Fayette County

Lexington's Griffin VanMeter expresses interest in buying historic Handy House in Cynthiana

The Handy House, listed on the  National  Register of Historic Places, sits atop a hill in Flat Run Veterans Park in Cynthiana.
The Handy House, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sits atop a hill in Flat Run Veterans Park in Cynthiana. Herald-Leader

Preservationists in Cynthiana have gained a little more time to save the historic Handy House from demolition, thanks in part to a Lexington man who is interested in buying the property.

Last week, the Cynthiana City Commission voted 3-2 to table a motion to proceed with plans to tear down the two-story house, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The city's decision came after a Nov. 11 vote by Harrison County Fiscal Court to tear down the house. The Handy House, also known as Ridgeway, sits atop a hill in Flat Run Veterans Park, which is jointly owned by the city and county. Vandals occasionally have entered the house, and some local officials are concerned about liability should someone be injured.

Griffin VanMeter, president of NoLi Community Development Corp. in Lexington, asked the city commissioners whether they would entertain the idea of selling the house.

"It really helped to at least buy some time, and that's part of the conversation now," VanMeter said.

In addition, Marilynn Bell of the Harrison County Heritage Council said she was seeking to raise money to buy the house from the city and county.

"I believe if enough people will step up and support it, we can purchase it," Bell said. "Now, we might have some convincing to do with the fiscal court."

Harrison County Judge-Executive Alex Barnett said he didn't know whether the city and county would want to sell the house.

"If it was sold, it would have to be removed from the property, I would think. That would be my first gut reaction," Barnett said. "I don't know if we would want to lose all control over something in the middle of our park."

On the other hand, Barnett said, "I would rather see it sold and moved than destroyed. I would love to see the house preserved. My family, we've been in Harrison County since 1790, and there's a lot of history here. I hate to lose history. But I fully understand all the concerns of fiscal court."

VanMeter said he wasn't interested in moving the house. "I would be interested in purchasing the property and the surrounding acreage," he said.

VanMeter and City Commissioner Jack Keith spoke Monday about the issue. Keith said there was interest among his fellow commissioners to sell the house.

"One of my concerns, quite honestly, has been that it's a money pit," Keith said. "But if it can be preserved, and if these people will do it and take responsibility for its preservation, then we will sell it to them."

Barnett said the city and county had owned the Handy House for 12 years, "and nothing has happened to it."

"The fiscal court hates to see anything torn down, but we have to look out financially for the future of the county," Barnett said. "We just invested $1.3 million in our courthouse to do a total renovation of that.

"I wish we could come to a good solution on this, but I'm not sure what it's going to be."