GEORGETOWN — The Robert Sanders House, the Scott County landmark that one observer declared "would last forever," continues to be taken apart bit by bit in preparation for demolition.
The house on U.S. 25 south of Georgetown, built by an early Thoroughbred horse breeder, has stood on a hill overlooking Cane Run creek for 218 years.
The exterior walls had not come down Thursday morning, but the glass appeared to be out of the windows.
"It looks like a shell," said Jason Sloan, director of preservation for the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation. He said the nonprofit organization continued to explore avenues to save the structure.
"We have not at all given up on it and hope the house stays up," Sloan said.
The house is thought to have been built in 1797, only five years after Kentucky joined the union as the 15th state, and it was the first brick house in Scott County.
The 2½-story house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but that designation doesn't automatically protect it from demolition.
Only established local law gives preservationists the tools to stop properties from coming down. Without a local preservation ordinance, National Register buildings have no protection from demolition.
"If it's not in some local (historic) overlay and it's just on a farm ... they can tear it down," said Diane Comer of the Kentucky Heritage Council, the state historic preservation office in Frankfort.
The city of Georgetown, for example, has a historic district that stretches along Main Street from Warrendale Avenue to Kentucky Avenue. No building "of historic significance" in that district may be "demolished, moved or substantially altered" without first obtaining a conditional-use permit from the local board of adjustment.
The purpose of that permit requirement is to have some public review of the decision to demolish. The board of adjustment cannot issue a demolition permit "without exhausting all reasonable alternatives to the destruction or removal of the resource."
None of this applied to the Sanders house, because it wasn't part of a historic district. Ken Jackson, the house's owner, got a demolition permit in February, and a salvage company has been pulling items out of the house for several days. Sloan said the Trust didn't learn about the permit until last week.
If the house does come down, Sloan said, the Trust might seek to have Scott County adopt a 30-day "hold policy" like the one that exists in Fayette County.
In Lexington, the Office of Historic Preservation can put a 30-day hold on a demolition permit so the affected building or buildings can be documented. (Such 30-day holds were done when the Mount Brilliant mansion on Russell Cave Road was torn down in 2002, and when several buildings along South Limestone were taken down in 2008 for the CentrePointe project.)
The Blue Grass Trust had hoped to help Jackson find a buyer for the property. Jackson, a Lexington lawyer, is co-owner of Kentuckiana Farms, a standardbred breeding operation in Fayette and Scott counties. Jackson could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The Sanders House had walls that were 3½ feet thick. In 1904, Scott County historian B.O. Gaines stated that the Sanders house "would last forever," according to Lexington attorney and blogger Peter Brackney.
But there had been signs that the house was threatened. It was on the Blue Grass Trust's 2004 and 2009 lists of "endangered properties." It was for sale in 2004, and in 2009 it was described as "neglected."
Sanders settled on a 1,000-acre tract in Scott County about 1790. A family history refers to him as "the wealthiest pioneer in the state." He was known for lavish spending; a basement shelter became known as "one of the finest wine cellars in the state," according to a 1973 inventory and nomination form to put the house on the National Register.
The Sanders estate included a springhouse, an icehouse, a smokehouse, a loom house, a blacksmith shop and a stone barn.
Sanders died in 1805.
The slow demolition of the Sanders House comes days after several historical structures were taken down near Third Street in downtown Louisville for a nearly $300 million Omni Hotel project. One of those structures was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Louisville's Metro government said the buildings posed a safety risk.