Former EKU VP’s retirement job: piloting the Valley View Ferry

August 16, 2015
James Street looks out from the pilot house of the Valley View Ferry. Street has always loved boating and earned his maritime licenses, so since he retired as an Eastern Kentucky University vice president he has worked a few days a month piloting the ferry across the Kentucky River between Madison County and Fayette and Jessamine counties.  Photos by Tom Eblen

James Street looks out from the pilot house of the Valley View Ferry. Street has always loved boating and earned his maritime licenses, so since he retired as an Eastern Kentucky University vice president he has worked a few days a month piloting the ferry across the Kentucky River. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

VALLEY VIEW — Some executives dream of retiring to a big boat on a big body of water, and that is just what James Street did.

Since retiring as Eastern Kentucky University’s vice president for administration in July 2013, Street and his wife, Stacey, have spent a lot of time on their 34-foot Beneteau 331 sailboat on Kentucky Lake and their Catalina 22 on Cave Run.

But several days a month, Street pilots a less glamorous craft: the Valley View Ferry.

The ferry is a small tugboat lashed to a barge and tethered to an overhead cable. It goes back and forth across the Kentucky River more than 100 times a day, carrying a maximum of three vehicles between Tates Creek Road in Madison County and Tates Creek Road on the Fayette-Jessamine line.

Valley View, the last of dozens of ferries that once plied the river, is Kentucky’s oldest continuously operated enterprise — seven years older than the state itself. The ferry’s first owner, John Craig, got a charter in 1785 from Virginia’s governor, Patrick Henry.

The three counties bought the ferry from private owners in 1991 and operate it with local and state government funding. Passengers are a mix of tourists and commuters crossing to jobs in Lexington, Nicholasville and Richmond.

“I’ve always wanted to be a captain since I was a little kid,” said Street, 60, who got his first sailboat at age 19.

Street last year earned Coast Guard certification to pilot ferries and charter boats. So Roger Barger, a Madison County magistrate who pilots and manages the ferry, asked him to help when he could.

“Oddly enough, you still need a full license to pilot a boat on a rope,” Street said.

Piloting the ferry is a 14-hour workday — 12 hours of operation and an hour on either end for maintenance.

Usually, the pilot has help from a Madison or Jessamine jail trusty, who secures the barge to cleats on each shore’s ramp so cars can load and unload. But when a trusty isn’t available, the pilot does that in addition to running the boat and recording each car’s license information and number of occupants.

Piloting the ferry is very different from the fast-paced, high-pressure jobs Street had at EKU for two decades. And that is what he likes about it.

“I don’t miss answering the phone and email and text messages,” he said, noting that Valley View is a cellphone dead zone. “It’s a real change-up from what I did for most of my professional life.”

Before joining EKU, Street was Lexington’s commissioner of public works.

“I actually administered the purchase of this boat,” he said of the John Craig, which was filling in for a newer tug, the John Craig II, which was having mechanical trouble. “Talk about coming full circle.”

Street prefers chatting with ferry passengers to wrestling budgets, employees and deadlines. “I grew up in Madison County,” he said, “so I see people here I’ve known all my life.”

The free ferry carries 200 to 400 vehicles a day, operating 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekends. It often is shut down for days at a time because of high water in the spring and summer, and ice in the winter.

What Street enjoys most about this job is the beauty of Valley View. Some mornings, especially in the early fall, the river is shrouded in fog until the sun rises from surrounding hills to burn it off.

“I love getting down here and watching the dawn break,” he said. “There’s a subtle palette. The light is never the same; the mist is never the same.”

Between the morning and afternoon rushes, there are times when Street is alone on the river. He shuts off the tug’s noisy diesel engine and enjoys the silence.

“It’s so peaceful here,” he said, nodding toward a flock of geese swimming nearby with their goslings. “I enjoy watching the geese grow up.”

As the morning rush subsides, Street and I talk. He suddenly realizes it has been 10 minutes since his last trip. He steps into the pilot house and kills the engine — just as a car appears across the river looking for a ride.

“Almost had some silence,” he said with a sigh as he restarted the engine.

James Street piloted the Valley View Ferry across the Kentucky River for Madison County commuters on their way to Lexington before sunrise on Aug. 7.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street piloted the Valley View Ferry across the Kentucky River for Madison County commuters on their way to Lexington before sunrise on Aug. 7.

James Street looks out from the pilot house of the Valley View Ferry. Street has always loved boating and earned his maritime licenses, so since he retired as an Eastern Kentucky University vice president he has worked a few days a month piloting the ferry across the Kentucky River between Madison County and Fayette and Jessamine counties.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street looks out from the pilot house of the Valley View Ferry.

When James Street, a former Eastern Kentucky University vice president, pilots the Valley View Ferry, he usually has help from a prisoner trusty from Madison County. When they are unavailable, he must do everything, from piloting the boat to helping vehicles on and off.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

When Street pilots the ferry, he usually has help from a jail trusty. When one is not available, he must do everything, from piloting the boat to helping vehicles on and off.

Valley View Ferry pilot James Street waved to a friend driving onto the ferry. He grew up in Madison County, where he retired last year as a vice president at Eastern Kentucky University, so he knows many of the patrons.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street waved to a friend driving onto the ferry. He grew up in Madison County,  so he knows many of the regular passenger.

When James Street, a former Eastern Kentucky University vice president, pilots the Valley View Ferry, he usually has help from a prisoner trusty from Madison County. When they are unavailable, he must do everything, from piloting the boat to helping vehicles on and off.  Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street secures a safety rope on the ferry between trips.

While piloting the Valley View Ferry, James Street records the license information of vehicles that use the free service across the Kentucky River between Madison County and Fayette and Jessamine counties. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Street records the license information of vehicles that use the free service across the Kentucky River.


Inside Elmwood, as ‘Miss Emma’ left it 41 years ago

October 3, 2011

RICHMOND — When Emma Watts said she wanted her Elmwood estate to be preserved just as it was when she lived there, she meant it.

Watts died in 1970, but her bed is still made and her reading glasses are in the bedside table drawer. Postage stamps, sewing notions and pill bottles lay jumbled in her dresser drawers. Antique books fill her bookcases. Her rolltop desk holds family photographs and personal papers, including a World War II tire ration slip.

But time has taken a toll on this musty monument. Curtains hang in tatters. Stuffing bursts from sofas. Oriental carpets disintegrate on the hardwood floors, having nourished generations of moths. A portrait of a young Miss Watts stares across a moldy parlor at paintings of her parents.

“It’s like a time capsule,” said Doug Whitlock, the president of Eastern Kentucky University, who took me on a tour of Elmwood last week.

A month ago, EKU acquired the 9,000-square-foot mansion and 20 park-like acres surrounding it across Lancaster Avenue from campus. Eventually, Whitlock hopes to raise private money to restore Elmwood to its former glory, probably for use as an alumni development and conference center.

EKU tried unsuccessfully for 50 years to buy Elmwood. Legend has it that former Eastern President Robert Martin first asked Watts in the early 1960s what she would take for Elmwood. Her reply: “What would you take for your college?”

When Watts died at age 83, her will specified that the mansion, its contents and elm-covered grounds could never be sold. She left a trust fund to pay for basic upkeep and, for four decades, time stood still at Elmwood.

Recently, though, the estate’s trustee and Watts’ remaining cousins decided that while Elmwood could not legally be sold to the university, it could be donated, Whitlock said. In return, the EKU Foundation reimbursed the estate $400,000 for recent improvements, including a new roof.

Does Whitlock think Watts is now spinning in her grave? “Yep,” the president said. “But the trustee realized that this was the best way — possibly the only way — to honor Miss Emma’s wishes that Elmwood be preserved, and we intend to do that.”

EKU alumni will get the first public glimpse inside Elmwood on Oct. 22, during a Homecoming brunch on the grounds. Visitors will be allowed to walk through the main floor hall — past the moldy parlor, the grand staircase of elaborately carved oak and the huge dining room with a stained-glass window over the fireplace.

“I suspect attendance at the alumni event will be up this year,” Whitlock said with a smile. After all, Elmwood has been a local curiosity for generations.

Whitlock said EKU has not had a big problem with students hopping the iron fence to explore Elmwood’s tree-covered grounds and formal English garden. Still, it has long been reputed to be a popular spot for young lovers — hence, an old joke about alumni children named Elmwood.

The chateau-style mansion was designed for William and Mary Watts by Samuel des Jardins, a French-Canadian architect in Cincinnati. Watts had made his fortune in timber and Texas cattle. Elmwood cost an astounding $35,000 when it was completed in 1887, the year the Watts’ only child was born.

Emma Watts graduated from Vassar College but never married. After her parents died, she lived alone at Elmwood, filling the mansion with books, antique furniture and a few beloved dogs.

Whitlock never met Watts, but he remembers seeing her around Richmond when he was a boy, often being chauffeured in a long, black Packard. “When I saw the movie Driving Miss Daisy, Miss Emma is who I thought of,” he said.

When then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson came to Richmond as EKU’s commencement speaker in June 1961, Texas friends urged him to stop by and pay his respects to Watts. Her cook prepared him country ham and beaten biscuits — made on the antique biscuit brake that is still in Elmwood’s kitchen. Whitlock said Johnson enjoyed the ham biscuits so much that he asked his Secret Service agents to gather the leftovers so he could eat them on the flight back to Washington.

Ed Campbell, who has worked for Watts’ estate for 15 years as Elmwood’s caretaker, will continue those duties as a university employee. “I love working here; it’s so peaceful and quiet,” he said. “But it can get pretty spooky at night.”

EKU has promised to preserve the 15-room mansion and its landscaped setting along Lancaster Avenue. Any new construction must match the old. However, two pieces of land behind a caretaker’s cottage, garage and carriage house (which still shelters an antique carriage) could eventually be developed for university buildings, Whitlock said.

The EKU Foundation has some major fund-raising ahead to pay for Elmwood’s restoration. First, though, university librarians, archivists, art historians and their students will inventory the mansion’s contents and determine which pieces need conservation work.

While some valuables may need to be moved elsewhere for their own protection, Whitlock hopes most of the furniture, books and art will remain in the restored Elmwood — just as “Miss Emma” would have wanted.

Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo:

To see a slide show of more photos from inside Elmwood, click here.

 


Using police, research to design against crime

January 11, 2010

Want to know what makes a home or neighborhood vulnerable to crime? Ask police officers; they see it every day.

That’s the basic idea behind Safe by Design, a program that will be launched soon by the Lexington Police Department and Eastern Kentucky University’s Center for Crime and the Built Environment.

The voluntary program will help Lexington developers, architects, planners and property owners build and renovate safer homes, neighborhoods and commercial buildings by using design principles known to discourage crime.

The program will include standards and certification that could lead to marketing opportunities for builders, and eventually insurance discounts for property owners.

Safe by Design might be the first program of its kind in the nation, but it is based on a successful 20-year-old program in England, said Derek Paulsen, director of the EKU center and a member of Lexington’s Planning Commission.

Last March, Paulsen took several Lexington developers and police officials to England to see that program, Secured by Design. It has been credited with sharply reducing crime, especially in public housing projects.

“I thought it was too good to be true,” Lexington Police Chief Ronnie Bastin said. “But once I saw it, it was very convincing. The beauty of this is in its simplicity.”

The idea behind the program is that police officers and academics who research crime know which design factors in buildings and neighborhoods have been shown to encourage or discourage crime.

Those factors include the design and strength of doors, windows and locks; landscaping considerations, such as shrubbery height; sidewalk, window and garbage can placement; the style, placement and height of fencing; and site plans that maximize visibility.

Some of the guidelines are common sense, but not all are. For example, Bastin said he would have assumed that the more outdoor lighting around a building, the better. But research has shown that it’s not necessary to create a lot of light pollution. The key is to put the right amount of light in the right places to discourage criminals and make people feel safe.

Most of these factors don’t limit architectural expression or esthetic. It’s not about designing fortresses, just avoiding known mistakes.

“A lot of these things we’re looking at are things the police have been seeing forever … but architects or builders may not know about, or naturally think about,” Paulsen said. “If you do it up front, you fix these problems with a pencil at little cost.”

Common building design issues in Lexington that encourage crime include overgrown shrubs, tall privacy fences and a lack of windows on the sides of houses, Bastin said. They give criminals places to hide and can conceal a burglary or other crime in progress.

“There are areas of town where we wish we had had the opportunity to point out some of these things” before construction, Bastin said. “Once it’s built, (police) inherit it, and then we have to pour in resources that could be conserved or used for other things.”

Paulsen said he plans to work with manufacturers and use British testing data to create a certification program for burglar-resistant doors and windows.

Paulsen said he and police officers are working with the developers of new pedestrian and bicycle trails to make sure they are designed with crime prevention in mind. Design factors include ensuring good visibility at all points.

A common myth is that trails increase neighborhood crime. Paulsen said studies have shown that homes beside well-designed trails experience less crime than other homes.

Paulsen would like to see the Safe by Design standards made mandatory for future public housing in Lexington.

He also said he thinks most developers of new property, and people renovating older buildings, will be eager to participate in the program voluntarily. Some already have contacted the police department for advice, he said.

“We’re not trying to be planners or architects,” Paulsen said. “We’re just trying to bring some expertise to the table that might avoid problems before they happen.”


Good design can make cities more sustainable

December 7, 2009

The most overused word in the English language these days may be sustainability.

Not that I’m complaining.

It will be a key word in Copenhagen this week, where world leaders are gathering to try to figure out ways to cope with climate change. And it comes up again and again as businesses try to figure out what kind of economy will emerge from this ugly recession.

People seem to realize that the future will be a lot different than the past — or at least different than the consumption binge that America has been on since the end of World War II. That just wasn’t sustainable.

Sustainability is usually defined as the ability to meet the needs of the present without jeopardizing future generations’ ability to meet their needs.

Facing up to those issues could be good for the country, and good for business. It will force companies and industries to think more about long-term value, and not just short-term profit. And it will emphasize the need for good planning, good design, creativity and innovation.

For example, everyone knows that crime is bad for society. But did you ever stop to think that it’s also bad for the environment? I didn’t, until I attended the Sustainable Communities Conference last week in Lexington.

The conference was put on by the UK College of Design, Eastern Kentucky University’s Center for Crime and the Built Environment, the Lexington Division of Police and the London Metropolitan Police (from that other UK across the pond).

Calvin Beckford of Britain’s Association of Chief Police Officers said London Metropolitan Police officers drive 66 million miles a year patrolling that city. Goods stolen and property damaged by crime must be replaced. And when crime makes people feel so unsafe in their neighborhood they want to move, that contributes to petroleum use and suburban sprawl.

Beckford said researchers determined that, all told, crime each year contributes about 13 million tons of carbon to the United Kingdom’s environment.

He heads an effort called Security Secured by Design that seeks to make British society safer, and its environment greener, by using good design principles to reduce crime. That means everything from more secure doors and windows to better design for neighborhoods to discourage crime before it occurs.

The conference included a discussion about development projects that are planned near the Red Mile that could bring much-needed revitalization to Lexington’s South Broadway corridor. But when some conference participants looked at those plans, they also saw the potential for trouble.

That’s because the developments have characteristics that researchers say can lead to crime and urban decay if they are not carefully designed and managed.

Residents in those developments would be renters and mostly students — people of similar ages and schedules that would leave the neighborhood transitory and lightly populated during many times of the day and months of the year.

“This would not be a place where anyone living in it has a stake in it or any particular reason to look out for others living there,” said UK architecture professor Richard Levine.

All of those issues are worth discussing now, before construction begins, so plans can be improved to prevent crime and decay, conference participants said.

Of course, these developments will serve a specific niche. But what makes average neighborhoods both socially and environmentally sustainable is that they’re places where diverse groups of people want to live and stay — rather than move away from to something newer, nicer and safer.

Michael Speaks, the dean of UK’s College of Design, said good design will be key to social, environmental and economic sustainability.

“Design has to be a more expansive practice than problem-solving,” Speaks said. “It must be about looking at situations and speculating about what might be. It means solving problems before they exist.”