Tom Eblen

Lexington’s East End, Gardenside areas celebrate histories Sunday

The building at 340 E. Third St. that has been Smith & Smith funeral home since 1954 was built in 1866 by Winn Gunn, a white man who sold lots behind it to newly freed slaves. The house was later bought by Ellen Davis, a formerly enslaved woman. Her former white master, John T. Hughes, had fathered her child and left her much of his estate when he died in 1924. It is part of a new historic neighborhood map project that will be discussed at 4 p.m. June 26 at the Lyric Theatre.
The building at 340 E. Third St. that has been Smith & Smith funeral home since 1954 was built in 1866 by Winn Gunn, a white man who sold lots behind it to newly freed slaves. The house was later bought by Ellen Davis, a formerly enslaved woman. Her former white master, John T. Hughes, had fathered her child and left her much of his estate when he died in 1924. It is part of a new historic neighborhood map project that will be discussed at 4 p.m. June 26 at the Lyric Theatre. teblen@herald-leader.com

Two Lexington neighborhoods built more than a century apart will host public celebrations Sunday afternoon to honor reminders of their heritage and identity.

One celebration is the East End, which developed after the Civil War as a place where freed slaves could buy houses. It later became home to a growing black middle class, including several doctors and two famous musicians. After decades of decline, the East End is now rebounding with new energy and investment.

The Martin Luther King and William Wells Brown neighborhood associations are sponsoring a program at 4 p.m. at the Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third Street, called Gathering Our History: An East End Historic Preservation Project.

There will be a presentation about several houses important to East End history, and a map and information booklet will be distributed. Food prepared from 1800s cookbooks will be served.

The event also will honor four ladies who embody the neighborhood’s living history. Florence King, who recently celebrated her 100th birthday and is thought to be the East End’s oldest resident, has lived there more than 60 years. Ella Bosley and Fannie Kendrick, both 94, are longtime residents, as is Leora Searcy, who has spent all of her 82 years there.

The history project focused on modest homes rather than several mansions.

“The big houses have had their recognition,” said Thomas Tolliver, who helped research and organize the program and lives in a Third Street house built in 1901 by Dr. T.T. Wendell, a prominent black physician.

But Tolliver will talk about the mansion at 362 N. Martin Luther King Blvd., which was built in 1847 by white lawyer George Kinkead. After the Civil War, he created Kinkead Town, a neighborhood for blacks, behind it. (Most of Kinkead Town was lost in the 1980s when Elm Tree Lane was extended.)

Since 1968, the Kinkead mansion has been home to the Living Arts & Science Center, which recently finished a $5 million expansion. That is significant, Tolliver said.

“They could have moved anywhere in Lexington they wanted to, but they decided to stay on Martin Luther King and expand,” he said. “That speaks volumes.”

Two houses in the project share a common history.

Ellen Davis bought the modest brick cottage at 335 Chestnut Street in 1886 after builder Garrett Wilgus (whose early 1800s house is nearby) sold off lots in his brickyard to create a black neighborhood.

Before the Civil War, Davis had been enslaved to wealthy horseman John T. Hughes, who fathered her son and acknowledged paternity. When Hughes died in 1924, he left Davis much of his estate, making her a wealthy woman.

She bought and moved to a more stately house around the corner at 340 E. Third Street, which since the 1950s has been Smith & Smith funeral home. She lived there until her death in 1927 and her son stayed until his death in 1935.

That house was built in 1866 for Winn Gunn, a white man who sold off lots behind it to blacks after the Civil War. Several of those houses remain in what used to be called Gunn Town.

Other buildings featured in the map and booklet include 234 Eastern Ave., a charming 1871 Italianate cottage that belonged to Edward Dudley Brown, a black jockey who became a prominent horse trainer.

I believe how the East End develops over the next 10-15 years will determine what kind of neighborhood we have for the next 100 years.

Thomas Tolliver, East End resident

A few doors down, at 216 Eastern Ave., is a late 1800s house that belonged to a physician whose daughter, Julia Perry, became one of the 20th century’s most accomplished black female composers and conductors. (A recently demolished shotgun house across the street was the childhood home of jazz great Les McCann.)

Tolliver hopes calling attention to modest but historically significant buildings in the East End will help homeowners and landlords appreciate and take better care of them. He also wants to make sure they aren’t lost in the area’s rapid redevelopment.

“I believe how the East End develops over the next 10-15 years will determine what kind of neighborhood we have for the next 100 years,” Tolliver said. “Improvement is good, but we don’t want to push out poor people. One of our greatest assets is our diversity, and I don’t want to lose that.”

Thanks to sponsors including Community Ventures Corp. and the Kresge Foundation, the program is free and open to the public.

Also Sunday, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., the Gardenside Neighborhood Association will host a celebration to dedicate the restored 1959 bus shelter at the corner of Alexandria and Darien drives.

The shelter, a mid-century modern landmark, recently got a $42,000 restoration thanks to the association and Art in Motion, a non-profit group founded by lawyer Yvette Hurt that has organized construction of several artistic bus stops around Lexington. The shelter also has a new feature: a beautiful ceramic mosaic mural by the noted local glass artist Guy Kemper.

The free public celebration will include food trucks, kids’ activities and dance performances by Casa de la Cultura Hispana de Lexington, reflecting the 1960s suburb’s recent evolution as Latino immigrants have moved into the neighborhood.

If you go

Gathering Our History: An East End Historic Preservation Project, 4 p.m. Sunday, Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third St.

Gardenside Neighborhood Association celebration, 2-5 p.m. Sunday, restored bus shelter, Alexandria and Darien drives.

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