Merlene Davis: Discover the history of Lexington's East End in a walking tour

Leave it to local historian Yvonne Giles to uncover information the rest of us were mistaken about.

Giles, who has been instrumental in recovering and preserving the history of Lexington, particularly black Lexington, said we have been misspelling Dewees, as in Deweese Street in downtown Lexington, since 1907.

The street was named for Farmer Dewees, who grew up in Midway before moving to Lexington, she said.

"In 1907, someone added the 'e' to the spelling of his name," Giles said. "In 1919, the city council voted to return it to the correct spelling without the 'e,' but that didn't happen for some reason."

Dewees bought a house on Short Street, just off Back Street, the previous name of Deweese Street. The house was called White Cottage and was later purchased in 1889 by the Women's Guild of Christ Church and transformed into the Protestant Infirmary.

Located where Hurst Office Supplies now stands, the cottage was torn down in 1940.

That is the kind of inside information walkers will get on the "Back to Dewees to Third: Historical Tour of the Old East End," sponsored by the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center, as part of its education and outreach programs. The two-mile tour will be conducted by Giles.

Rasheedah El-Amin, acting director of the Lyric, said she was a bit confused by the tour title until Giles explained that Deweese Street was formerly called Back Street.

"I had never heard that," she said.

Giles will share the histories of the standing buildings and biographies of the residents and businessmen who made the East End a diverse and vibrant community. Fortunately, enough of the old structures are still standing as the area is revitalized.

Walkers will learn the history of the area's development and picture how the East End looked from 1780 through the 1960s.

This Saturday's tour is the second of three such tours scheduled. The third tour is slated for June 8. If either tour is canceled due to rain, it will be held the following Saturday.

El-Amin took the first of the three tours, which was conducted in April. She said the Lyric is sponsoring the tours to give people a better idea of not only the Lyric's history but of all the history surrounding it.

The tour will start at the Lyric, on the corner of East Third Street and Elm Tree Lane, and participants will walk to the Polk-Dalton Clinic where Giles, executive director of the Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum, will talk about the clinic's namesakes.

Then the group will walk to Deweese, where she will point out its history. One example of the interesting history is this: "Deweese was always black," she said, "and East Third was always white."

The tour will then return to East Third, where Giles will point out the history of the buildings down to Midland Avenue, where Isaac and Lucy Murphy had their home.

Included in that history will be the connection between the Luigart family, grocers of German descent, and the Murphy home. She will also shed light on the Flad family, who were bakers of French and Italian descent.

Also included will be information about the first black agricultural extension service agent, Atlas C. Burnette, and William H. Ballard, the first black pharmacist in Kentucky, who owned Ballard's Pharmacy on Deweese.

"I won't wear anybody out," Giles said, jokingly. "We will walk a little and stop and talk. It is a saunter. I will point out bits of history and sometimes people will share their stories. I love when that happens."


What: "Back to Dewees to Third: Historical Tour of the Old East End," a walking tour sponsored by the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center and conducted by Yvonne Giles, local historian

When: 1-3 p.m. May 4 and June 8. Rain dates are the following Saturdays.

Where: Tours start at the Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third St.

Tickets: $10. Visit, or call (859) 280-2218, or purchase at the Lyric box office.