May is a beautiful and busy time in the commonwealth. During National Travel and Tourism Week, May 3 to 11, we celebrated all things Kentucky and an economic impact report noting a sizeable increase in money spent by visitors in 2013. Earlier, of course, all eyes were on Churchill Downs, a National Historic Landmark, and the running of the Kentucky Derby.
Many things draw people to Kentucky — natural beauty, sporting events and bourbon, to name a few. But when you take a closer look at the places that bring visitors to communities, including restaurants, art galleries and local businesses, you often find a historic building whose charm is embodied in its authenticity, not to mention historic attractions that are destinations unto themselves.
We are fortunate to have an abundance of historic resources. These are the places that evoke a shared heritage, and tell stories about our past and who we are today.
Many communities have beautifully preserved downtowns, which have benefited from participation in the Kentucky Main Street Program, a community revitalization strategy with building preservation at its core.
Others range from Civil War battlefields to grand homes like the Governor's Mansion, to the Belle of Louisville, historic African-American hamlets, churches, public buildings, distilleries and even prehistoric archaeological sites.
But historic resources also include places that not everyone might associate with being "historic" — kitschy roadside architecture, farms passed down through generations, post-war neighborhoods, ranch-style houses, steel-truss bridges, factories, state park buildings constructed through the Works Progress Administration, even roadways lined by rock fences.
Historic places matter to Kentuckians, and we take pride in them just as we do our home state, which we honor each year by singing My Old Kentucky Home just before the Derby.
This year, to commemorate National Historic Preservation Month and highlight all the many historic places that Kentuckians call "home," the Kentucky Heritage Council has launched an online contest based on our state song.
Through our "This is MY Old Kentucky Home" Facebook photo contest, we invite Kentuckians to share how and why they value historic buildings.
The premise is simple. Hold a sign that says "This is MY Old Kentucky Home" in front of your favorite place, take a snapshot, "like" our Facebook page, then click the "Enter to Win" icon to enter it in the contest. Anyone who "likes" the council's Facebook page also may click on the contest icon to vote daily for his or her favorites. The only rule is, the place must be 50 or older. The contest deadline is midnight Friday.
For details, see the Facebook page or go to Heritage.ky.gov. We also encourage participants to post their photos on social media using hashtag #myoldkyhome. The winner will receive an all-expenses-paid weekend in Bardstown, site of Federal Hill, the house said to have inspired Stephen Foster to pen My Old Kentucky Home.
This promotion is about celebrating the cultural and architectural inheritance that has been passed down to us. Landmarks such as Federal Hill and Churchill Downs help define our collective identity. But Kentucky's history as presented through our buildings is so much richer — and so much more culturally, ethnically and aesthetically diverse — that we find meaning in many different kinds of historic places, large and small, in every corner of the commonwealth.
Our goal is to expand the message of the song to reflect the broader diversity of Kentucky's built environment.
We also hope to create interest in the reuse and rehabilitation of historic buildings, and raise awareness about the importance of preservation, so future generations also will be able to call these special places "home."