There are folks who look at the demolition of a community and call it progress. Then there are those who look at that bulldozing as a potential loss of history.
Scholars with the Davis Bottom History Preservation Project belong in the latter group.
The project, organized by the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, or KAS, and the University of Kentucky, wants to gather memories, memorabilia and photographs that show moments in time since the Davis Bottom community was etched out of vacant land in the 1860s.
Davis Bottom is scheduled for demolition to make way for the long-awaited and long talked about Newtown Pike Extension that will carry motorists from Interstate 75 to the front gates of UK.
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Kim McBride, co-director of the KAS, said now is the time to gather as much history as possible relating to Davis Bottom.
A documentary will be made from interviews with current and former residents, she said, and the filmmaker wants photographs, sketches and documents that can add to the telling of the community's story.
"Even if those images are not used in a video they will be put on a Web site that teachers can use," McBride said.
In addition to the one-hour KET documentary, produced as part of the Kentucky Archaeology Series, and the Web site maintained by KAS, scholars are creating a digital media archive that can be used by teachers, historians and others.
Armed with scanners and laptops, she and others will be at the Davis Bottom Block Party at Nathaniel United Methodist Mission, 616 DeRoode Street, from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday to make digital copies of original images for preservation. Those who bring items to be scanned will receive copies of them on a CD to take home. A professional production crew also will be conducting oral history interviews.
Images and documents from the 1860s to the 1940s are being sought in particular, McBride said.
Meanwhile, the Newtown Pike project received an infusion of money this spring that will bring new activity. Stuart Goodpaster, project manager for the state, said it received a total of $23.3 million to buy rights of way from High Street over to South Broadway at Bolivar Street.
Funding and a down economy had slowed the project's progress, he said.
"The next stage is building the noise wall along the (Norfolk Southern) railroad," Goodpaster said. Bidding for that project should be this fall.
If all goes well, the construction of new homes for residents of Davis Bottom should start next July, with completion for that phase by October 2014.
The project has been discussed for 50 years, impeding improvements to a very neglected part of Lexington just south of downtown.
According to An Archival History of the Proposed Newtown Pike Extension, written by Tanya A. Faberson, Lexington attorney Willard Davis owned 43 lots in what is now Davis Bottom in 1865. He sold several narrow lots, located in damp, poorly drained lowland near the railroad tracks, to blacks after the Civil War.
By 1873, the city directory listed several African- Americans as residents of Davistown, another name for Davis Bottom.
About the same time, a poor white neighborhood called Irishtown developed north of Davis Bottom. Most of its inhabitants were working-class Irish who had fled the potato famine in their homeland.
Conflicts between the two communities arose as residents of both competed for the same jobs. But both camps were shunned by other Lexington communities.
As residents moved away, Davis Bottom became more racially integrated by people who came to Lexington from Appalachia. They were stereotyped as well. The community became a neglected area of Lexington.
When movement finally started on the 11/2-mile road through Davis Bottom, residents were placed in temporary housing while they waited for new homes to be built.
None of the remaining residents wanted to move, and that attachment, that sense of community, is what McBride is trying to capture with images.
"I think it is an interesting neighborhood," she said. "It is a distinct neighborhood in Lexington. And since it will be severely impacted by the road, we wanted to provide an opportunity to document that history."
If you can't make it to the block party, McBride said you can make an appointment to have someone come to your home to scan the images or you can go to the KAS lab. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or (859) 257-1944.
Although the project would like to focus on the years prior to the 1940s, "I can't say we will turn away anything else," she said. "A part of what the video will focus on will be interviews of people who have left, and on the hopes for the new community."