The LFUCG Department of Historic Preservation is responsible for activities related to the preservation of historic structures, districts and resources in Lexington. It provides technical assistance to owners of historic properties, reviews projects and works with other governmental agencies to preserve Lexington’s historic properties.
Local Historic District legislation requires design review for exterior changes to protect historic homes in Lexington’s two National Register Districts. One example is the home of Matthew Kennedy, the area’s first architect.
Lexington provides numerous opportunities to celebrate the land, its resources and our history, through museums, tours, trails, art and photography venues, farm to table restaurants, farmers’ markets, and site visits. Our heritage also includes bourbon distilleries, tobacco barns, and wineries, all significant aspects of our Central Kentucky heritage and way of life.
The charm and character of Lexington’s past can be found throughout the city in restored historic and commercial buildings as well as innovative adaptive reuse projects.
The Old Fayette County Courthouse, a remarkable example of Richardson Romanesque architecture, was constructed in 1898 and is one of the most iconic buildings in Lexington. On the National Register of Historic Places since 1983, it is topped by a bell that has been in every courthouse since 1806. Completing an extensive rehabilitation and adaptive reuse development this year, the Historic Lexington Courthouse will be home to several tenants including the Lexington Visitor’s Center, a restaurant and bourbon bar, and Limestone Hall, a unique, privately-managed event space under its dome.
Lexington’s former Public Library on Gratz Park now houses the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning which shares in the rich history of the location. The library building is one of 2,509 Carnegie libraries built between 1883 and 1929 with money donated by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
The historic Opera House, built in 1886, was rebuilt in 1976 as part of urban renewal efforts. Today it serves the community by hosting a variety of arts performances year round.
Handsome historic churches, over 20 dating from the mid-1800s to the 1900s, dot the downtown area, many of their steeples having been visual landmarks throughout Lexington’s skyline over time.
The historic art deco style Lyric Theatre, built in 1948, served Lexington’s African American community until 1963. After sitting vacant for years, the building was transformed into an arts center that celebrates its history and serves all in the community. It is the city’s first Leed-certified property.
An excellent African American Heritage Guide book is available that documents many of the African Americans and historical sites so important to Lexington’s history and is an excellent walking tour guide. https://www.visitlex.com/idea-guide/african-americans/
Downtown especially boasts numerous shopping, dining, arts and entertainment venues that preserve the style and stories of their previous use. Some great examples can be found on Main and Short Streets, as well as Jefferson Street with the Breadbox, a former bread factory turned multi-use non-profit and retail facility, at its north end.
The Distillery District, North Limestone Street and National Avenue’s Warehouse District offer their own unique flavors.
A black-box theatre in the Downtown Arts Center on Main Street in a turn-of-the-twentieth century commercial building; Arts Place, in the original, multi-story early 20th Century YMCA near Gratz Park; the Kentucky Theater, a Colonial Revival style movie house built on Main Street in the 1920’s.
Victorian Square, a city block of restored late nineteenth century commercial buildings at Main and Broadway, houses Artists Attic, Lexington Children’s Theatre, Lexington Explorium, restaurants, shops, and unique craft and art galleries.
Its first “skyscraper,” designed by the prominent national architectural firm McKim, Meade and White in 1914, is now a boutique hotel, “21c”, with original modern art exhibited throughout the hotel.
Privately owned museums and venues also preserve local heritage and include the Aviation Museum of Kentucky, the Headley Whitney Arts Museum, the International Museum of the Horse and the American Saddlebred Horse Museum, both located at the Kentucky Horse Park.
The Kentucky Horse Park itself is a museum of sorts. It provides an excellent opportunity for visitors to learn about over 50 breeds of horses, to attend horse shows and competitions, and to appreciate the role of horses in Central Kentucky’s heritage.
Keeneland Race Track opened in 1933, and continues today as an anchor of the Thoroughbred industry not only in Central Kentucky, but nationally and internationally through its semi-annual horse sales. A day at the historic track, a National Historic Landmark, is truly unique, steeped in beauty, tradition and heritage. The Red Mile Harness Race Track is named for the red clay soil that forms the racing surface. It is the second oldest harness track in the world. It boasts the unique Round Barn landmark.
Founded in 1780, Transylvania University is the oldest college west of the Alleghenies and boasts the first medical and law school in the west. Its Morrison Chapel, completed in 1833 and now a National Historic Landmark, introduced the Greek Revival style to the area. The campus library is home to the Moosnick Medical and Science Museum and maintains collections of rare books, historical photos, letters, and documents from Kentucky’s past. Patterson Cabin, one of the first in Kentucky is also located on campus.
A number of historic neighborhoods, with their diverse architectural styles, are nestled adjacent to the commercial core of the downtown: the Western Suburb, Gratz Park, Woodward Heights, Mulberry Hill, Constitution, Hampton Court, Bell Court, Aylesford, and South Hill among others.
Gratz Park, a charming green oasis just two blocks from Main Street, is surrounded by 19th and 20th century historic homes.
Lexington has a number of notable historic house museums including:
o Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, home to four generations of the Clay family and a National Historic Landmark;
o The girlhood home of Mary Todd Lincoln, located on West Main Street;
o The Pope Villa, designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, architect of the U. S. Capital; the Mayor’s 2016 proposed budget includes funding for refurbishing the Villa.
o The Hunt-Morgan House and the Bodley Bullock House, located across Gratz Park from each other and each reflecting fine architecture and significant historic associations;
o Waveland, a country house built by the Bryan family in the 1840, representative of the era and life on a Central Kentucky working farm. John Bowman Bryan established University of Kentucky.
o Loudoun House, designed by significant architect A. J. Davis, and built in 1850 as a country house in the Gothic Revival style, today is the home of the Lexington Art League. In many ways, the house may be the Art League’s largest piece of art on exhibit and it provides a dramatic showcase for current artists’ work.
o Lexington’s Isaac Scott Hathaway, an African American educator, artist and sculptor, who designed the first United States Commemorative Coins that honored Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, is honored at the Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum on Georgetown Street.
Numerous organizations and entities throughout Lexington work to protect and celebrate our unique historical and agricultural heritage. Volunteers and supporters donate thousands of dollars and volunteer hundreds of hours to help maintain these sites and structures, and provide education and outreach programming to engage community members. Some of these groups include:
o The Lexington History Museum
o The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation
o Lexington Arts & Cultural Council
o The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning
o Active neighborhood associations in historic districts
o The Bluegrass Conservancy
o The Farm Bureau, The Fayette Alliance and The Rural Land Management Board