A judge has cleared the way for other uses for Helm Place, including the possible sale of the historic house in Lexington with ties to Abraham Lincoln.
In an order signed last week, Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone approved terminating a trust and removed all restrictions in place to enable the sale of Helm Place, should the Kentucky Mansions Preservation Foundation wish to do so.
The foundation had once hoped to maintain the house as a museum, but said that is no longer economically feasible. Scorsone agreed and wrote in his order that proceeds from the sale of Helm Place “could go towards preservation efforts for historic structures in Kentucky.”
Gwen Thompson, executive director of the foundation, said Tuesday she learned about the judge’s approval on Monday. There are no immediate plans for the property, she said.
The foundation’s board of directors “will have to get together and decide what our next step is,” Thompson said.
Before signing the order, Scorsone wanted to hear what the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation said about the foundation’s plans. Michael Meuser, an attorney for the Blue Grass Trust, submitted a brief supporting the foundation’s position.
As a designated landmark, Helm Place is subject to restrictions that are enforced by the city’s Division of Historic Preservation, Meuser wrote.
“Fortunately, the fact that Helm Place is already designated a landmark affords it the greatest legal protection in Central Kentucky for historic structures,” Meuser wrote. “Because of this, the BGT is confident that Helm Place will be preserved into the future and that the granting of the present motion will not jeopardize the legal protection it enjoys.”
Emilie Todd Helm, half-sister to first lady Mary Todd Lincoln, lived at Helm Place and spent the last years of her life there. She was the last remaining survivor of the Todd family, the in-laws to President Lincoln.
The property off Harrodsburg Road, not far from Ramsey’s restaurant at South Elkhorn Village, is assessed at $2.8 million, according to the Fayette County Property Valuation Administrator’s office. It includes a two-story, 15-room house and 150 acres.
Mary Genevieve Townsend Murphy, a co-founder and longtime board member of the Kentucky Mansions Preservation Foundation, left Helm Place to the foundation in trust after her death in 2000 and the death of her husband, Joseph, in April 2011. The foundation took control of the property in 2012 and installed a high-tech security system and a live-in caretaker.
In court papers, the foundation says it was never able to open the house as a museum for several reasons. The house didn’t come with an endowment or sufficient funding to cover the initial expenses to restore it. Nor was there enough money to make it accessible to the public through the construction of parking, bathrooms and other necessary additions.
The foundation also was concerned that the expense of maintaining Helm Place and operating it as a public museum would exceed the revenue it might produce, the court papers say.
The foundation manages and maintains the Mary Todd Lincoln House in downtown Lexington and assists in the renovation and preservation efforts for historic structures and sites around Kentucky.
In light of that mission, the foundation says, it wants to distribute the historically significant items of personal property and furniture at Helm Place to other museums and organizations with similar purposes.
Other possibilities for the house might include an education center or visitors center for people coming to see Central Kentucky horse farms.