of this can already be seen. In February 2013, downtown Richmond lost the Miller House and the Old Creamery, two of its most historic buildings. Both were in the Downtown Richmond Historic District and on the National Register of Historic Places. Owned by the county, the buildings were demolished with the hopes of constructing a minimum-security prison on the site that would replicate the exterior façade of the Miller House, according to Madison Judge/Executive Kent Clark. There are several other historic sites in the urban core that are owned by either the city or the county, leading to worry about the state of preservation in Richmond’s downtown.

Mercer County – Walnut Hall

Built circa 1850 by David W. Thompson, Walnut Hall is one of Mercer County’s grand Greek Revival houses. A successful planter and native of Mercer County, Thompson left the house and 287 acres of farmland to his daughter, Sue Helm, upon his death in 1865. In 1978, Walnut Hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places along with two other important and similar Mercer County Greek Revival houses: Lynnwood (off KY Highway 33 near the border of Mercer and Boyle Counties) and Glenworth (off Buster Pike).

The James Harrod Trust has notified the Blue Grass Trust that the house may be under threat of demolition, as it is owned by a prominent Central Kentucky developer known to have bulldozed several other important historic buildings.

Scott County – Choctaw Indian Academy 

Located in Blue Springs, KY, off Route 227 near Stamping Ground, the Choctaw Indian Academy was created in 1818 on the farm of Colonel Richard M. Johnson, who served as Vice President of the United States under Martin Van Buren (1837–1841). The Academy was created using Federal funding and was intended to provide a traditional European-American education for Native Americans boys. (It was one of only two government schools operated by the Department of War – the other being West Point.) Originally consisting of five structures built prior to 1825, only one building – thought to be a dormitory – remains. By 1826, over 100 boys were attending the school, becoming well enough known to be visited by the Marquis de Lafayette in 1825. The school was relocated to White Sulphur Springs (also a farm owned by Colonel Johnson) in 1831. The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Read more about the site from the Kaintuckeean’s earlier post on the Choctaw Indian Academy.

Remaining structure of Choctaw Indian Academy. Photo by Amy Palmer.

Woodford County – Versailles High School 

 Located on the corner of Maple Street and Lexington Pike in Versailles, the Versailles High School is a substantial structure built in 1928. The building operated as a high school for 35 years before becoming the Woodford County Junior High in 1963, operating as a middle school until being shuttered in 2005. After 77 years of continuous operation, the building has been empty for nearly 10 years.

With no known maintenance or preservation plan, concern exists that the historic Versailles High School will deteriorate from neglect and, ultimately, be demolished.

You can learn more about the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation on its website,

Book Review: Crawfish Bottom

Here, brothels were commonplace for generations. Here, alcohol flowed freely before, after and during prohibition. Here, crime was inherent and living conditions deplorable.

And it was all in the shadow of the old state Capitol.

Douglas Boyd explored the lost community of Crawfish Bottom in his book, Crawfish Bottom: Recovering a Lost Kentucky Community. It is now available in paperback from the University Press of Kentucky.

Since the Commonwealth’s earliest days, Frankfort has been our capital. Seated on the Kentucky River, the community had a history interwoven with the river. Lumber would be transported by water with the mountaineers accompanying it. Receiving their pay in Frankfort, these men might be interested in partaking of the local flavor.

And as the state capital was home to the state penitentiary, felons upon release might seek the pleasures they were unable to access from the cell block.

It was entirely natural, then, that a seedy area would develop in Frankfort. Its proximity to the river (adjacent to and partially in a flood plain, as evidenced by the regular flooding) created a natural fit for the area which was generally viewed as being to the west and north of the old state Capitol.

Professor Boyd examined this swampy land through the eyes and voice of her people utilizing and relying to a great degree on oral histories prepared in 1991 by a University of Kentucky master’s degree candidate. Through Boyd’s expert pen and insight, a history of the people who lived in the Craw is told.

For those who lived in this area, it represented a great deal more than the prostitution and crime that occurred here. It was a community with churches and schools and stores and commerce. Race was less divisive than elsewhere in the capital city as residents were “more unified … by their socioeconomic condition … than they were divided by their race. Blacks and whites lived together [and] everybody looked out after each other.”

And so “for the overwhelming majority of residents interviewed, … the Bottom was a safe place for them and their families to live.”

Boyd drew on the memory and nostalgia of displaced residents to approach the concept of urban renewal from their perspective. Nostalgia “is a feeling or expression of longing, in the present, for a more positively associated place or time imagined in the past, a phenomenon that introduces” outside distortion, yet is now accepted as being “critical to understanding embedded meaning in historical interpretation.”

Whether or not the methodology historical recordation is deemed appropriate, Boyd’s use of nostalgia draws readers to a deeper understanding of the daily lives of this locality.

And after all, as Charles Joyner wrote, “all history is local history somewhere … still, no history, properly understood, is of merely local significance.” Yes, the reach of the Craw extended beyond its mere fifty acres.

Long were attempts to rid Frankfort of Crawfish Bottom and the urban renewal effort finally struck a final blow to the entire neighborhood in the 1960s when space was made for the new state office tower and plaza. Ridding Frankfort of its “slums” was deemed a positive, despite whatever sense of community was lost.

The area is a microcosm for the efforts to alter the nation’s urban cores — efforts which began in earnest during the middle portion of the last century and continue today.

Boyd’s book received great accolades in hardcover and readership should increase now that it is accessible in paperback among those interested in virtually any of the social sciences.

Disclaimer: The University Press of Kentucky provided the author with a courtesy review copy of the book here reviewed. The link to the reviewed book is part of an affiliate agreement between the author and

In Kentucky, Four Additions to the National Register and Two Newly Designated National Historic Landmarks

Each week, the National Park Service transmits a list of properties added to the the National Register of Historic Places. Depending on applications pending, there are weeks where no Kentucky properties are listed for inclusion. Some emails are full of Kentucky’s rich history. Such was a recent e-mail.

As I alluded to in one of my weekly roundup’s last month, two Kentucky properties were designated as National Historic Landmarks. This designation is the highest designation that can be afforded a property in terms of historic significance. With the inclusion of the George T. Stagg Distillery in Franklin County and the Camp Nelson Historic and Archeological District in Jessamine County, the number of Kentucky properties designated as National Historic Landmarks rests at thirty-two.

North elevation of the Liggett and Meyers Harping
Tobacco Storage Warehouse, Source: NRHP App./KHC

From Lexington, the Liggett and Meyers Harpring Tobacco Storage Warehouse (1211 Manchester Street) was added to the Register. Constructed in 1930, the warehouse sits on a six acre tract and was well-situated to tobacco storage. A rail spur from the L&N railroad ran to the property and, as preferred shipping methods changed, proximity to New Circle Road kept the Liggett and Meyers building relevant. The building itself is constructed in six segments with each segment containing 20,000 square feet. This immense structure was important to an industry vital to central Kentucky. Today, the building is part of the city’s growing Distillery District.

Ludlow Theatre, ca. 1975
Source: NRHP Application / KHC

The Ludlow Theatre, 322-326 Elm Street, is in the community of Ludlow in Kenton County. The Ludlow Historic District, added to the National Register in 1984, already includes the ca. 1946 theater, but the Ludlow Theatre is now individually listed. Of course, in 1984 the Ludlow Theatre (then less than 50 years of age) was deemed a non-contributing structure, yet the passage of thirty years has changed perspective. Consistent with much of the architecture built in the mid-twentieth century, the Ludlow Theatre is “largely a modest modern building
with little to characterize it within a specific style.” Architectural interest is found in the façade, however, as every sixth of the variegated brick projects slightly from the façade. The most significant change to the building’s exterior since 1946 is the removal of the marquee. This occurred around the time of the historic district’s inclusion on the Register, but can be more readily attributed to the theatre’s closure in 1983.

Hindman Historic District
Source: NRHP Application/ KHC

As Nate wrote, “There is no legitimate reason why anyone would ever stumble upon Hindman.” Though, remarkably, the National Register application remarks that “few Kentucky counties can match the education, literary, cultural, and political heritage found in and near Hindman.” With credits like that, one can imagine the variety of architectural styles found in the district. Much can be credited with three of the earliest Appalachian Settlement Schools being established in Knott County. So if one were to stumble into Knott County’s seat, they would find the sixty-one buildings in the Hindman Historic District, of which 40 are deemed to be contributing. They consist of religious, governmental, residential, commercial, educational, and health care purposed structures, though the majority are two-story residences and commercial structures built between 1903 and 1960. After this period, however, many older structures have been significantly altered or demolished and this has diminished the historic character of the community.

Buck Creek Rosenwald School
Source: Kentucky Heritage Council

Finally, the Buck Creek Rosenwald School in Finchville was constructed ca. 1920 as a one-room school house and was adapted into a residence in 1959 (the school had closed in 1957). One story with hipped roof, this simple structure was a Rosenwald school for African American children during the years of segregation. It was one of only two Rosenwald schools in Shelby County. Two contributing buildings – an outhouse for either sex – are also mentioned in the National Register application. The application also contains accounts of the school day from former students – a fascinating read! More fascinating is that the application was the project of Girl Scout Julia Bache in pursuit of her Girl Scout Gold Award. Well done, Julia!

The BGT’s Eleventh Hour Endangered Properties List

Since 1999, the Blue Grass Trust has created an annual list of “Eleven [historic properties] in Their Eleventh Hour.” Each property is selected on the following criteria: historic significance, proximity to proposed or current development, lack of protection from demolition, condition of structure, and architectural significance.

The BGT’s goal of highlighting these properties is to find long-term solutions to preserve them for generations to come.

In no specific order, the BGT has announced this year’s “Eleven in Their Eleventh Hour” this morning at the Hunt-Morgan House.

  • Greyhound Station on Loudon Avenue, Lexington. 
  • Old Fayette County Courthouse, Lexington.
  • Willis Green House, Danville.
  • Good Shepherd Church, Frankfort.
  • 151 Constitution Street, Lexington.
  • Ligon and Matthews Houses, Lexington.
  • First Baptist Church, Lexington.
  • 601 Boonesboro Ave., Lexington.
  • I-75 Connector Corridor, rural Jessamine and Madison Counties.
  • 412 W. Third and 445 W. Second, Lexington.
More information about each of these properties can be found in the January 2013 issue of Preservation Matters, a tri-annual publication of the BGT.

NoD: Orlando Brown House built to make inheritance equal

Orlando Brown House - Frankfort, Ky.
Orlando Brown House – Frankfort, Ky.

John Brown wanted his two eldest sons to inherit equally, which was anything but a standard bequest in his day. Brown, who served as Kentucky’s first United States Senator and was instrumental in bringing Kentucky into the Union, had constructed Liberty Hall on Wilkinson Street in old Frankfort. Though Senator Brown purchased eight acres in 1796, Liberty Hall would not be completed 1804.

Mason, the elder Brown son, would inherit Liberty Hall. But what of the younger boy, Orlando? For him, the statesman contacted famed architect Gideon Shryock to design an adjacent residence in 1835. Construction of this beautiful Greek Revival two-story cost only $5,000. Both the Orlando Brown House and Liberty Hall operate as museum today.

Orlando Brown, born 1801, was educated at Princeton and Transylvania before beginning the practice of law in 1823. In love, he had expressed interest in his cousin, Mary Watts Brown, who was seven years younger than he. Upon her rejection in 1824, Brown took his law books to Alabama but returned to his hometown in 1829. The two were married the following year.

By 1833, Orlando Brown realized his passion was not in law but in writing. He took the position of editor of The Frankfort Commonwealth that year and Brown became a voice for the Whigs. In 1848, Orlando Brown served as Secretary of State in Governor John J. Crittenden’s administration. Also that year, Brown wrote furiously in favor of the Whig’s presidential candidate: General Zachary Taylor. When Taylor won the presidency, Brown was summoned to Washington and asked to serve his country as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

The man and the job were not a good match; Brown resigned in 1850 and returned to Frankfort. There, he and his brother would jointly enter into many civic endeavors, including the organization of the Frankfort Cemetery. Too, Brown and his father were among those who in 1836 created the Kentucky Historical Society. And for all of his efforts, Orlando Brown has the distinction of being named the first honorary Kentucky Colonel.

Sources: Ky; Orlando Brown Papers