Dozens of local residents, out-of-town visitors and dignitaries gathered Monday to celebrate the dedication of a new historic marker at the Willis Russell House on Walnut Street.
Willis Russell, a well-educated and emancipated slave of Revolutionary War Capt. Robert Craddock, relocated from Warren County to Danville about April 1838. He taught African-American children in the pre-1795 log home he inherited when Craddock died in 1837.
Russell was educated in Craddock’s home by French soldier Peter Tardiveau, a political interpreter for Gen. George Rogers Clark. Both Craddock and Tardiveau were members of The Political Club, which petitioned for Kentucky statehood.
After years of fundraising and planning efforts, Kentucky Historical Highway Marker No. 2386 was unveiled in Russell, Craddock and Tardiveau’s honor Monday just outside of the historic house.
State Rep. Mike Harmon, R-Junction City, Danville Mayor Bernie Hunstad and City Commissioners James “J.H.” Atkins and Kevin Caudill were the elected officials in attendance.
D. Laurence Rogers of Bay City, Mich., also participated in the marker dedication. Rogers visited Danville to speak at the Boyle County Public Library about his new book, "Apostles of Equality: The Birneys, the Republicans and the Civil War.” The work is a biography about nationally-known former slave owner and abolitionist James Birney of Danville.
Atkins, a longtime educator, said he was pleased to see the marker finally unveiled.
“It really highlights the struggle of African-Americans in this country to get a great education, but the marker also shows the value of educating all African-Americans,” Atkins said.
Barbara Hulette, chairwoman of Boyle Landmark Trust, said she is “eternally grateful” for the community support that turned the marker from a wish into a reality.
“I just think this marker is another example of a public-private partnership doing great work,” Caudill said.
“Unfortunately, the Willis Russell House probably would be gone by now if not for the passion and dedication of some local folks, and the state has recognized and rewarded this effort with a marker that will explain the home's place in history for years to come.”
Becky Riddle, Kentucky Historical Marker program coordinator, said unveiling the Willis Russell House marker offered her a chance to meet Danville area residents who care about local history.
The program, which started in 1949, is administered by the Kentucky History Society in cooperation with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.
“We have at least one marker in every county, which tells Kentucky’s story through the people, places and events that have shaped local communities across the commonwealth,” Riddle said.
Thanks to modern technology, people all over the world also can enjoy the historic markers online at www.history.ky.gov/markers and via the free Explore Kentucky History smartphone application available through iTunes and Google Play.