Who came up with the idea for the Blue Grass Trust for Historical Preservation’s deTours?
It’s hard to pinpoint — an intern? a staff member? someone on a committee? — and hardly matters at this point. About five years ago, the group launched an effort to get more Bluegrass-area residents into historically significant buildings and sites.
“It began as a young professionals networking group, but it quickly changed models” and became “an event for both the young and young at heart,” said attorney Peter Brackney, co-chairman of the deTours committee and author of the Kaintuckeean blog and the book Lost Lexington (Arcadia Publishing, 2014, $19.99).
DeTours allows anyone to see, for free, some of the most fabled sites in Lexington — and beyond. Participants have visited the men’s locker room and stood on the floor of Rupp Arena during a tour with arena president and CEO Bill Owen (“Bill Owen knows where every light switch is in that building,” said Linda Carroll, co-chairwoman of the deTours committee). They have trooped through Maxwell Place, home of the president of the University of Kentucky. They have seen the back of the house at Table 310 and the Vogt Reel House fire station.
“We get into places that otherwise people wouldn’t get to see,” said Carroll, who has led downtown preservation, renovation and revitalization efforts for decades.
The tours average about 100 participants at each site. Sites have included Parker Place and the Gray Construction building, formerly the Wolf Wile Department Store.
The idea of showing people historic preservation, and how buildings become landmarks, just took off. When a tour was staged at Botherum before it was renovated, more than 800 people showed up, lining up amiably for the chance to peek inside a home that few thought they would ever get to see up close.
“Whoever thought the Blue Grass Trust could stop traffic?” Carroll asked.
Botherum was designed by architect John McMurtry and was built in 1851.
DeTours once held a walking tour of East Third Street and visited 146 East Third, then in poor condition. The building is the office of the former Morgan Worldwide engineering, now part of RESPEC Inc.
In 2015, Carroll was able to show deTours participants the renovated building, with open work spaces, artistic light fixtures and an upstairs deck — traditionally beautiful from the outside, with a nod to both past and future inside.
At the tour of the former Julia R. Ewan elementary school on Henry Clay Boulevard, now the Lexington Hearing & Speech Center, grandparents walked hand-in-hand with their grandchildren, telling them that it was the school they attended when they were children.
The building on Henry Clay Boulevard was built as a Works Progress Administration project in 1937. The WPA was a New Deal agency that employed millions during the Depression for public works projects, including buildings and roads.
A deTours visited the Lexington Country Club, which opened in 1907. The original building burned in 1925 and was rebuilt immediately. In 1941, golfer Marion Miley was shot to death at the club, where she was staying, when she crossed paths with a burglar.
Carroll recalled that the club opened up its bar and its locker rooms — for the tour.
During the deTours session in the North Limestone, or NoLi, neighborhood, tour guides “had probably 75 people that hung with it the entire time,” Carroll said. “It was pouring rain.”
Potential tour sites include Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, the Pope Villa, Elsmere Park, the West Sixth corridor and the Holly Hill Inn/Midway School Bakery.
In July, deTours will feature the Chaumiere des Prairies house in Jessamine County, which was said to have once featured gardens to rival those at the French palace of Versailles.
Carroll remembered the group tour of Colby Tavern in Clark County: “That re-use and preservation and the site, it’s just gorgeous.”
If you go
Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation
The May 4 deTours is at the Charles Young Center, 544 E. Third St., and Isaac Murphy Memorial, beginning at 5:30 p.m.
For future tours, go to Facebook.com/BGTdeTours.