A yellowing newspaper clipping of the Daniel Yeiser House is passed around a table like an obituary of a departed loved one. The house from the newspaper is now gone. The folks at the table hope to spare other houses from what they consider the same sad fate.
Most sitting at the table are from separate entities, but they share the same goal — to save as many of these architectural gems as possible from a slow death due to neglect or a more sudden demise due to encroaching pavement and a wrecking ball.
May is National Preservation Month. This group is gathered for what might be called a strategy session to plan events to further its goals.
The theme for the National Trust of Historic Preservation, which shares the group’s goals, is “Discover America’s Hidden Gems,” to which the group here might add, “before they are gone.”
Mary Jo Joseph, chairwoman of the Heart of Danville Preservation Committee, noted the recent demolition of two buildings by the Boyle County Public Library primarily to make more room for parking. Before one of the buildings was torn down, someone painted the word “Shame” on the side.
“I don’t know who wrote that, ‘Shame,’ on the building by the library, but that’s how it is sometimes,” Joseph said. “People don’t realize the value of a place until it is too late to save it.”
Joseph co-wrote the book on Danville and Boyle County architecture.
She and Janet Hamner, a former city commissioner, collaborated to turn out an architectural history that is both a compilation of properties to earmark for preservation or a potential hit list if apathy is not addressed.
Barbara Hulette, chairwoman of Boyle Landmark Trust, sits next to William Updike of the city of Danville Architectural Review Board. Also at the table are Brenda Willoughby, interim director of the Heart of Danville; Yvonne Morley, executive secretary of the president of Centre College representing Centre as a member of the preservation board; Amanda England of the preservation committee; and Sandy Griffin, preservation committee member and owner of A Lasting Impression on West Main Street.
Griffin’s business was forced to move when the historic building that had housed it was sold. “It’s a parking lot now,” she said, shaking her head as if speaking of a lost loved one.
Hulette points out that preserving old houses is not purely sentimental.
“It cost $150,000 to tear down the building by the library and then it had to be trucked to a landfill in Lexington where it will sit forever,” she said. “Preservation is ‘green,’ but I don’t think many realize this.”
Preservation attracts not only homebuyers to a community but also business and industry, the group said. Owners of these businesses also factor in quality of life for their own families when selecting a new location.
“It’s not only preservation that is important,” said Updike. “It is also about sensitive design in new construction.”
“Danville is fortunate in having many ‘treasures’ preserved and citizens who realize these treasures give us our sense of place,” said Joseph.
There are 12 historical districts in Danville alone that represent a broad range of eras and designs that, while valuable, are not necessarily on any safe list because there is no such thing.
According to Joseph, the Danville area has had many successes but also faces many challenges. Structures added to the National Registry of Historic Places are not fully protected.
“Only local ordinances can do that,” she said.
Local preservationists are concerned because even though progress and prosperity are necessary and desired, the resulting demand for more parking means parking lots break out downtown, each usually at the cost of an existing — and salvageable — building.
The future of the Centenary United Methodist Church building on Third Street has been in peril for many years and is on a “watch list” that includes Toliver Elementary School, McClure-Barbee House and many others that, without life-saving efforts, may not survive much longer.
Boyle Landmark Trust will open the Willis Russell House to the public 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday to showcase not only the house but also artifacts from an archeological dig completed on the property.
Other events will be an open house at Kentucky School for the Deaf and an architectural treasure hunt with more details to be announced.