State

Harrison Fiscal Court refuses to reconsider demolishing Handy House

The Handy House, a historic 1800s structure, has been the subject of debate for years. Preservationists want to save the house, but Cynthiana and Harrison County governments have sought to have it demolished.
The Handy House, a historic 1800s structure, has been the subject of debate for years. Preservationists want to save the house, but Cynthiana and Harrison County governments have sought to have it demolished. gkocher1@herald-leader.com

Harrison Fiscal Court on Tuesday refused to reconsider its decision to demolish the historic Handy House.

Versailles attorney Hank Graddy Jr., who represents the Harrison County Heritage Council, a local group that wants the 1800s house saved and restored, said he will talk with members about “legal remedies.”

Asked if those remedies include seeking a court injunction to stop the county and city of Cynthiana from proceeding with demolition, Graddy said: “I think I have no choice but to seek an injunction.”

Preservationists were heartened last week when Lexington entrepreneur Griffin VanMeter offered $10,000 in cash to buy the house from the city and county. VanMeter said he has the assets to renovate the house, which sits atop a hill in a public park owned by local governments.

The Cynthiana City Commission voted 3-2 last week to have a special meeting with Harrison Fiscal Court before the end of July to discuss the house’s future.

At the time of that city meeting, fiscal court had already authorized Judge-Executive Alex Barnett to sign a contract to have the house demolished, and Barnett had signed it. The city commission held its approval of the demolition contract in abeyance until fiscal court made a decision this week on whether to have further discussions.

Graddy and VanMeter addressed fiscal court Tuesday hoping that the magistrates would agree to meet with city commissioners. Bill Johnston, a member of the board of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation, also asked the court to save the house.

“We really do hope you figure out a way to preserve it,” Johnston said.

But on a 5-2 vote, fiscal court rejected those overtures. Magistrates Paula Haviland, Brad Marshall, Sam Pierce, William Fritz and Larry Wells voted no, while Stanley Lemons and Bradley Copes voted yes. Magistrate Scott Herrington was absent.

Selling the house and surrounding acreage “in the middle of the park is like giving someone a bedroom in the middle of your house,” Barnett said after the vote. “You give up all control.”

VanMeter said he was disappointed, but said there is still hope.

“There are still a lot of things that can happen with this,” VanMeter said. “The building still stands. There’s still hope. I think we have to keep on pushing that something positive can happen.”

The house was built in 1818 by William Brown, a veteran of the War of 1812. Union soldiers camped on the farm surrounding the house during the Civil War.

In the 1880s, W.T. Handy owned the farm and raised trotting horses there. After his death, the house became known as the Handy House. Some also refer to it as Ridgeway.

The house was put on National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

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