From hand-me-downs to high fashion, Bella Rose owner celebrates 35 years in business

November 16, 2015
Betty Spain, owner of Bella Rose, is celebrating her 35th year in business. Virtually all of that time, the women's clothing shop has been at the corner of West Maxwell and South Upper streets. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Betty Spain, owner of Bella Rose, is celebrating her 35th year in business. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Betty Spain grew up in Wolfe County, the eighth of 12 children in a family of little means.

“Never had a new pair of shoes until I was 12,” she said. “I wore lots of hand-me-downs.”

So it is with a mix of pride and amazement that Spain is celebrating her 35th year as the creator and owner of Bella Rose, a Lexington dress shop that has developed a national clientele for its stylish, sophisticated apparel.

Not that she has had time to celebrate. Spain said her shop at the corner of West Maxwell and South Upper streets had strong sales during Keeneland and Breeders’ Cup. Last week, some of her seven employees were busy decorating for the holidays, when Bella Rose does a big business with “wish list” suggestions many regular customers leave for the men in their lives.

Spain prides herself on being able to find the right dress for any woman, regardless of her age. Customers include two and three generations of some families.

Betty Spain

Betty Spain

One big attraction is the shop’s large inventory, which includes a basement showroom with more than 800 dresses by designers such as Nicole Miller, Kay Unger and Badgley Mischka.

“You go in so many specialty stores and they have a few items and you’re afraid almost to touch them,” Spain said. “For me, it’s come in and kick off your shoes and stay awhile, and let’s get you in the right dress.”

Spain, who travels to New York frequently to scout merchandise, does a big business in dresses for special occasions, from proms to the Country Music Awards. She also does personal shopping for several women who trust her to choose clothing that will make them look good.

“I have a client in Los Angeles that I ship a box to every month,” she said. “I have a lady in Florida that I ship a box to every month and she takes what she likes and sends back the rest. I’ve been doing this for her for 25 years.”

Bella Rose has been featured in Women’s Wear Daily and several fashion magazines. Spain’s awards include one from the National Association of Women Business Owners.

“Color, style, I just have an eye for it,” she said. “I think that my repeat clientele validates that fact. It is my gift from God.”

Spain also credits her talented staff, which includes store manager Allison Herrington, who has been with her for a decade, and Spain’s daughter, Haley Williams, the mother of two of her seven grandsons.

Spain didn’t set out to create a high-end dress shop. After high school, she moved to Lexington to work as a dental assistant. Then disaster struck. She was living at Clays Ferry when the great Kentucky River flood of December 1978 left her house filled with seven feet of water.

The only clothing that survived was what Spain was wearing. She went back to Campton, to a used clothing store where she had spent many hours as a child shopping with her mother. Forty dollars later, she had a new wardrobe.

“I started wearing those ’40s-style blazers to work with skinny jeans and patients were asking me where I got that,” she said. “I literally sold some things off my body. And some of those women still shop with me today.”

Encouraged about her apparent sense of style, Spain, then 23, started a vintage clothing store. She was open evenings and weekends for three years while she kept her day job as a dental assistant. After a few months on Clay Avenue, she moved to the location where she has been ever since.

Spain made the shop her full-time job after buying a warehouse filled with vintage clothing, some of which she wholesaled to boutiques in New York and Los Angeles.

“This warehouse is what put me in business,” she said. “I also found a resource that had antique kimonos, and I was having dresses made out of them that were one of a kind.”

Spain’s shop was called Déjà vu, which was a great name for a vintage clothing shop until a strip club with the same name opened on New Circle Road.

“We were getting phone calls of, ‘How much are table dances?’ and I was screaming, ‘I’m a mother! Don’t call here!'” she said.

Spain renamed her shop Bella Rose and took her inventory in a new direction. While stylish clothing is her business, customer service is what keeps her successful.

“I’m in the business of cheering up women,” she said. “I hear a lot of ‘Betty work your magic.’ To watch that woman put on the right dress and light up like a light bulb, it’s all worth it.”

Bella Rose owner Betty Spain, right, and her daughter, Haley Williams.

Bella Rose owner Betty Spain, right, and her daughter, Haley Williams.

 

Betty Spain, who has owned Bella Rose women's clothing store for 35 years, said part of her success has been the ability to dress women of all ages. Three regular customers are Jan Marks, left; her granddaughter, Sophi Clarke, center; and their friend, Laura Adams. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Spain said part of her success is the ability to dress women of all ages. Three customers are Jan Marks, left; her granddaughter, Sophi Clarke, center; and their friend, Laura Adams.

 

Betty Spain, owner of Bella Rose, packs a lot of inventory into her small women's clothing shop. The basement room has more than 800 dresses. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Bella Rose’s basement room has more than 800 dresses.

 

 

 


Lexington’s first Breeders’ Cup was a big success; how could the next one be even better?

November 7, 2015
At the Breeders' Cup. Photo by Tom Eblen

At the Breeders’ Cup. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Kip Cornett said he and his wife were at an airport in June when he read on his cellphone a column by Barry Weisbord, president and co-publisher of Thoroughbred Daily News.

Weisbord wrote that he opposed a decision by his fellow Breeders’ Cup board members to bring Thoroughbred racing’s annual world championship here. He thought Keeneland and Lexington were simply too small to handle it.

After he finished reading, Cornett, president of Lexington’s Cornett Integrated Marketing Solutions, called Weisbord. “Just watch us,” he said.

Weisbord published a follow-up column last Wednesday.

“I have three words to say: I was wrong,” wrote Weisbord, who resigned from the Breeders’ Cup board last summer. “Oh, wait… three more: It was spectacular. In fact, I couldn’t be more impressed with how Keene land, the Breeders’ Cup and Lexington handled the event.”

After lavishing praise on everything about last weekend’s Breeders’ Cup in Lexington, Weisbord ended his column with this: “So… when are we going back?”

The consensus seems to be that Lexington hit a home run last weekend. That doesn’t mean everything went perfectly. Mistakes were made and lessons were learned for next time. But most people assume there will be a next time.

With the exception of a messy logistical screw-up Friday at the Maker’s Mark Bourbon Lounge, Keeneland’s performance was nearly flawless, from the races themselves to traffic management and customer service.

Nobody sweats the small stuff better than Keeneland. For example, by the end of each Kentucky Derby, patrons at Churchill Downs in Louisville are wading through a sea of trash. But throughout each day of Breeders’ Cup, Keeneland’s army of green-uniformed employees quietly walked around cleaning up. “Are you finished with your plate, Sir?”

Even though there were a record 50,155 people on the grounds Saturday and 44,947 Friday, it felt less crowded than a Bluegrass Stakes Day. One reason was that Keeneland spent $5 million adding a lot of temporary seating and hospitality space.

Even though track attendance was down 3,217 from last year’s Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita, ticket revenue more than doubled because of the demand for high-end accommodations at Keeneland. On-track handle was $20,611,114, up slightly from last year.

For the outside world watching Breeders’ Cup on television, NBC Sports’ gorgeous telecast amounted to a two-hour commercial for Lexington.

“I’m incredibly pleased,” VisitLex President Mary Quinn Ramer said. “I heard from a lot of people that they were blown away by our hospitality. I feel like we have made lifelong friends as a result of this event.”

Some downtown restaurants, bars and food trucks grumbled that they had hoped to do better than they did, but others who planned well were quite pleased.

“We had a great experience,” said Ben Self of West Sixth Brewery, which released a Breeders’ Cup Brown ale and hosted a beer dinner and “Beers and Bets” event.

Deborah Long, who owns Dudley’s on Short, hosted a private event Friday that filled her restaurant. She offered a price fixe menu Saturday night.

“We were very pleased,” Long said. “I think the city did a great job. Keeneland did a spectacular job. From our perspective, I don’t see how it could have been improved.”

Long said her business was slow Monday and Tuesday nights. Rainy weather was partly to blame, she thinks, but a lot of the reason may have been that Breeders’ Cup visitors started arriving later than many people assumed.

Cornett, who chaired the Breeders’ Cup Festival, agrees. They may have planned too many events to try to entertain visitors and involve Lexington residents in Breeders’ Cup. After all, the week also included Halloween and the Wildcats’ football game with Tennessee.

“We maybe over-prepared by about 30 percent,” he said. “It wasn’t as needed as we thought it would be.”

Still, many of those events were well-attended, such as the Feeders’ Cup food truck event, which sold out its 3,000 tickets, and three Lyric Theatre performances of Frank X Walker’s play about the great black jockey Isaac Murphy.

Cornett said organizers also could have spent less time recruiting private homes for visitors, some of which went unused. Many visitors who came on private jets spent less time in Lexington than expected. Others found their own accommodations through Airbnb.com.

As with the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010, the Breeders’ Cup showed that Lexington can host a big international event with aplomb.

“There are a lot of things everyone learned that will make it easier the next time around,” Cornett said. “But everyone in Lexington should be proud of what they did. We did everything we could to show we’re a world-class city, and it worked.”


Kentucky’s ‘paradise lost’ estate for sale for first time in 131 years.

November 3, 2015
David Meade built the octagonal parlor at right at Chaumiere des Prairies about 1823. The rest of his house was a collection of log cabins, now long gone. The Greek Revival house now to the parlor's side was built by a subsequent owner in 1840. Photos by Tom Eblen

David Meade built the octagonal parlor at right at Chaumiere des Prairies about 1823. The rest of his house was a collection of log cabins, now long gone. The Greek Revival house now to the parlor’s side was built by a subsequent owner in 1840. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

NICHOLASVILLE — A pioneer estate whose elaborate gardens attracted three U.S. presidents and virtually every other notable person who passed through the Bluegrass two centuries ago is for sale for the first time in 131 years.

Chaumiere des Prairies, 1439 Catnip Hill Road, which includes an antebellum mansion and 169 acres of farmland that once included the 40-acre gardens, will be sold to the highest bidder at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 14. If Wilson Auction Co. can’t sell the entire estate, the house and five acres will be offered separately from 164 acres of land.

Margaret Steele Rash’s grandfather bought the place in 1884 to celebrate her mother’s birth. Rash lived there for 40 years, until she died in 2013 at age 95. Her son, Lloyd McMillan, is moving to South Carolina and decided it was time to sell.

“It’s a real treasure,” McMillan said. “It’s my wife’s and my hope that there’s somebody who falls in love with this place as much as my mom did.”

Lloyd McMillan is selling Chaumiere des Prairies, a famous antebellum estate that has been in his family since 1884. The estate's builder, David Meade, entertained three U.S. presidents and many other notables there. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Lloyd McMillan

The Greek Revival mansion, built about 1840, has stellar craftsmanship. But what makes Chaumiere special is an adjoining eight-sided parlor with a 16-foot ceiling. It was built about 1823 in anticipation of the Marquis de Lafayette’s visit to Kentucky in 1825.

The parlor is the last remnant of early Kentucky’s version of “paradise lost.”

David Meade was born in 1744 to a wealthy Virginia family and was educated in England. A patriot, he helped finance the American Revolution. In 1795, he decided to sell his 600-acre Maycox plantation along Virginia’s James River, where for 22 years he had dabbled in English-style garden design.

Meade sent the eldest of his nine children, also named David, to Kentucky, where he bought 330 acres in what is now northern Jessamine County. The elder Meade, his wife, Sarah, and the rest of their family arrived the next year with 40 slaves and 50 wagons of possessions.

Meade had a log house built on his new estate, which he called La Chaumière des Prairies (or La Chaumière du Prairie), which roughly translates from French as “little house on the prairie.” (The accent mark has since been lost to history.)

By 1806, the house had grown into a cluster of log rooms connected by hallways. The heart of the home was a large, square dining room for guests. Meade was a man of leisure, always ready to entertain.

Under Meade’s direction, his slaves created the elaborate gardens. The Rev. Horace Holley, who left Boston for Lexington in 1818 to transform Transylvania into one of the nation’s best universities, described them in a letter:

“His house consists of a cluster of buildings in front of which spreads a beautiful sloping lawn, smooth as velvet,” Holley wrote. “From his walks diverge in various directions forming vistas terminated by picturesque objects. Seats, verdant banks, alcoves and a Chinese temple are all interspersed at convenient distances. The lake over which presides a Grecian temple, that you might imagine to be the home of water nymphs, has in it a small island which communicates with the shore by a white bridge of one arch. The whole park is surrounded by a low, rustic stone fence almost hidden by roses and a honey-suckle, now in full flower. … There is no establishment like this in our country.”

In addition to frequent local guests including Holley and statesman Henry Clay, Meade hosted Presidents James Monroe, Andrew Jackson and Zachary Taylor. When former Vice President Aaron Burr was on his way to Virginia to stand trial for treason in 1807, he spent several days at Chaumiere. (Burr was acquitted of a charge of trying to separate Western from Atlantic states and create a new nation.)

David Meade died in 1829, a year after his wife. They were buried in the gardens. Their monument, destroyed by vandals, was replaced a decade ago by a descendant.

Meade’s children decided to sell Chaumiere at auction in 1832. When farmer William Robards won the bidding, distressed neighbors posted a sign proclaiming “paradise lost.” The sign infuriated Robards, who spitefully turned his livestock loose in the gardens until they were destroyed.

The only part of Meade’s house to survive was the octagonal brick parlor built for the French general, who apparently never saw it. A subsequent owner, Edward Carter, added the fine brick house to the parlor.

Recent open houses have been well attended, Nicholasville auctioneer Bobby Day Wilson said, and several out-of-town prospects have toured Chaumiere des Prairies and have expressed interest in restoring it to glory.

Perhaps “paradise lost” may yet be found again.

Chaumiere du Prairie Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The front hall of the Greek Revival house built in 1840.

 

Chaumiere du Prairie Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Outside detail of the circa 1823 octagonal parlor.

 

The octagonal parlor at Chaumiere des Prairie was built about 1823, reportedly in the hope that the Marquis de Lafayette would be entertained there when he visited Kentucky. Longtime resident Margaret Steele Rash bought the chandelier and mirror, which came from old Lexington homes. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Inside the octagonal parlor.

 

Chaumiere du Prairie Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A descendant helped restore the Meades’ cemetery in 2005, including new monuments.

 

Now a cattle field, the grounds around Chaumiere des Prairies were beautiful botanical gardens in the early 1800s that gained international fame. Decorative Greek and Chinese temples once stood beside the ponds. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Now a cattle field, the grounds around Chaumiere des Prairies were beautiful botanical gardens in the early 1800s that gained international fame


Abandoned mill’s discovery recalls once-thriving Kentucky industry

November 1, 2015
University of Kentucky anthropologist Nancy O'Malley and Lexington electrician Jerry Nichols explored an old Madison County mill, which was built in 1865 and ceased operations in the 1930s. Somehow, the mill's equipment was never removed. Photos by Tom Eblen

University of Kentucky anthropologist Nancy O’Malley and Lexington electrician Jerry Nichols explored an old Madison County mill, which was built in 1865 and ceased operations in the 1930s. Somehow, the mill’s equipment was never removed. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

RICHMOND — Several history buffs heard last spring that there was a forgotten gristmill in rural Madison County, built about 1865. One knew the property owner, so he got permission to visit. What they found inside was shocking.

“We walked in and said, ‘Oh my God,'” said Jerry Nichols, a Lexington electrician. “Except for the steam engine, it was all there. It was all there!”

Behind weathered siding, buried in decades of filth and junk, most of the machinery was intact: iron and steel cogs, rods and wheels; wooden bins and chutes; even wide leather drive belts that last turned in the 1930s.

“It’s so rare to find a mill with the machinery,” said Nancy O’Malley, a University of Kentucky archaeologist and anthropologist whose expertise includes early Kentucky mills.

“The frame mills just didn’t last,” O’Malley said at the mill last month. “They burned down. They got salvaged. They got rid of the machinery. From a preservation standpoint, it’s beyond anything I’ve seen.”

The mill shows up on two state historic surveys since 1980, but it’s among the last of several hundred that once dotted Kentucky’s landscape.

The Madison County mill's interior is filled with carved, painted and drawn names, initials and dates from its former owners and employees. Apparently, they had a lot of spare time on their hands between milling jobs. This is one of the oldest, from 1869. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The mill’s interior is filled with carved, painted and drawn names, initials and dates from its former owners and employees. Apparently, they had a lot of time on their hands between milling jobs.

Kentuckians started building gristmills in the 1780s, soon after settlement. Farmers needed them to grind corn, wheat and other grains to make flour, cornmeal and whiskey. Soon, mills and distilleries began exporting goods down the Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans.

Each Central Kentucky county had dozens of gristmills in the 1800s, said O’Malley, who has excavated at many pioneer sites, including Evans Mill at Raven Run Nature Sanctuary.

Most Central Kentucky mills were built along creeks. Flowing water turned wooden wheels that turned millstones that ground grain. Some were big operations.

Kentucky’s 1850 manufacturing census reported that Jonathan Bush’s four-story mill on Lower Howard’s Creek in Clark County produced 400 barrels of flour and 3,000 bushels of meal annually. The mill’s ruins stand in the Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve.

Fayette County’s milling heritage lives on mainly through the names of roads that once took customers to them: Parkers Mill, Clays Mill, Bowman Mill and many others. Grimes Mill on Boone Creek, built in 1807, has been headquarters of the Iroquois Hunt Club since 1928.

A few preserved mills remain in Kentucky, most notably at Mill Springs near Monticello, where the circa-1877 mill has a huge 40-foot wheel to draw power from 13 natural springs. It is operated as a park by the Army Corps of Engineers. Wolf Pen Branch Mill in Jefferson County, owned by writer Sally Bingham, has been restored to working order by millwright Ben Hassett.

The Red River Museum in Clay City has a big collection of millstones and equipment. The Kentucky Old Mill Association has done considerable research on this aspect of Kentucky business and economic history.

Weisenberger Mill on South Elkhorn Creek near Midway is active, and its flour and meal are used in many of the region’s best restaurants.

Six generations of the Weisenberger family have run the mill since 1865, when the German immigrants bought Craig’s Mill. When the original early-1800s building became unsound in 1913, they replaced it with a concrete structure and converted the water wheel to electric turbines.

Water flow in creeks has always been unreliable in Central Kentucky, where the karst limestone geology allows water to move underground easily. Dams, channels, flumes and “mill races” often were built to increase water flow and speed.

“The engineering it took to make some of these work was pretty ingenious,” O’Malley said. “Still, most of them could only operate a few months out of the year.”

Western America’s first steam-powered gristmill was built in Lexington in 1808. It was where South Hill Station Lofts are now, at the southwest corner of South Upper Street and Bolivar Street, which originally was called Steam Mill Street.

“Steam engines freed you from having water issues,” O’Malley said. “A lot of the water mills converted to steam so they could run longer.”

After the Civil War, roller mill technology and increased steel production put many country gristmills out of business. Roller mills could be built in cities, and they could produce more flour and meal faster and cheaper.

The 1880 manufacturing census shows that this Madison County mill operated year-round with a 35-horsepower steam engine and employed three people. It produced 500 barrels of wheat flour, 100,000 pounds of corn meal and 47,000 pounds of animal feed a year, O’Malley said.

The mill, run by the Miller family, continued into the 1930s. Once it shut down, the owners walked away. Except for the missing steam engine, its machinery was left in place. Iron and steel parts somehow managed to escape World War II scrap drives.

Nichols and the other enthusiasts don’t want to publicize the old mill’s location until they have finished cleaning and securing the building. A bigger challenge will be working with the owner to figure out a viable use that could pay for restoration and maintenance.

“At the least, we need a really meticulous recording of the building and how it’s built and all the stuff in it,” O’Malley said. “Somebody could have stripped out a lot of the stuff and put it to another use. But they didn’t, and I think that’s the interesting part of the story.”

 

Weathered barn wood shelters a Madison County mill that was built in 1865 and went out of business in the 1930s. It has sat vacant since then with most of the steam-powered mill's equipment intact. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Weathered barn wood shelters the mill.

 

Berea folk art dealer Larry Hackley, left, University of Kentucky anthropologist Nancy O'Malley and Lexington electrician Jerry Nichols explored an old Madison County mill, which was built in 1865 and ceased operations in the 1930s. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Berea folk art dealer Larry Hackley, left, O’Malley and Nichols explore the mill.

 

A Madison County grist mill, which was built in 1865 and ceased operations in the 1930s, still contains most of its equipment, including this french burr mill and stone. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A French burr mill and stone inside the old mill.

 

A gear inside a Madison County mill, which was built in 1865 and ceased operations in the 1930s. Such artifacts are rare, because most scrap iron and steel was collected and recycled for World War II defense production. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A gear inside the mill, which was built in 1865 and ceased operations in the 1930s.

 

A Madison County mill, which was built in 1865 and ceased operations in the 1930s, still has most of its original equipment, including the leather belts than ran the machinery. The mill was powered by a steam engine. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The mill still has most of its original equipment, including the leather belts than ran the machinery. The mill was powered by a steam engine.

 

A Madison County mill, which was built in 1865 and ceased operations in the 1930s, still has most of its original equipment. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Somehow, the mill’s iron and steel parts escaped World War II scrap drives.


Faces at the races: photos from Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup

October 31, 2015

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Brothers’ Mongolian Saturday wins colorfully at Breeders’ Cup

October 31, 2015
Dressed in traditional costume, brothers Tserenjigmed Dagvadorj, left, CEO of the Mongolian conglomerate Max Group, and his brother, horse trainer Ganbaatar Dagvadorj were there to root for their horse Mongolian Saturday in the Breeders Cup at Keeneland on Saturday. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Dressed in traditional costume, brothers Tserenjigmed Dagvadorj, left, CEO of the Mongolian conglomerate Max Group, and his brother, horse trainer Ganbaatar Dagvadorj were there to root for their horse Mongolian Saturday in the Breeders Cup at Keeneland on Saturday. Photos by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The most colorfully dressed owner and trainer at Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup were brothers Tserenjigmed and Ganbaatar Dagvadorj, whose horse Mongolian Saturday won the Turf Sprint.

Wearing traditional Mongolian dress, they and their party of about 20 people from Mongolia attracted a lot of attention in the grandstands.  The brothers run Max Group, a major business conglomerate in Mongolia. Ganbaatar Dagvadorj also is a successful horse trainer in a nation known for talented horses and riders.

The brothers began trading skins and furs underground in the late 1980s during the last years of Soviet domination, according to Forbes magazine. Now, their company includes supermarkets, fast-food franchises, hotels and construction companies.

Wearing traditional dress, Mongolian wrestler Dambii Ragchaa used a smart phone to videotape a race Saturday at the Breeder's Cup. He was among about 20 people from Mongolia there to root for Mongolian Saturday in the Turf Sprint. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Wearing traditional dress, Mongolian wrestler Dambii Ragchaa used a smart phone to videotape a race Saturday at the Breeder’s Cup. He was among about 20 people from Mongolia there to root for Mongolian Saturday in the Turf Sprint.

 

Dressed in traditional costume, brothers Tserenjigmed Dagvadorj, right, CEO of the Mongolian conglomerate Max Group, and his brother, horse trainer Ganbaatar Dagvadorj were there to root for their horse Mongolian Saturday in the Breeders Cup at Keeneland on Saturday. The gold medallions on Ganbaatar's sash represent gold medals in Mongolian horse races. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Dressed in traditional costume, brothers Tserenjigmed Dagvadorj, right, CEO of the Mongolian conglomerate Max Group, and his brother, horse trainer Ganbaatar Dagvadorj were there to root for their horse Mongolian Saturday.

 


Hitches seem few as Keeneland shines during its first Breeders’ Cup

October 30, 2015
An outrider and police officer exchange glances in the Keeneland paddock before the first race on Breeders' Cup day Friday. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

An outrider and police officer exchange glances in the Keeneland paddock before the first race on Breeders’ Cup day Friday. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Keeneland, which has spent 79 years building an international Thoroughbred sales and racing powerhouse, earned the final jewel in its crown Friday by hosting the 32nd Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

The first of two days of racing came off with few hitches under mostly cloudy skies with temperatures in the 50s.

Breeders’ Cup purple replaced Keeneland green as the color of the day, but bright fall leaves offered some competition.

Keeneland spent $5 million to add temporary buildings and seating for an extra 10,000 spectators, and that kept the track from being uncomfortably crowded during its biggest day of racing ever.

A record number of fans for the first day of a Breeders’ Cup, 44,947, came to the track and to hospitality areas on Keeneland’s grounds. The crowd is expected to be even larger Saturday, when the most prestigious races are scheduled.

Customer service seemed to be at Keeneland’s usual high level, with one big exception: A reserved-seating mixup at the Maker’s Mark Lounge left some early arrivals angry when Kentucky state troopers were brought in to ask them to move.

Traffic, parking and shuttle systems operated smoothly for the most part.

“Honestly, it was easier than a normal day at Keeneland,” said Nyoka Hawkins of Lexington. “I think they’ve done a fabulous job. I bought a parking pass, and we just drove right in. It was shocking.”

Lexington received high marks from out-of-town visitors, said VisitLex president Mary Quinn Ramer. They especially enjoyed being able to get close to famous horses and tour farms while they were here. “Our four-legged celebrities are being well-adored this week,” she said.

Ramer said people from 16 nations attended the media party Thursday night. From the grandstand seat where she was hosting Garden & Gun magazine publisher Nancy Carmody, dozens of private jets could be seen parked across Versailles Road on the Blue Grass Airport tarmac.

“I’ve talked to horsemen and horsewomen from all over the world, and they’ve said our hospitality has been second to none,” Ramer said. “It’s a really big deal for Lexington to host this global audience, and we seem to be right good at it.”

Alex Lloyd-Baker, an insurance executive from London, England, agreed. He flew in Thursday from Santiago, Chile, and was staying with Lexington friends Tony and Debbie Chamblin. He planned to leave Sunday to fly to Australia for the Melbourne Cup, that nation’s biggest race.

“I’m having a wonderful time here,” said Lloyd-Baker, who attended the 2014 Kentucky Derby but had never seen a race at Keeneland. “This is just fantastic. It’s a beautiful race course, everyone is so friendly, and it’s the top quality of racing in the world.”

Several floors below Lloyd-Baker’s table overlooking the paddock, along the track rail in the general admission section, Rob Krebs of Berkeley, Calif., and Peter Valencic of Cleveland sat on a bench that they arrived early to snag.

The old high school buddies had decided a little more than a week ago to come to the Breeders’ Cup, and they easily found $100 general admission tickets online.

“Keeneland is a great place; they know how to do it right,” Valencic said. “It’s great they’re finally getting to host the Breeders’ Cup.”

Valencic said he was at the 1973 Kentucky Derby when Secretariat won the first leg of his Triple Crown. He and his friend were eager to see American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, run in Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Martha and Tony Rezeli of Saylorsburg, Pa., had been to Keeneland before and were excited to return for the biggest weekend in its history.

“We just got back from Las Vegas and said, ‘Let’s go to Breeders’ Cup!” she said. “We didn’t do so well there, so we’re hoping to do better here.”

Nick Nicholson, retired Keeneland president, said he was impressed by how things went, even though he had nothing to do with it. “They worked together so well with the Breeders’ Cup, and the winner is the fans,” Nicholson said. “I’m proud of us.”

 

Martha and Tony Rezeli of Saylorsburg, Pa., checked out the program Friday at Keeneland, where they were attending their first Breeders' Cup. "We just got back from Las Vegas and said, 'Let's go to Breeders' Cup!" she said. "We didn't do so well there, so maybe we'll do better here." Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Martha and Tony Rezeli of Saylorsburg, Pa., checked out the program Friday at Keeneland, where they were attending their first Breeders’ Cup. “We just got back from Las Vegas and said, ‘Let’s go to Breeders’ Cup!” she said. “We didn’t do so well there, so maybe we’ll do better here.” 

Margalee Conlee of Lexington, left, takes a selfie of her and Melissa Turner of Prestonsburg at Keeneland on Friday during the first day of Breeders' Cup. The two are hat designers. Their business is called Headturners. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Margalee Conlee of Lexington, left, takes a selfie of her and Melissa Turner of Prestonsburg at Keeneland on Friday during the first day of Breeders’ Cup. The two are hat designers. Their business is called Headturners. 

 

 


Crowds begin pouring into Keeneland for Breeders’ Cup

October 30, 2015
As soon as Keeneland's gates opened Friday morning, fans began posing at the Breeders' Cup statue installed in the paddock for the two-day world championship of Thoroughbred racing. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.comSoo

As soon as Keeneland’s gates opened Friday morning, fans began posing at the Breeders’ Cup statue installed in the paddock for the two-day world championship of Thoroughbred racing. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Keeneland usher Ezra Click of Lexington waited the crowds early Friday morning during the first day of the Breeders' Cup. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Keeneland usher Ezra Click of Lexington waited the crowds early Friday morning during the first day of the Breeders’ Cup. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Rob Krebs, left, of Berkeley, Calif., and Peter Valencia of Cleveland, Ohio, snagged a bench in the general admission section of Keeneland from which to watch the first day of Breeders' Cup. The avid horse players have been friends since high school. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Rob Krebs, left, of Berkeley, Calif., and Peter Valencia of Cleveland, Ohio, snagged a bench in the general admission section of Keeneland from which to watch the first day of Breeders’ Cup. The avid horse players have been friends since high school. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com


Transylvania University biology students study bats around campus; No, this isn’t a Halloween joke

October 27, 2015
Transylvania University biology student Kelli Carpenter makes notes while she and two other students work with instructor Josh Adkins to detect bats on Transylvania's campus. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Transylvania University biology student Kelli Carpenter makes notes while she and two other students work with instructor Josh Adkins to detect bats on Transylvania’s campus. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

When I heard that biology students were studying bats that fly around the Transylvania University campus, I knew there had to be a good Halloween column there. Could a punch line be much easier?

But what struck me was the fascinating technology used for this research. It is an example of how new and relatively inexpensive digital devices are revolutionizing science.

It was a dark and spooky night when I met Transylvania biology teacher Joshua Adkins outside a classroom building. We were soon joined by three biology majors: juniors Kelli Carpenter and Devin Rowe and sophomore Brandon Couch.

Kentucky has 16 species of bats. Many live in colonies in remote caves and forests. But other, more solitary species like city life, where street lights attract an endless buffet of insects for them to eat.

“A lot of basic, fundamental questions are unknown about many species of bat because they’re small, they’re nocturnal, they live in places you can’t easily access and they pretty much avoid or ignore people,” Adkins said.

Adkins and his students knew there were bats on campus. In their search for nooks in which to hide, bats occasionally wander in an open window. One flew into the orchestra room Sept. 9, causing quite a stir.

“I go to lacrosse games, which are usually at night,” Couch said. “I’ve seen a lot of them swooping over the athletic fields.”

Despite their creepy appearance and fictional association with vampires, bats are nice to have around, because they eat mosquitoes and other insect pests. Last year, Rowe and a student environmental group raised money to build two bat shelter boxes on campus.

“The idea really was to get a sense of where bats are most active and then use that information to place bat boxes in the most effective places,” Adkins said.

But since bats are small, dark and avoid people, how could the students figure out their favorite campus hangouts?

Luke Dodd, a bat ecologist who teaches at Eastern Kentucky University, told Adkins about a new $400 microphone that can detect the sounds bats make as they fly, most of which can’t be heard by the human ear.

150922TransyBats-TE061The Echo Meter Touch, made by Wildlife Acoustics Inc., plugs into an iPad and comes with software that records and can identify the species of nearby bats with about 80 percent accuracy.

Adkins got money from Transylvania’s David and Betty Jones Fund for Faculty Development to purchase a couple of microphones and iPads. One night a week since June, his three students have made three-minute recordings at a dozen locations around campus, and they have found a lot of bat activity.

Transylvania’s campus seems to have five species of bats: big brown, hoary, silver haired, Eastern red and evening bats.

On the night I walked around campus with them, they may have found a sixth. At one listening station, Rowe’s iPad detected a long-legged myotis bat, which normally is found in western North America.

“I’m not sure about that, but bats are migrating now,” Adkins said. “Maybe it could be lost.”

“Maybe he’s on vacation,” Carpenter joked. “Checking out Martha’s Vineyard.”

One species the students probably won’t find on campus is Rafinesque’s big-eared bat, which, like its namesake, prefers to live in forests.

Constantine Rafinesque was an eccentric biologist who was on the Transylvania faculty from 1819 until President Horace Holley fired him in 1826 because he was always off in the woods doing research and rarely on campus teaching.

Legend has it that Rafinesque put a curse on Holley, who was forced out of Transylvania and died the following year. Rafinesque died in 1840 in Philadelphia, but his body was dug up in 1924 and reinterred in Transylvania’s Old Morrison Hall. Rafinesque’s tomb is a popular campus attraction, especially at Halloween.

The students’ bat research will be winding up soon, because bats hibernate after the first frost of winter kills most insects. Adkins hopes to get funding to continue their work next year, and to expand it to include a study of campus insects that bats eat.

“Given that we’re a college right in the middle of Lexington, this is a perfect setting to determine what are some general patterns of bat activity in a city,” Adkins said. “Once these guys collect more data and present their results, I hope it will help take away that negative stereotype bats have.”

Carpenter, left to right, Brandon Couch and Devin Rowe stood with biology instructor Josh Adkins, right, outside the Haupt Humanities Building, one of a dozen campus locations where they have been surveying urban bat populations using a high-tech microphone hooked up to an iPad.

Carpenter, left to right, Brandon Couch and Devin Rowe stood with biology instructor Josh Adkins, right, outside the Haupt Humanities Building, one of a dozen campus locations where they have been surveying urban bat populations using a high-tech microphone hooked up to an iPad.

Adkins, left, works with Carpenter, Couch and Rowe to listen for and record bat sounds using a high-tech microphone hooked to an iPad.

Adkins, left, works with Carpenter, Couch and Rowe to listen for and record bat sounds.


Workshop has documented small towns, trained photojournalists for four decades

October 26, 2015

Frankfort: A Kentucky Welcome from mountainworkshops.org on Vimeo.

 

FRANKFORT — When I was a freshman at Western Kentucky University in 1976, two professors took several photojournalism students I knew to the Eastern Kentucky mountains for a week to document the state’s last one-room schoolhouses.

The following fall, they turned their lenses on a scruffy neighborhood at the end of Bowling Green’s Main Street. That led to trips the next two years to Land Between the Lakes and a remote town in the Tennessee mountains.

I was impressed by the pictures my friends returned with, and how much they learned while making them. But that annual field trip grew into more than any of us could have imagined.

Each October, the Mountain Workshops convenes in a different small town in Kentucky or Tennessee to teach visual storytelling through an intense week of documenting the stories of average people in photos, video, sound and writing.

“We have one goal: to become better storytellers,” said James Kenney, the workshops director and head of WKU’s photojournalism program. “We want to change the way they see.”

The program celebrated its 40th anniversary last week in Frankfort. As always, it was a major production.

About 40 WKU staff members and students arrived at a vacant call center building on the edge of town last weekend and unloaded a truck filled with audio-visual equipment, tables and chairs.

With 89 new Apple iMac computers loaned by a sponsor and several miles of network cable, they created temporary multimedia labs for photographers, videographers, picture editors, graphic artists and writers.

On Monday, an all-volunteer corps of 56 faculty and staff members arrived from across the country. They included some of the nation’s best visual journalists from places such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Time magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle.

The workshop’s 73 participants arrived Tuesday to literally reach into a hat and pull out the name of a subject whose story they would spend the next four days figuring out and learning how to tell.

Most of the participants were WKU students, but others were from universities across the nation, including Harvard and the Rochester Institute of Technology. Others were working professionals, who came to learn new skills and rediscover their passion.

Over the next few days, they would spend hours making photographs, shooting and editing video, conducting interviews and writing.

In addition to workshops in documentary photography and video, there were smaller ones in photo editing, time-lapse photography and “data visualization” — translating numbers into understandable print and interactive online graphics.

By the time everyone leaves for home Sunday morning, they will have created a website (Mountainworkshops.org) with dozens of word, picture and video stories, a book of more than 100 pages and a framed gallery show.

Nobody will have gotten much sleep.

“The point of the workshop is not to make the best images you’ve ever made, but to prepare you to make the best images you’ll ever make,” said Rick Loomis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer at the Los Angeles Times.

Loomis began his career as a WKU student at the workshop and returns almost every year as a photo coach.

I joined the faculty in 1995 as a writing and story coach. I have helped with 16 workshops, and I have seen how it has changed participants’ lives and careers.

Leslye Davis is a good example. I met her in 2009 when she was a shy WKU sophomore from Greensburg in the photo editing class. She returned the next two years as a video and photo student.

Davis, 25, is now an outstanding videographer at The New York Times. She was back at the workshop last week as a confident, insightful video coach.

Davis said the workshop was pivotal in her career development. It taught her a range of skills by doing them on deadline in real-life situations.

“It teaches you that you can work longer and harder than you ever thought,” she said. “People keep coming back because they know how good it is for the future of the profession.”

 

Frankfort: Finding Time from mountainworkshops.org on Vimeo.

 

Western Kentucky University junior Katie Roberts photographed A Little Bit of Heaven Riding Stables in Frankfort last week. She was a participant in the 40th annual Mountain Workshops, a documentary photography workshop. Photo by Nina Greipel

Western Kentucky University junior Katie Roberts photographed A Little Bit of Heaven Riding Stables in Frankfort last week. She was a participant in the 40th annual Mountain Workshops, a documentary photography workshop. Photo by Nina Greipel

Richard Jones and his 1-year-old grandson, August, represent the fourth and sixth generations to live at Happy Jack's Pumpkin Farm east of Frankfort. Like August, Jones' sons grew up playing and working on the farm, which has transitioned away from tobacco to vegetables and livestock to keep it going strong. The Jones were a story subject during the 40th annual Mountain Workshops last week. Photo by Maura Friedman

Richard Jones and his 1-year-old grandson, August, represent the fourth and sixth generations to live at Happy Jack’s Pumpkin Farm east of Frankfort. Like August, Jones’ sons grew up playing and working on the farm, which has transitioned away from tobacco to vegetables and livestock to keep it going strong. The Jones were a story subject during the 40th annual Mountain Workshops last week. Photo by Maura Friedman

 

Polly Wilson, 7, lies in the family hammock with her favorite Americana breed chicken, also named Polly. The Wilsons have more than 70 chickens that produce eggs the family sells at the Frankfort Farmers Market three times a week. The family was a story subject last week during the 40th annual Mountain Workshops in Frankfort. Photo by Laura McClintock

Polly Wilson, 7, lies in the family hammock with her favorite Americana breed chicken, also named Polly. The Wilsons have more than 70 chickens that produce eggs the family sells at the Frankfort Farmers Market three times a week. The family was a story subject last week during the 40th annual Mountain Workshops in Frankfort. Photo by Laura McClintock

 


Photos from today’s Governor’s Awards in the Arts ceremony

October 22, 2015
Doug Crowe, a state videographer, lined up winners of the Governor's Awards in the Arts for a group photo after the ceremony Thursday at the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort. Photos by Tom Eblen

Doug Crowe, a state videographer, lined up winners of the Governor’s Awards in the Arts for a group photo after the ceremony Thursday at the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Gov. Steve Beshear presented this year’s Governor’s Awards in the Arts at a ceremony Thursday in the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort. This year’s winners were: journalist Al Smith of Lexington, the Milner Award for lifetime service; Bluegrass musician Sam Bush of Bowling Green, National Artist Award; fabric and bead artist Linda Pigman Fifield of Knott County, the Artist Award; Big Ass Solutions of Lexington, Business Award; Creative Diversity Studio of Louisville, Community Arts Award; Centre College music professor Nathan Link of Danville, Education Award; wood carver Willie D. Rascoe of Hopkinsville, Folk Heritage Award; Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau, Government Award; and Kentucky Educational Television personality Dave Shuffett of Nicholasville, Media Award.

Watch a video about each winner by clicking here.

Bluegrass music star Sam Bush, right, chatted with newspaperman Al Smith after the Governor's Awards in the Arts ceremony in the Capitol rotunda Thursday in Frankfort. Bush won the national artist award, while Smith won the Milner Award for his longtime service and advocacy of the arts in Kentucky. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Bluegrass music star Sam Bush, right, chatted with newspaperman Al Smith after the Governor’s Awards in the Arts ceremony.

 

Minnie Adkins, a folk artist from Eastern Kentucky, made this year's trophies for the Governor's Awards in the Arts. She carves and paints wood sculptures. The blue rooster is her signature piece.

Minnie Adkins, a folk artist from Eastern Kentucky, made this year’s trophies for the Governor’s Awards in the Arts. She carves and paints wood sculptures. The blue rooster is her signature piece.

 

Kentucky Educational Television personality Dave Shuffett, right, received the media award in the Governor's Awards in the Arts from Gov. Steve Beshear.

Kentucky Educational Television personality Dave Shuffett, right, received the media award in the Governor’s Awards in the Arts from Gov. Steve Beshear.


New book explains history, mystery of the Bluegrass’ ancient trees

October 17, 2015
This bur oak on Gainesway Farm near Lexington is thought to be several hundred years old, pre-dating the first white pioneers and settlers in Central Kentucky. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

This bur oak on Gainesway Farm near Lexington is thought to be several hundred years old, pre-dating the first white pioneers and settlers in Central Kentucky. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Most of us pay little attention to Kentucky’s oldest living residents. They are huge, but to the untrained eye they seem to just blend into the landscape.

Central Kentucky and Middle Tennessee may be the only places on Earth with this unique assortment of centuries-old bur, chinkapin and Shumard oak, blue ash and Kingnut hickory trees.

When Daniel Boone blazed his trail into the Bluegrass in 1775, many of the same trees we see today were already here, and big enough to offer him shade.

We seem to know little about how to care for and preserve these rare trees, which are rapidly disappearing from the landscape. But with Tom Kimmerer’s new book, Venerable Trees: History, Biology and Conservation in the Bluegrass (University Press of Kentucky, $39.95), we can know a lot more.

Kimmerer is a forest scientist, former University of Kentucky professor and one of only two tree physiologists in the state. Now a consultant, science journalist and photographer, he founded a Lexington-based non-profit organization, also called Venerable Trees. It seeks to protect these old-growth species and promote the planting of native trees in the region.

While deeply grounded in science, this book is written with a general audience in mind. It is easy to understand and filled with interesting information and stories, plus useful maps, illustrations and dozens of Kimmerer’s beautiful photographs of the trees.

Tom Kimmerer, a Lexington forest scientist and author of the book, Venerable Trees. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Tom Kimmerer

Kimmerer explains why this mix of old trees is found only in the Inner and Outer Bluegrass regions of Kentucky and the Nashville Basin region of Middle Tennessee.

While some of these trees were part of forests, most grew up in pastures above deep limestone deposits. The largest remaining specimens are about 7 feet in diameter and more than 100 feet tall. Many are between 300 and 500 years old.

Why did these trees thrive here? For one thing, Kimmerer writes, crevices in the underground limestone allowed the trees’ roots to grow deep to reach groundwater and survive periodic droughts.

Another reason is that huge herds of bison once roamed the Bluegrass, before they were hunted to near extinction in the early 1800s. The bison’s periodic grazing helped keep the woodland pastures from becoming forests.

Early Kentucky settlers wrote about the enormous trees they found, many of which they cut down to build their structures. Lexington’s first building, a blockhouse where the downtown Hilton is now, was made from a giant bur oak felled by 21-year-old Josiah Collins in April 1779.

While settlement and development decimated many North American forests, hundreds of giant trees in Bluegrass pastures were kept to shade livestock or decorate the estates of wealthy landowners.

That explains Lexington’s many urban specimens. The finest collection of venerable trees is in Lexington Cemetery, where they have been nurtured since the 1850s. These trees escaped the fate of hundreds more like them cut down by 20th century real estate developers.

151018VenTrees001Kimmerer tells the story of what he calls the St. Joe Oak. It is the largest of what was once a grove of ancient trees that between the 1950s and 1970s became the St. Joseph Hospital complex. After neighbors protested plans to cut down the huge bur oak, it was surrounded by a concrete parking structure that may yet kill it.

But the author offers a hopeful example of how builders are beginning to view these distinctive trees as neighborhood signatures and amenities rather than obstacles.

Ball Homes hired Kimmerer to develop a preservation plan for what he calls the Schoolhouse Oak, a bur oak about 500 years old that dominates a hill over Harrodsburg Road at South Elkhorn Creek. Previous development plans for that property by other companies had called for the tree’s destruction.

Efforts to reproduce these tree species have met little success for many reasons, including urbanization and a lack of modern herds of grazing bison. Climate change will make this even more difficult.

Kimmerer offers good suggestions for preserving our venerable trees and replacing them with these and other native species that are more suitable than what is often planted.

Venerable Trees will likely become a classic among books about Kentucky’s natural history and environment, because it covers so much new information in such an accessible way.

These magnificent trees are as much a part of the Bluegrass landscape as horses, rock walls and four-plank fences. Whether or not you paid much attention to them before, this book will give you a greater appreciation of Kentucky’s oldest living residents.

If you go

Venerable Trees

What: Author Tom Kimmerer discusses and signs his book

When: 2 p.m., Oct. 18

Where: The Morris Bookshop, 882 East High Street.

More information: Venerabletrees.org


Emerge Contracting sees opportunity in urban infill, redevelopment

October 12, 2015
Smith Town Homes, a townhouse development on Smith Street being developed by Emerge Contracting. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Smith Town Homes, a townhouse development on Smith Street. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

When Bob Eidson and Matt Hovekamp were roommates 15 years ago at the University of Kentucky, they talked about starting a real estate development company together. Then they went their separate ways.

Eidson joined the Army and served in Iraq, earned an MBA from UCLA and worked in banking and finance. He also helped start The Bourbon Review magazine.

Hovekamp spent a dozen years as Ball Homes’ purchasing manager.

The college roommates got back together in 2008 as Lexington’s infill and redevelopment market was beginning to emerge. They raised capital to buy property, started doing construction work for others and began making development plans for when the economy recovered.

Bob Eidson

Bob Eidson

Emerge Contracting’s focus is on infill development and renovation ventures in Lexington’s walkable, urban neighborhoods — roughly between Midland Avenue and Newtown Pike, Loudon Avenue and Maxwell Street.

The company’s first big project is Smith Town Homes, a row of five market-rate townhomes near the West Sixth Brewery.

With that project almost finished, the partners broke ground Oct. 2 for a very different venture: Wilgus Flats, a 12-unit apartment cluster aimed at low-income workers and retirees in the East End. They plan to own and operate the complex.

“We want to do mixed-use, mixed-income projects and affordable housing,” Eidson said. “We feel like now the industry trends and growth are pretty sustainable.”

Emerge Contracting was one of the first developers to file applications with the city’s new affordable housing trust fund. But their initial project was designed to appeal to professionals and empty-nest baby boomers seeking an urban lifestyle.

Emerge Contracting co-owner Matt Hovekamp. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Matt Hovekamp

Smith Town Homes are on five narrow lots on Smith Street, between West Fifth and West Sixth streets, one block east of Jefferson. It is a low-income neighborhood with many old shotgun houses. Eidson and Hovekamp said that when they bought the property in 2008, it included two vacant houses without indoor plumbing, which they demolished.

The Lexington architecture firm Alt32 designed the contemporary townhomes, which have brick and galvanized metal exteriors. Each unit has 10-foot ceilings and polished concrete floors on the first level. The units are designed to save energy costs, with heavy insulation, high-efficiency systems and LED lighting.

Four units have three bedrooms, and one unit has two. They range in price from $199,000 to $245,000. The two cheapest units are now listed as under contract.

“Our value proposition is modern, multi-generational, energy-efficient housing downtown below $120 a square foot,” Eidson said.

The partners said they aren’t trying to “gentrify” Smith Street, but create new development that will add income diversity and make the neighborhood more stable. Next door, they bought a vacant old building they plan to remodel and rent as four low-income apartments.

When I stopped to see Smith Town Homes under construction in June, Lexington Police Officer Charles Burkett happened by. He said he had spent 13 years patrolling the area, which in the past has suffered from disinvestment and high crime, even though it is only a block from the mansions of Fayette Park.

“I’m impressed,” Burkett said. “That’s what this neighborhood has needed for a lot of years.”

Across town, Wilgus Flats, on two vacant lots on East Third Street, will have 12 apartments with monthly rents in the $600 range. First-floor units will be designed to accommodate disabled and elderly people.

“They came to us and said, ‘What would be good for the neighborhood?'” East End activist Billie Mallory said. “A lot of people are just sitting on land around here. I’m glad somebody is going ahead and doing something.”

Wilgus Flats is across East Third from Wilgus Street, whose oldest property is the circa 1814 home of Asa Wilgus, a prominent builder in early Lexington. His work included the 1811 Pope Villa on Grosvenor Avenue, which was designed for a Kentucky senator by Benjamin Latrobe, America’s first professional architect and designer of the U.S. Capitol.

Eidson and Hovekamp see a lot of potential in revitalizing urban neighborhoods in Lexington that suffered from decades of neglect during the decades when suburban development was the rage. Both live with their wives near downtown; the Hovekamps on South Upper Street, the Eidsons on West Sixth.

“We like the diversity of downtown,” Hovekamp said. “It’s something you don’t get in the suburbs.”

Emerge Contracting recently broke ground for Wilgus Flats, a 12-unit affordable housing apartment development in the East End.

Emerge Contracting recently broke ground for Wilgus Flats, a 12-unit affordable housing apartment development in the East End.


PRHBTN festival shows the potential for more murals in Lexington

October 10, 2015
Meg Salesman's mural "Common Threads" dominates the side wall of a former school in Philadelphia being converted into 56 high-end apartments in a development called Mural Lofts. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Meg Saligman’s mural Common Threads dominates the side wall of a former school in Philadelphia being converted into 56 high-end apartments called Mural Lofts. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

On a recent trip to Philadelphia, I saw what Lexington’s PRHBTN festival could grow up to become.

I love PRHBTN. The festival, organized by John and Jessica Winters, has made a huge contribution to Lexington in its first five years. It has brought some of the world’s best street muralists here to cover blank city walls with impressive works of art.

This year’s festival, which has been going on for the past week, added four new murals to our civic collection. Go see them at 266 Jefferson Street, 431 Jersey Street, 350 Short Street and 185 Elm Tree Lane.

My favorite this year is Portuguese artist Sergio Odeith’s image of the late jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong on a 30-by-70-foot wall of Lighthouse Ministries at Elm Tree Lane and Corral Street. It is a warm smile for the whole East End.

My all-time favorite PRHBTN mural is the colorful rendering of Abraham Lincoln on the back wall of the Kentucky Theatre. It has been a local icon since Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra’s spray paint dried two years ago.

I don’t like all of the PRHBTN murals; a few of them just seem creepy. My least favorite is the enormous piece depicting an “outlaw” street artist that was painted on the Old Pepper warehouse on Manchester Street last year.

That mural was done by European artist MTO, who seems to like creating controversy as much as art. While technically excellent, the mural strikes me as self-indulgent; a vanity piece that missed an opportunity to relate to its setting.

But those are just my opinions. I was discussing PRHBTN with a friend last week, and it turned out the murals I dislike are among his favorites. And that’s fine.

Good art often elicits strong emotions. That is especially true with public art, which is big and out there for everyone to judge. A piece that touches one person’s soul can turn another’s stomach. Public art without any edge is often boring and forgettable.

If you want to see some unforgettable public art, go to Philadelphia. And I don’t mean the “Rocky” statue near the steps Sylvester Stallone ran up in the movies, or Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture, with its right-leaning O.

Over the past three decades, Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program has worked with artists and community groups to create more than 3,800 murals all over the city. Many of them are stunning works of paint and mosaic art that reflect a vibrant city in all its diversity.

The program began in 1984 as an anti-graffiti campaign when Philadelphia was a city in decline. Artist Jane Golden realized many of the young “taggers” defacing buildings across the city had both talent and a desire to create art. Mayor Wilson Goode hired her to redirect their energies into something positive.

The public-private partnership now works in every Philadelphia neighborhood to provide arts education to young people and pair artists with community and non-profit groups to collaborate on public art.

Many of the murals celebrate neighborhoods, the contributions of ethnic groups, workers, industries and other aspects of the 333-year-old city’s history and culture. Subjects run the gamut from universal themes of humanity to one mural on the side of a pet hospital celebrating dear, departed cats and dogs.

My family took a bus tour of several dozen downtown murals, and our guide talked about how they and the process of creating them had helped improve understanding and communication among Philadelphia’s disparate populations.

While many were painted directly on buildings, others were done in pieces on special cloth and later assembled on walls. That allowed schoolchildren, nursing home residents and even prison inmates to help with the painting.

Some of the most interesting murals are mixed-media pieces, combining various painting techniques with mosaic tile and glass.

Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program has inspired many imitators. Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory in 2007 started the Artworks Mural program, which has created 90 murals in 36 Cincinnati neighborhoods and seven nearby cities.

The PRHBTN festival has shown that high-quality art murals can enhance Lexington and engage its citizens. How could we build on that?

 

What a difference this Philadelphia mural made to a corner otherwise notable for a convenience store. This 2002 mural by Meg Saligman is called "Theater of Life." Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

What a difference this Philadelphia mural made to a corner otherwise notable for a convenience store. Meg Saligman’s mural Theater of Life.

 

Arturo Ho's mural about the history of Philadelphia's Chinatown.

Arturo Ho’s mural, History of Chinatown.

 

Michael Webb's mural, Tribute to Trades and Labor.

Michael Webb’s mural, Tribute to Trades and Labor.

 

Michelle Angela Ortiz's mural, Where Girls Grow Strong.

Michelle Angela Ortiz’s mural, Where Girls Grow Strong.

 

150908Philly332

Finding Home, by Josh Sarantitis and Katherine Penneckaker,

 

150908Philly337

A mosaic mural on an alley wall.

 

This 2008 mural by artist Willis Humphrey, called "Mapping Courage," honors black leader W.E.B. Du Bois and the Philadelphia Fire Department's Engine Co. 11, on whose building it is painted. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Willis Humphrey’s mural “Mapping Courage,” honors black leader W.E.B. Du Bois and the Philadelphia Fire Department’s Engine Co. 11, on whose building it is painted.

 

Murals don't have to be gigantic, or painted. This mosaic mural was created on a small wall on a Philadelphia side street. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Murals don’t have to be gigantic, or painted. This mosaic mural was created on a small wall on a Philadelphia side street. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

 

David Guinn's mural, Gimme Shelter.

David Guinn’s mural, Gimme Shelter.

 

Reach High and You Will Go Far, by Joshua Sarantitis.

Reach High and You Will Go Far, by Joshua Sarantitis.

To see even more Philadelphia murals, click here.


New mural an effort to overcome a disaster and a near-miss

October 6, 2015
Sergio Odeith, a Portuguese mural artist, began work Monday on a 30-by-70-foot mural of jazz great Louis Armstrong and his trumpet on the side of Lighthouse Ministries, 185 Elm Tree Lane. Photos by Tom Eblen

Sergio Odeith, a Portuguese mural artist, began work Monday on a 30-by-70-foot mural of jazz great Louis Armstrong on the side of Lighthouse Ministries, 185 Elm Tree Lane. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Jazz great Louis Armstrong played at a private party at the old Phoenix Hotel in 1961 and, according to some people’s memories, he might have performed at the Lyric Theatre in its heyday.

Now, a larger-than-life Satchmo is starting a more public and permanent gig between those two historic venues.

Portuguese artist Sergio Odeith began work Tuesday on a photo-realistic mural of Armstrong and his trumpet on the 30-foot by 70-foot south wall of Lighthouse Ministries, 185 Elm Tree Lane.

Odeith is here as part of the fifth annual PRHBTN festival, which brings renowned street artists from all over the world to Lexington to create spray-painted murals.

This is Odeith’s second trip to PRHBTN. He returned because a mural of running horses that he painted on a Bryan Avenue building in November 2013 was accidently painted over in June.

Entrepreneur Griffin VanMeter’s North Limestone Community Development Corp. had contributed $2,500 toward the first mural on a building now occupied by Kentucky for Kentucky, another VanMeter venture, which sells Kentucky-themed merchandise.

But on June 9, as VanMeter was in Louisville to speak about “community place-making” and the value of public art, contractors he had hired to prime the wall beside Odeith’s mural for another piece of art painted over it instead.

“A picture of that mural was in my slide show as it was, unbeknownst to me, being covered up,” he said. “We just had this kind of ‘Oh crap’ moment.”

VanMeter quickly emailed an apology to Odeith and offered to bring him back to Lexington for another commission.

“He was really cool about it,” VanMeter said. “He was like, ‘These things happen.'”

But as Odeith returned Friday to paint a mural of singer Billie Holiday on a wall of the Limestone Street building that houses the Institute 193 art gallery and the French restaurant Le Deauville, the building’s owner backed out.

“These murals are almost like tattoos,” VanMeter said. “They have to really speak to you, because you live with them for a long time.”

That set off a desperate search for another available wall. VanMeter posted pleas on Facebook and contacted Lexington mural artist Dani Greene. She suggested the wall at Lighthouse Ministries, a social service agency, and approached its executive director, Tay Henderson, on VanMeter’s behalf.

Because that wall is bigger and more horizontal, Odeith decided the Billie Holiday image wouldn’t work. He suggested an image of Armstrong and his trumpet instead.

“I was elated,” said Henderson, who has operated Lighthouse Ministries from the building for 12 years. “He’s a world-renowned artist and he’s such a nice guy. I love his idea. I think it will help bring the community together.”

During a break from painting, Odeith, 39, said the Armstrong image will create a positive tone for people who come to Lighthouse Ministries for food and help rebuilding their lives. He said the image will include the title of Amstrong’s famous song, What a Wonderful World, and a message of love and encouragement.

“Like the Lincoln mural, I think this piece could really become an iconic image for Lexington,” VanMeter said.

Kentucky for Kentucky is paying about $10,000 toward the mural’s cost, including paint, lift machines, Odeith’s travel costs and artist’s fee. It is also making a $1,000 donation to Lighthouse Ministries.

VanMeter said he hopes to have a dedication ceremony for the mural early next week, as Odeith is finishing it. He was supposed to have begun Saturday, but bad weather, the search for a new wall and prep work delayed the start until Tuesday.

Odeith must leave town by next Wednesday; he has two commissions scheduled in Charleston, S.C., and one in Portugal, VanMeter said.

Despite his first mural being painted over, and almost not having a wall for his second, Odeith said he loves Lexington and was happy to return.

“I’ve been telling to Griffin and all the people that he was missing me,” he said. “So he found a way to bring me back.”

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If You Go

PRHBTN

What: Fifth edition of the popular street art festival

MURALS

MrDheo and Pariz One: Chase Brewing Co., 266 Jefferson St.

Odeith: Lighthouse Ministries, 185 Elm Tree Lane, Oct. 6-12.

Sheryo & The Yok: Oneness Boutique, 431 Jersey St. Oct. 6-10. Parking lot party 5-8 p.m. Oct. 7.

Hitnes: LexPark Garage, 350 Short St., Oct. 9-12.

CONCERT

Featuring Jon Dose and Jamples: 9:30 p.m. Oct. 9. Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. $5.

FESTIVAL

Live painting by area artists, food and beverage and other events: Noon-9 p.m. Oct. 10, Lexington Distillery District, Manchester Street.

More info: PRHBTN.com


Mary Lou Rankin turned fried pies into delicious retirement business

October 4, 2015
Mary Lou Rankin, who turns 86 this month, explained her technique for making homemade fried apple pies. The entrepreneur cooks and sells food at area festivals and from the front of a former hardware store she ran for many years. Photos by Tom Eblen

Mary Lou Rankin, who turns 86 this month, explained her technique for making homemade fried apple pies. The entrepreneur cooks and sells food at area festivals and from the front of a former hardware store she ran for many years. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

MILLERSBURG — Mary Lou Rankin doesn’t fit the modern stereotype of an entrepreneur. She isn’t young. She isn’t high-tech. But she makes delicious fried apple pies.

Those pies have made Rankin something of a celebrity across several counties between Paris and Maysville.

Rankin sells apple pies and other homemade baked goods most Saturdays on Main Street in this northern Bourbon County town of 800 people, from the front of a former hardware store she ran for 31 years.

Look for the sign of a big, red apple with the mathematical symbol for “pi” on it.

A sign on Millersburg's Main Street advertises Mary Lou Rankin's homemade fried apple pies, which she sells on weekends from the front of a former hardware store she and her husband ran for many years. Her son, artist Frosty Rankin, now uses most of the building as his studio. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

A sign on Millersburg’s Main Street advertises Rankin’s homemade fried apple pies, which she sells from the front of a former hardware store she ran for many years.

Every summer and fall, Rankin fries hundreds of pies and other home-cooked food to sell from her Mary Lou’s Kitchen booth at festivals in Paris, Augusta and at Blue Licks State Park near Mt. Olivet.

“I’ve been doing this about 35 years,” Rankin, who turns 86 this month, said as she carefully turned a few pies in her electric skillet as the dough became just the right shade of golden brown. “I’ve worn out a whole lot of skillets.”

Rankin grew up on a Harrison County farm, where she learned about entrepreneurship and responsibility.

“We were taught to work,” she said. “Some of ’em now don’t know what work is. I’ve always thought that if you have a job, you do it.”

Her late husband, Robert F. Rankin, worked for a time at the Old Lewis Hunter distillery at Lair in Harrison County. It closed in 1974.

“Then my husband went out to look for a little farm and ended up with a hardware store,” she said. “Can you figure that one out?”

He soon became a plumbing contractor. She ran the hardware store, which closed in 1996, while raising their two sons.

Her oldest son, award-winning artist Gaylen “Frosty” Rankin, now uses the back of the store as his art studio and gallery. The front is now used for storage, and as a place for his mother to sell baked goods, flowers and vegetable plants in season.

Rankin said her mother was a good cook and taught her how to make fried apple pies. But she never thought of making them to sell until the Millersburg volunteer fire department, of which her husband was a member, burned down in 1975.

“The city said they couldn’t afford to pay for it, so all of the women got together,” she said. They made and sold baked goods and other items for several years and finally raised enough money to rebuild the firehouse.

Her fried pies were so popular that people kept asking for them, Rankin said. She realized she had found a business opportunity.

The key to a good pie, Rankin said, is homemade crust fried to perfection. She used to buy her apples locally, but now gets sun-dried ones from California. She prefers sun-dried apples to fresh, and mixes them with a secret blend of spices.

“My mixture, of course, I’ve worked on that for years,” she said. “I’ve got a fella that just keeps after me about it, and I’ve got one in Winchester that wants to buy my recipe.”

She especially enjoys meeting and talking with customers. A man from Cincinnati came to her store earlier this year. “He said, ‘I was told that you make the best pies in the country,'” she said. “I never saw the man before in my life.”

She has met a few famous people while selling food at festivals, including journalist Nick Clooney and jockey Pat Day. When her son was presenting a piece of art to Gov. Steve Beshear, she came along with fried pies for the first family.

“I got to meet the governor,” she said. “Now I’m ready for the president.”

Rankin said she keeps cooking as much for her health as for the money. After two bouts with cancer over the past dozen years and recent cataract surgery, she worries that if she slows down too much she won’t keep going.

When she isn’t cooking and selling food, Rankin mows and tends her yard. In the winter, she re-canes chairs for customers, a craft she has done for three decades.

“It keeps me mentally sharp,” she said of work. “I’ll tell you what, if you don’t use your brain you’ll lose it.”

Rankin cooks fried apple pies. "I've worn out a whole lot of skillets," she said.

Rankin cooks fried apple pies. “I’ve worn out a whole lot of skillets,” she said.

 

One secret to Mary Lou Rankin's fried pies is her homemade crust.

One secret to Mary Lou Rankin’s fried pies is her homemade crust.

 


Civil War general’s home featured on annual Bourbon County tour

September 29, 2015
Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford's Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Photos by Tom Eblen

Historic Paris-Bourbon County’s annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford’s Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

PARIS — This year’s Historic Paris-Bourbon County house tour Sunday is at the boyhood home of one of Kentucky’s most-interesting and least-known Civil War generals, who ended his short life as an American diplomat in South America.

Nobody is sure when the Greek Revival mansion called Houston Dale was built. The best guess is around 1840, when the farm belonged to Henry Croxton, the son of a wealthy Virginia planter, and his wife, Ann.

For the past 36 years, Houston Dale has been the home of Thoroughbred breeder Phil T. Owens, who restored and added onto the mansion just west of the Paris bypass.

While building Houston Dale, the Croxtons probably lived in a circa 1790s log cabin now restored behind the mansion. The couple would have needed more room: they eventually had 12 children. They also had 20 slaves to work their farm.

John Thomas Croxton

John Thomas Croxton

Slavery was a subject of disagreement between Croxton and his eldest son, John Thomas Croxton, who was born in 1836 and went off to Yale in 1854. They argued about it in letters, with the younger Croxton explaining that he favored the gradual emancipation and deportation of slaves.

Anti-slavery views were not popular among white people in Bourbon County then. Nearly half the population was enslaved blacks, whose labor produced a rich agricultural bounty for their owners.

After graduating from Yale and earning a law degree from Georgetown, Croxton returned to Paris in 1859 to practice law. The next year, he was one of only two men in Paris to vote for the Republican presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln’s election sparked the Civil War, and Croxton was quick to join the Union cause. He recruited troops for the 4th Kentucky Infantry, of which he was elected lieutenant colonel.

Over the next five years, Croxton’s superiors repeatedly praised him as a skilled and fearless officer who fought despite several battle wounds. He was promoted to colonel at age 24, brigadier general at 27 and given an honorary promotion to major general for gallantry

Croxton saw action at many battles, including Perryville, Chickamauga, Nashville and Atlanta. He led a daring raid across Alabama that captured Tuscaloosa and eliminated one of the Confederacy’s last supply centers. After the war, he spent a year as military commander of central Georgia.

In 1866, Croxton returned to Paris, where he had built a house on Cypress Street. He practiced law, farmed, chaired the state Republican party and helped start a Republican newspaper, the Louisville Commercial.

President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Croxton as the United States minister to Bolivia. But a year after taking the post in 1873, he died in La Paz of tuberculosis at age 37. He is buried in Paris Cemetery.

After Croxton’s death, Houston Dale was owned for many years by James Hall, a prominent farmer.

In 1979, Owens was planning to buy a horse farm and build a new “old” house. He had just gone to Colonial Williamsburg to study traditional architecture when his father told him Houston Dale was for sale. He bought it.

Owens renovated the mansion, which has foot-thick brick walls and most of its original floors and woodwork. He added a wing to each side for additional space and bathrooms. Owens also restored the log cabin, where his mother lives.

He also built a swimming pool, a pool house and a garage with an apartment that looks more like a colonial-style guest house from the front.

Between the mansion and Houston Creek is a stone wall along what appears to be an old road. Built into the wall with big limestone slabs are steps and a platform, apparently for stepping out of a carriage or stage coach.

Owens and his wife, Michelle, recently put the 9,665-square foot house and surrounding 31 acres on the market for $1,675,000. She said they want less house and more land to expand their broodmare stock and run cattle.

“It will be hard to leave,” Owens said of Houston Dale, recalling the first time the late Lexington horseman and philanthropist W.T. Young Jr. visited.

“He said, ‘If I lived here, I’d never leave home,'” Owens said. “It is a special house.”

If you go

Historic Home Tour

When: 2 p.m. — 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 4

Where: Houston Dale Farm, 2328 Fords Mill Rd.

Why: Annual benefit for the preservation group Historic Paris-Bourbon County.

Cost: $10 members, $15 public. Children younger than 17 free.

More info: (859) 987-7274 or Hopewellmusuem.org.

 

Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford's Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Since the late 1970s, the house has belonged to Thoroughbred breeder Phil Owens. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Thoroughbred breeder Phil Owens bought the house in 1979 and renovated it.

 

Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford's Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Since the late 1970s, the house has belonged to Thoroughbred breeder Phil Owens. This is the dining room. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The dining room at Houston Dale includes original woodwork.

 

Phil and Michelle Owens and the youngest of their three children, Jack, 4, pose in the dining room of Houston Dale, their circa 1840 house near Paris. The house was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Phil and Michelle Owens and the youngest of their three children, Jack, 4, pose in the dining room of Houston Dale, their circa 1840 house near Paris.

 

Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford's Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Since the late 1970s, the house has belonged to Thoroughbred breeder Phil Owens. This is a dining area in the kitchen, which features an original stone fireplace. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

This is a dining area in the kitchen, which features an original stone fireplace.

 

Steps and a landing to help passengers get on and off carriages and stage coaches was built into a stone wall beside Houston Dale, site of Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Steps and a landing to help passengers get on and off carriages and stage coaches was built into a stone wall beside Houston Dale.

 

Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford's Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Since the late 1970s, the house has belonged to Thoroughbred breeder Phil Owens. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Houston Dale was the boyhood home of Union Gen. John T. Croxton.

 

Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford's Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Since the late 1970s, the house has belonged to Thoroughbred breeder Phil Owens. He built the back of the garage, which faces the house, to look like a guest house. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Owens built the back of the garage, which faces the house, to look like a guest house.

 

Historic Paris-Bourbon County's annual home tour Oct. 4 visits Houston Dale on Ford's Mill Road near Paris, a circa 1840 house that was the birthplace and boyhood home of John T. Croxton, who broke with his slaveholding family and became a Union general during the Civil War. Since the late 1970s, the house has belonged to Thoroughbred breeder Phil Owens. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

The dining room at Houston Dale.


Ashland event showcases little-known fact: 150 years ago, Henry Clay’s farm became the University of Kentucky’s first campus

September 22, 2015
The Mechanical Building at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky was located on the Ashland farm, about where Fincastle and Sycamore roads are now. The building was demolished for their construction in the 1920s. Photo Courtesy of UK Special Collections

The Mechanical Building at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky was located on the Ashland farm, about where Fincastle and Sycamore roads are now. The building was demolished for their construction in the 1920s. Photo Courtesy of UK Special Collections

 

The Ashland estate was more than the home of statesman Henry Clay. A century and a half ago, it became the first campus of the University of Kentucky.

That little-known chapter of history is among the things being showcased Saturday at Ashland’s annual Living History Event.

Artifacts from the university years are on display through Dec. 31. Saturday’s event will include Civil War re-enactors firing antique rifles and cannon, tours of the mansion, costumed actors, farm animals and period crafts.

Transylvania University was the first state-supported college, having been started in the 1780s when Kentucky was still Virginia. But state support of higher education in Kentucky has always been erratic. After a flowering in the 1820s, during which Transylvania became one of America’s best universities, it fell into decline.

After the Civil War, Transylvania was reconstituted as part of Kentucky University and a new sister institution, the Agricultural and Mechanical College, created by the federal Land-Grant College Act of 1862.

John Bryan Bowman Photo Courtesy of Transylvania University Library Speical Collections

John Bryan Bowman Photo Courtesy of Transylvania University Library Speical Collections

The force behind Kentucky University and the A&M college was John Bryan Bowman, the grandson of pioneer Abraham Bowman, for whom Bowman’s Mill Road in southern Fayette County is named.

“He was quite a visionary,” said Ashland Curator Eric Brooks. “He wanted to make education more egalitarian, accessible to a much larger spectrum of the population. He wanted it to encompass very academic subjects, but also to include business, agriculture and what he called the mechanical arts and we now call engineering.”

A decade before Clay’s death in 1852, Bowman studied law under him. Perhaps that is why, when searching for a campus for the new college in 1866, Bowman bought Ashland and an adjoining Clay family estate, The Woodlands. The 433 acres cost $130,000.

“He chose Ashland specifically because it was Henry Clay’s farm,” Brooks said. “It was the most recognizable piece of property around and he knew it would have instant credibility.”

As regent, Bowman and his wife lived in the Ashland mansion, which also served as the college administration building. He created a small natural history museum there, and some of the artifacts have been returned for this exhibit.

The Woodlands mansion, which stood about where the Woodland Park swimming pool is now, housed agricultural classrooms. Engineering classrooms and labs were in an imposing new building, which was constructed at what is now the corner of Fincastle and Sycamore roads.

The Mechanical Hall was built in 1868 with a $25,000 gift from G.Y.N. Yost, a Pennsylvania lawn mower manufacturer.

The cottage that still stands beside Ashland was an early dormitory. Brooks said it housed 16 young men — all of the students were young men until 1880, when the first women were admitted — who raised their own livestock and vegetables and hired a cook to fix their meals.

Bowman’s long-term goal was to relocate the rest of Kentucky University from Transylvania’s campus north of Gratz Park to the Ashland-Woodlands property.

But the church-state politics that had always plagued Transylvania kept getting in the way. Although a state institution, Transylvania had a long history of church affiliation, first with the Presbyterians and then the Disciples of Christ.

Amid these tensions, Bowman was fired in 1878 and the A&M college separated from Kentucky University. James K. Patterson was appointed college president, a job he held until 1910.

Worried that the college might move elsewhere in the state, Lexington donated its Maxwell Springs fairgrounds as a new campus. UK has been there ever since.

Kentucky University reverted to private, church-affiliated ownership and changed its name back to Transylvania in 1908. The A&M college, also called State College, officially became the University of Kentucky in 1916.

The Woodlands estate became a city park and surrounding subdivisions. Ashland was rented to tenant farmers until Clay’s grandson-in-law, Henry Clay McDowell, bought and renovated the property.

Most of the Ashland estate was subdivided in the 1920s into the Ashland and Ashland Park neighborhoods. The 17 acres that remained around the mansion went to the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, which since 1950 has operated the house museum and park-like grounds.

The main artifact from Ashland’s college years, the Mechanical Hall, was demolished when subdivision streets were cut through in the early 1920s.

“It was an incredible structure,” Brooks said. “I wish we still had that.”


FoodChain expanding mission with kitchen, neighborhood grocery

September 20, 2015
Rebecca Self, executive director of Food Chain, an urban agriculture non-profit in the Breadbox building at West Sixth and Jefferson Streets, posed with greens being grown along with tilapia fish in a closed-loop aquaponics system. The greens and fish are sold to restaurants, primarily Smithtown Seafood in the next room. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Rebecca Self, executive director of Food Chain, an urban agriculture non-profit in the Breadbox building at West Sixth and Jefferson Streets, posed with greens being grown along with tilapia fish in a closed-loop aquaponics system. The greens and fish are sold to restaurants, primarily Smithtown Seafood in the next room. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

The urban agriculture nonprofit FoodChain is trying to raise $300,000 for its next two links: a food-processing and teaching kitchen and a neighborhood green grocery.

The effort will begin Oct. 2 with Relish n’ Ramble, an event featuring tapas by four guest chefs and tours of the proposed kitchen and grocery space in the Bread Box building at West Sixth and Jefferson streets.

Three years ago, founder Rebecca Self and her board raised $75,000 to create an aquaponics demonstration in a back room of the 900,000-square-foot former bread factory, which also houses West Sixth Brewing, Smithtown Seafood, Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop, Bluegrass Distillers, Magic Beans Coffee Roasters and The Plantory, a shared office space for nonprofit startups.

Since September 2013, FoodChain has been producing about 30 pounds of greens and a dozen tilapia each week. The fish and most of the greens are bought by Smithtown Seafood. Blue Moon Farm distributes excess greens to other restaurants.

The aquaponics system works like this: waste grain from the brewery is fed to the fish, whose waste water provides the nutrients for lettuce and other greens to be grown under energy-efficient indoor lighting.

“You would never pinpoint this as a place to grow food,” Self said of the once-abandoned building. “But it’s actually a perfect fit.”

Sales of greens and fish have covered about 35 percent of FoodChain’s $100,000 annual budget, and virtually all of the cost of producing them, Self said. Funding for educational programs comes from donations and foundation grants.

To promote replication of its work, FoodChain has given more than 6,000 tours of its facilities, which also has provided revenue. “We’re unusual among nonprofits in that we have a revenue stream at all,” Self said.

This next phase will move FoodChain closer to its mission: developing systems to bring affordable local food to urban “food desert” neighborhoods, such as the West End.

Self’s husband, Ben, is one of four West Sixth Brewing partners who bought the Bread Box and have been renovating and leasing it. FoodChain’s kitchen and grocery will occupy the last 7,000 square feet of the building, the oldest part of which dates to the 1870s.

The kitchen and grocery will be on the west side of the building’s Sixth Street frontage, with the grocery in the corner. A lot of windows will be added to the solid-brick walls, bringing light and public visibility.

The kitchen will have an instructional area where neighborhood residents can receive food safety certification training for restaurant jobs and take classes to learn to prepare and cook their own meals with fresh food.

In the back half of the kitchen, FoodChain plans to partner with Glean Kentucky, other nonprofits and area farmers to collect, process and preserve food “seconds” that might otherwise go to waste.

“This is something that’s been talked about for a long time,” Self said. “We’re hoping that because we’re getting this food at pennies on the dollar on the seconds market that even once we’ve added in the labor costs it will still be at an affordable price for the store.”

In addition to fresh local food, the grocery will carry other foods and household necessities. Both facilities are being designed to meet the neighborhood’s needs based on focus groups conducted by the Tweens Coalition, a local youth nutrition and fitness organization.

The store and kitchen will create about a dozen jobs, and Self hopes to fill them with neighborhood residents.

“If there’s anything that comes out of the census data for this area it is the desperate need for jobs,” she said. “You can’t afford good food if you don’t have an income.”

Self said renovations to create the kitchen and store won’t begin until all of the money needed is raised. Ideally, she said, the kitchen would open in fall 2016 and the store in spring 2017.

“We’re just trying to show the viability of something like this,” she said.

If you go

Relish n’ Ramble

What: Fundraiser for FoodChain featuring tapas inspired by Indian, Latin and Asian street food from guest chefs Vishwesh Bhatt of Snack Bar in Oxford, Miss.; Ouita Michel of Holly Hill Inn; Jonathan Lundy of Coba Cocina; and Jon Sanning of Smithtown Seafood. Includes a West Sixth beer and souvenir glass and tours of FoodChain’s planned commercial kitchen and grocery spaces.

When: 6-9 p.m. Oct. 2

Where: Bluegrass Distillers in the Bread Box, West Sixth and Jefferson streets

Cost: $35 advance, $40 at door.

Tickets and info: Foodchainlex.org


Lexington Rotary Club celebrates 100 years, bucks national trend

September 19, 2015
At the Lexington Rotary Club's 100th anniversary celebration Friday night at Fasig-Tipton, Allison Barkley, her horse, Bo, and Adam Menker of the University of Kentucky Rodeo Team rode in with proclamations of congratulations that were handed to Rotary past president Jim Martin for Mayor Jim Gray and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr to read. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

At the Lexington Rotary Club’s 100th anniversary celebration Friday night at Fasig-Tipton, Allison Barkley, her horse, Bo, and Adam Menker of the University of Kentucky Rodeo Team rode in with proclamations of congratulations that were handed to Rotary past president Jim Martin for Mayor Jim Gray and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr to read. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

Lions, Kiwanis, Rotary and other community service clubs are an endangered species in modern America. Membership has been plummeting for decades. It’s enough to make an Optimist pessimistic.

Then there is the Rotary Club of Lexington. It is the 21st largest of Rotary International’s 34,000 clubs worldwide. Each Thursday at noon, most of the club’s 344 members show up for the lunch meeting at Fasig-Tipton.

What makes Lexington Rotary work is not so much size, but effectiveness. It is not the lunch meetings, but the countless hours of public service the rest of the week.

For a century, this club has managed to create the right mix of volunteerism, business networking and inclusiveness that has made many of Lexington’s most influential leaders want to belong. Once there, they get things done.

Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

President Mary Beth Wright speaks at the 100th anniversary celebration.

“Rotary is often thought of as an old white male club,” said President Mary Beth Wright. “This one has a 36-year-old female president this year. It’s a great group of people who have a great calling.”

Wright and several past presidents presided over the club’s 100th anniversary celebration at the Fasig-Tipton sales pavilion Friday night that included Mayor Jim Gray and U.S. Rep. Andy Barr reading congratulatory messages.

Those proclamations were brought into the room on horseback by members of the University of Kentucky’s Rodeo Team. It was a nod to the club’s newest annual fundraiser, a sanctioned rodeo competition in June at the Kentucky Horse Park.

The club has raised the equivalent of millions of dollars for community and international service projects. Many of those have been big and ambitious, thanks to a philosophy of leadership continuity that makes multi-year projects possible.

“This club, more than any other civic organization, has had strong leadership,” said entrepreneur Jim Host, a past president and member since 1972. “It’s not just a luncheon club. It’s what are we doing different? This year, we started a rodeo.”

The rodeo and other fundraisers, including Dancing with the Lexington Stars, raise money for charity projects and an endowment that since 1978 has funded many local non-profits.

The club’s biggest cause is Surgery on Sunday, a non-profit group founded in 2005 by Dr. Andrew Moore. Local medical professionals donate their time and talents to perform outpatient surgery for low-income people who don’t have health insurance and aren’t eligible for government insurance. Rotary provides about one-third of the organization’s funding, for about 1,000 surgeries a year.

A decade ago, Rotary led creation of the Toyota Bluegrass Miracle League, a baseball league that serves more than 100 handicapped children and adults. The $750,000 project included a specially designed athletic field at Shillito Park.

“Why we can raise that kind of money is the credibility of this club,” said Darrell Ishmael, a former president. “The influence of this club makes a huge difference in this community.”

The Lexington club was the 182nd to join Rotary, which began as a businessman’s networking group in Chicago in 1905.

The Lexington club’s first black member was admitted in 1983. Women have been members since 1988, after the U.S. Supreme Court forced the national Rotary to change its men-only policy. The Lexington club now has more than 50 women members, and three have been president.

The Lexington Rotary has always focused on helping youth, with scholarships, winter coats, Santa gifts and international exchange programs. The club was a major force behind creating Cardinal Hill Hospital, which was originally for handicapped children.

In the 1920s, the club bought a Woodford County camp that served area Boy Scouts until the larger McKee Boy Scout Reservation opened near Mount Sterling in 1960. Rotary just took over management of the annual “Brave the Blue” Boy Scout fundraiser, where donors get to rappel 410 feet down the glass walls of Lexington’s tallest building.

At times, the Lexington Rotary has been an influential voice on community issues. Most notably, it began pushing for merger of Lexington and Fayette County governments more than three decades before voters approved it in 1973.

As they celebrated a century and looked forward to the future, Lexington Rotarians said their most important goal is maintaining the special chemistry that has made their club a vital force for good in the community.

“Everyone pitches in, and not just as a leader,” said Virginia Carter, a member since 2001 and retired executive director of the Kentucky Humanities Council. “Even though everyone here is a leader.”

A 100th anniversary cake.

A 100th anniversary cake.

Past president Jim Richardson closed the anniversary program with a song he wrote about the club.

Past president Jim Richardson closed the anniversary program with a song he wrote about the club.