Lexington is enjoying national recognition as a go-to city to visit. Sheila Omer Ferrell, Executive Director of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation, has a theory why; “It’s because it’s authentic. An authenticity you do not have to fake or recreate in Lexington, because it exists as-is.”
Ferrell accepted the position nearly eight years ago, bringing a much-needed background in marketing and public relations to the BGT. She spent nearly twenty years doing marketing and special events for Liquor Barn when it was owned by the Rosenstein family. She also has prior experience with marketing with the UK Opera Theater.
She jokes about her career path. “I’ve worked with vintage wine and vintage music, so working with historic property is a natural progression for me,” she said.
While Ferrell does not have a background in preservation, she has been mentored by the best in the business. H. Foster Pettit was a wonderful guide for Ferrell, as is Barbara Hulette, a long-time member at the BGT.
“She is the soul of historic preservation in the state of Kentucky. She has had her heart and her hand on every project with the BGT since she was involved in the ‘70s,” Ferrell said.
The Trust has changed in the nearly eight years since Ferrell joined them, but always in the name of progress. “Change or die, because the world is constantly evolving,” she said.
An Important Mission
The BGT was founded in 1955 by a group of concerned citizens who wanted to save Hopemont, better known as the Hunt-Morgan House, on Mill Street in Gratz Park.
The federal style home was in danger of being bulldozed, a fate that the Hart-Bradford House met right across the street. That home had a rich history. Lucretia Hart, wife of Henry Clay, lived there. John Bradford who started the first newspaper in Lexington also lived in the home at one time.
By the early 1960s, urban renewal was making its way across the country. “Urban renewal was the most decimating thing to historic houses,” Ferrell explained. “Federal money was thrown at cities for highways, and the need for parking lots followed. Many historic homes came down during that period,” Ferrell said.
Despite its historic value, the Hart-Bradford House came down to create space for a parking lot that is still there today on Second Street.
“Parking lots and preservationists are always at odds with one another. I drive a car and I need to park it. We all do,” she said. “But at what price? I think that price was too high to pay for that wonderful house.”
Fortunately, the BGT was able to save the Hunt-Morgan House, and it stands as a testament to the importance of preservation. changing for the better
As a non-profit, BGT does not receive any federal, state or local funding. That is why they are looking for innovative ways to engage the community while supporting the Trust. Currently, BGT is opening their doors and space to the community. Most recently, they provided space to Step by Step, an organization that helps mentor young moms: the organization utilized BGT spaces for a volunteer workshop.
“We are excited to do that type of programming,” Ferrell said.
In 2011 BGT DeTours was launched. It’s an all access pass to homes and business you would otherwise not get a chance to see. Not everything is historic. Some of the stops include newer constructions that have architectural significance. Past tours have included Rupp Arena and Maxwell Place (the home of the UK president).
That is an important part of the evolution of the BGT. The DeTours group is diverse. You will find people from all ages and all backgrounds. It is held the first Wednesday of each month at 5:30pm and is free to the public, all in hopes of engaging our community’s passion for preservation.
“I am happy to continue in that tradition of getting a lot of women and men involved in moving forward to preserve for the next generation."
Another recent tour visited the Grey Construction offices to show guests a prominent example of adaptive reuse. Many people remember the building as Wolf Wile Department store. “Demolition is forever. You can take the architectural plans of an old home and recreate it, but it won’t be the same,” she explained.
Sheila Omer Ferrell is building on the city’s progressive foundation and moving the Trust forward. Ferrell believes success comes down to people. She wants to preserve what is unique and special about the bluegrass.
“It’s a balancing of all who came before me to keep them engaged. They know that it’s still the Trust they know and love, but know the changes we are making are in addition to their work, not in place of,” she explained. “We need to keep all those people and all those worlds in order to move forward. We want the membership of the Trust to truly reflect all people and all economic backgrounds. Everyone is welcome at the Blue Grass Trust. We work hard to make that happen.”•