Ky. Voices: Ashland is part of city's life, not just its past

The second annual Lighting on the Lawn, which featured a 100-foot-tall, live Norway spruce, was well-attended last month at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, near downtown Lexington.
The second annual Lighting on the Lawn, which featured a 100-foot-tall, live Norway spruce, was well-attended last month at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, near downtown Lexington.

Sadly, the headline is too true. Historic homes are a very endangered species. However, Lexingtonians should be proud that they have made their Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, a healthy exception.

Ashland has not only endured but is finishing one of the most vibrant years ever in the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation's 62-year history. This occurs because of three equally vital factors: the generous continuing support of Lexingtonians, particularly devoted sponsors; the above-and-beyond work ethic of staff and volunteer docents; and the responsible, forward-thinking stewardship of the board of trustees over many decades.

Sustaining Ashland has never been easy, especially today.

The upkeep costs for a 17-acre park and 156-year-old house soar annually. Upgrades of essential infrastructure needs are ongoing. (Look in the home's cellar and you find a 19th-century foundation laced with 21st-century high-tech wiring.) Add the costs of educational and institutional programs, and you have a continuing, daunting challenge.

Ashland faces these tasks without any financial help from city, state or federal agencies (although our mayor, governor, state and federal representatives and senators are strong advocates). And Ashland's endowment, the only lifeline for most surviving historic homes, is less than $1.5 million.

Yet Ashland shines, as a quick review of 2012 will show:

■ Attendance, counter to the cited national trend, is stable, even up by several hundred over 2011.

■ Ashland's commemoration of the Civil War battle fought there 150 years ago was marked by a series of programs and activities, including school visits, a battle re-enactment, a speakers program at Transylvania University, a period-costume ball and a gala concert by the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra at Singletary Center.

At that sold-out event, Itzhak Perlman, the world-renowned violinist, performed and was awarded the Henry Clay Medallion for Statesmanship. (Last year the medallion was awarded to every living speaker of the House. The event drew national attention with current and former speakers John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi and Dennis Hastert attending the presentation at Transylvania University.

■ Ashland had one of its most- attended and successful lawn parties in June, highlighted by a live auction of an Andre Pater pastel masterpiece.

■ The Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship hosted its fifth Student Congress, bringing to Lexington rising college seniors from every state, the District of Columbia and Panama to walk in the Great Compromiser's footsteps.

It was recently announced that the center, part of the Henry Clay Memorial Foundation, will be based and staffed at Transylvania University with support from UK and the center's board of trustees.

■ The Ginkgo Tree, Ashland's May-to-September lunchtime café, reopened, offering new fare to loyal customers, and promises a delectable future.

■ Finally, add these well-attended events including a croquet t ournament on the lawn, Labor Day jazz concert, Christmas tree lighting — fast becoming a tradition — and you have a truly successful year.

So, Lexingtonians, please help us continue to have Ashland enrich our city. Continue to give us your support and possibly add to it. Please join us if you have not in the past. You can do it easily on our website, Henryclay.org.

Thank you for making Ashland a vivid exception to the fate of so many historic homes. When you drive by our brilliant streaming 100-foot Christmas tree, remember it as a sign of endurance, dedication and generosity for us all.