After seven years of delays, work begins on Isaac Murphy garden in Lexington's East End

tcrumbie@herald-leader.comJuly 14, 2014 

Umbrellas opened up one by one as a steady drizzle came down. More than 10 shovels stood partly buried in a patch of dirt. Children waited patiently, petting the horses next to them. People chatted as they looked at the construction equipment, waiting for an event more than half a decade in the making to begin.

Ground was broken Monday for the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, at Midland Avenue and Third Street, after seven years of planning and delays.

The garden, in Lexington's East End neighborhood, is a community effort, financed by private and public funds, to honor contributions black people have made to the Thoroughbred industry. It is named for legendary jockey Isaac Murphy, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1884, 1890 and 1891.

Thomas Tolliver, vice president of the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden board, said the process had been exhausting.

"The road has been long, steep, winding and filled with hurdles," he said.

David Cozart, president of the board, cited multiple reasons for the delays. For example, some of the money for the garden was restricted and had to be formally processed and approved by the state before it could be spent.

And members of the all-volunteer board had only so much time to commit, Cozart said.

The garden will cost about $700,000, but the price isn't limited to just money.

"I can't calculate the amount of time that folks have put into it," Cozart said. "It's been a great deal, obviously, over seven years."

Cozart said he wanted the garden to be an educational and recreational area.

The garden will feature an amphitheater and various pieces of art chosen by board members with community input. Three of those art pieces were made by woodcarver LaVon Williams, who played basketball for Kentucky from 1976 to 1980. The works acknowledge aspects of Murphy's life, including his wife, Lucy, his career as a jockey and his riding style.

Andrea James, a former resident of the East End, said she was thrilled about the groundbreaking. James said the garden would provide an awareness of the horse-racing industry that the community lacks.

"We need to really see how relevant that East End connection is to the whole picture," James said.

Warren Rogers, who contributed money to the garden, agreed.

"This memorial to Isaac Murphy is the beginning of the reconnections between the horse racing industry and its roots right here in East End," he said.

Tolliver said Murphy's house had been just a few feet from the garden, that and was a factor in the decision to build the garden there.

"This land, this neighborhood is steeped in equine history, and there's no better place in Lexington for it to be than here," Tolliver said. "It needs to be here."

The garden is expected to be completed by November.

It also will be a trailhead for the Legacy Trail, a walking and biking path that will connect the East End to the Kentucky Horse Park. The final portion of the 12-mile trail is being designed, and construction is scheduled to start next year.

Trey Crumbie: (859) 231-1687. Twitter: @TreyCrumbieHL.

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