Davis Bottom is almost in the shadow of Rupp Arena, Lexington's most recognized landmark.
But the history of the working-class neighborhood whose houses were razed to make way for the extension of Newtown Pike will never be lost, thanks in part to a documentary of the area's history.
Davis Bottom: Rare History, Valuable Lives will be shown Monday at The Kentucky Theatre as part of a National Community Land Trust Network conference in Lexington. The conference, which runs through Thursday, is expected to draw 300 affordable-housing professionals to Lexington.
There will be question-and-answer session after the free screening with film producer Tom Law of Voyageur Media Group and others involved in the Davis Bottom History Preservation Project.
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Lexington was picked as the site for the national conference in part because of the Davis Bottom project, said Maria Starck of the Lexington Community Land Trust. The land trust — which is dedicated to preserving and creating affordable housing — was instrumental in creating new housing for Davis Bottom residents who were displaced by the federal road project.
The affordable housing project consists of 14 units — two single family homes, two duplexes and two quadruplexes. Residents should be in their homes by 2016.
"Our project is the first example in the country of a federal road project working with a community land trust to create affordable housing," Starck said.
The hourlong documentary that showcases the 150-year history of Davis Bottom was paid for with funding from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, the Kentucky Heritage Council and the Kentucky Archaeological Survey.
The community was established after the Civil War, when William Willard Davis, a Republican attorney, civil rights advocate and land speculator, bought 43 lots of swampy bottom land that was sold to recently freed blacks. A music professor, Rudolph de Roode, bought 25 lots and built at least 12 houses on them to be sold to blacks.
Robert Elijah Hathaway, father of Isaac Scott Hathaway, a nationally recognized sculptor and professor, built one of the first houses in the area.
Over the years, the community became home to generations of black, European and Appalachian families who came in search of better lives. Historians and anthropologists found that the diverse group forged a strong bond.
"The amazing thing to me is that Davis Bottom was quietly a leader in integration a long time before most communities," said Law, the producer of the film.
The documentary also interviewed past and present Davis Bottom residents who said the people there had a very strong sense of identity and community.
"They watched out for each other," Law said. "We just don't have that any more."
In addition to the documentary, the project includes a website. The Davis Bottom documentary is part of the Kentucky Archaeology and Heritage Series, which is shown on KET. A DVD that includes hours of interviews of Davis Bottom residents is available at the Lexington Public Library downtown. To learn more about Davis Bottom, visit the website.