Another 'Good' Demolition Permit: 736 N. Limestone

I've been asked about a lot about my #DemolitionWatch posts. Isn't it best that some of these buildings be demolished? There's not much value to the little run-down structure, so why save it? Do you favor saving every building? Are you opposed to progress?

Well, at least the #DemolitionWatch posts seem to get people's attention. And maybe they'll start a conversation. I hope that the posts don't simply become a case of the boy that cried wolf. There are significant properties that can and should be saved on #DemolitionWatch. Examples include the Peoples Bank (here, here, and here) and the Sanders House which was regrettably demolished in the waning days of May 2015.

Other properties won't be saved. But saving every shotgun really isn't the goal, nor is it possible.

The Janitor at Transylvania

There are a few goals. First, I hope that readers begin to recognize the significance of the once prevalent shotgun as an example of an architectural style. Second, the places being demolished were once the places where real Kentuckians lived or worked. Historical accounts of Lexington are sure to note the Gideon Shryock-designed Morrison Hall on the campus of Transylvania University, but those same accounts are equally likely to ignore the story of the janitor who worked at Transylvania.* And third, to recognize that every place matters.

(As is often the case, a peculiar thought or search term online uncovers and begets amazing information. Apparently, the janitor of Transylvania's Medical Hall did make the history books. His name was Absalom Driver. A future post indeed!)

William Murtagh, the first keeper of the National Register of Historic Places once said that "the past [belongs] to anyone who is aware of it, and it grows by being shared." While sharing tangible reminders of our past remains the first choice because the physical connection to our past is irreplaceable, knowledge of our past and the sharing of that knowledge is also critical.

Without that knowledge, a community might lose its bearings. It may forget its true past and its legacy.

736 North Limestone

Case in point: 736 N. Limestone. The circa 1905 duplex was the home of laborers. The property, under demolition, is part of the LuigART rebirth of this once blighted area. The project intends to "create beautiful, historically-sensitive structures, spaces, streetscapes, and community that reflect and augment the character of the community." It will offer important live/work space for area residents. I mentioned this project in a prior post on Rediscovering Eddie Street. The 'demolition permit' will allow for positive change.

According to the 1911 city directory, 736 N. Limestone was the home of Joseph and Hattie Fish. According to the directory, he was a laborer. The couple had moved by the following year's directory around the corner to 122 Eddie Street. In the 1920 census, a Joseph Fish lived on Eddie Street alone. And even the Lexington Leader's 'colored notes' are silent about Mr. and Mrs. Fish.

The 1921 directory finds Benjamin and Lena Bibbs residing at 736 N. Limestone. Like Joe Fish, Ben Bibbs was a laborer. But unlike Mr. Fish, Benjamin Bibbs was a "well-known citizen" when he died in 1931. The Leader reported that services for him were held at the Consolidated Baptist Church and that he was buried in a family plot at the Greenwood cemetery.

The Notable Kentucky African American Database recognizes Mr. Bibbs with the following notation: "Benjamin Bibbs (b.1880) was a shoe shiner at N Y Hat Cleaners (1931 directory). According to his WWI draft registration card, Bibbs had been a tinner at State University on Limestone [now University of Kentucky], and he and Lena Bibbs lived at 167 E. 7th Street." It would seem that The Bibbs family lived in various homes in the neighborhood and the family name frequented the Leader's 'colored notes.'

Every place has a story.