PARIS — Stepping into Varden's is like taking a step back in time. Old apothecary drawer handles are engraved with everything from "rock candy" to "morphine." Mahogany cabinets hold gifts to purchase alongside old postcards and dusty medicine bottles with the name "Varden" on the glass. The afternoon sun streaks in from stained glass windows as it has for more than a century.
This is the backdrop for the Paris café and emporium in a building that dates to 1891. On Sunday, owners Phillip and Trudy Tibbs received the Barbara Hulette Award from the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation, given for preserving Kentucky heritage.
Trudy Tibbs said the reason behind their efforts is easy to pinpoint: "It's just our history," and it's worth saving.
Trudy Tibbs, a retired special education consultant, and Phillip Tibbs, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of Kentucky, bought a farm in Carlisle and worked to preserve the 200-year-old barn and fence that came with it. On their trips between Carlisle and their home in Lexington, the Tibbses took notice of the Varden's building on Main Street in Paris.
The first floor held Varden and Son Druggists from 1891 until 1953. The second floor was an old doctor's and dentist office, and there was a ballroom on the third floor. Trudy Tibbs said she was always interested in the structure, so when the owners were ready to sell, she and her husband were ready to buy. Tibbs said there was a romantic feel in the building.
Combining the new with the old, the Tibbses added a small kitchen in the back, moved around a few cabinets and replaced the flooring.
But the wall-to-wall South African mahogany cabinetry and Tiffany Stained Glass windows are the originals ordered by Dr. George Varden for his pharmacy. The brass drawer handles are the ones he pulled to get ingredients for his compounds.
Steve Walton, manager of Varden's, said most people who buy old buildings tear out the woodwork and fixtures for private homes instead of refurbishing the building.
"You just don't see this stuff anymore," Walton said. "People get excited by it and they are shocked by it. It's something so unique."
The Blue Grass Trust award also recognized the Tibbses purchase of a dilapidated building in Carlisle that they renovated into the Kentucky Doll and Toy Museum.
They also partnered with two others to buy Athens-Boonesboro School, which they turned into venue for a monthly antique and collectibles show.
Trudy Tibbs said she visits Varden's two to three nights a week to enjoy its warm ambience. Her favorite part is the stained glass windows just below the ceiling.
"The glass creates a halo," she said. "The oranges and the yellows ... the evening light comes through when sun sets directly behind us."
Walton manages not only the café but Varden's Bistro, a white-tablecloth restaurant in the building next store. The bistro has more of a modern feel, but there is a doorway into the café in the wall that the buildings share.
Sharing the spaces in that way "allows for a tradition of warmth," he said. "There is just something good about that.
"After four long years, I still feel great coming here. It's not a time capsule, it's alive."