‘Historic Homes’ panel highlights challenges of preserving tradition

Lee Mengistu

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The “forced march” of middle school students through Lexington’s historic homes is familiar to many, but to local historians, it’s an opportunity to enrich the next generation.

That was a sentiment shared at the Historic Homes panel hosted at the UK Art Museum on Friday evening. The panel consisted of four representatives of Lexington’s 15 historic districts, from the Ashland, Henry Clay Estate, Mary Todd Lincoln House, Bodley-Bullock House and the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation.



Though the makers of local history are long gone, the panelists recounted the main joy of their profession; keeping Lexington’s past alive by educating the public.

That joy, however, is not without its challenges. The panel lamented their many strains, such as deferred maintenance of the facilities, bringing history and artifacts to life, and fundraising for the expensive and specialized upkeep of the fragile grounds.

Another main problem was that of making history relevant to a community plagued by “acceptable apathy,” as panel moderator and UK Art Museum Director Stewart Horodner put it.

Historical preservationists fight this apathy by introducing the present to the past in relevant programs for the public.

Both the Bodley-Bullock House and the Hunt-Morgan House joined the bi-monthly Gallery Hop, which introduces locals to the city’s rich art community.

The Mary Todd Lincoln House, one of the only two historic homes in Kentucky preserved for a notable woman, recently hosted a discussion salon on Mrs. Lincoln’s misunderstood reputation, tying it to the complex the topic of women in the media.

One panelist argued for not only the preservation of homes of notable Lexington figures, but the temporary homes of UK students. Sheila Omer Ferrell, executive director of the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation, and a UK alumna, was outspoken in her criticism of the demolition of historic buildings to make room for the new residence halls on campus.

In 2014, the Trust’s biannual magazine, “Preservation”, published its yearly “Endangered List: Eleven in Their Eleventh Hour.” The focus of the list was on many UK buildings at risk of destruction, such as the now-demolished Holmes and Jewell Halls, soon to be the location of the Limestone Park complex.

To Ferrell, the demolition of so many detailed historical buildings meant the destruction of thousands of alumni memories, replaced by “Hampton Inn”- like substitutes.

“It’s one of the first places where many of us lived outside of our parents’ homes. It’s where we became adults. I think that’s devastating,” Ferrell said.