Downtown has come a long way

By Philip Case Published:

Editor’s note: This column was first published prior to the Candlelight Tour in 2010. I’ve made a few minor alterations, but pretty much it’s as it was then. It just seems that every year, about Candlelight Tour Time, I get a bit nostalgic about downtown and what it was like when the Candlelight Tour began…

Susan and I bought an old house on the corner of Clinton and Ann streets right before Christmas 1976 – several years before the first Candlelight Tour.

To say that it was in sad shape is to dally with understatement but it was connected to a lovely place occupied by the late Freda and Mary Louise Dryer, both retired school teachers. Today, Mike Hawkins has his law offices on the “Dryers’ side,” as we called it.

We paid $24,000 for the house, thinking we’d cut a tremendous deal getting the owner down from $24,500! Both Clark and Megan were born while we lived at 418 Ann Street and we worked on restoring it until we moved to the country just west of beautiful Bridgeport in 1986.

Larry and Jane Chancellor Moore bought the house in ‘86 and have done nothing but improve on what we’d done. Tragically, Jane died a in the spring of 2010 following a short illness. Larry continues updating the house.

That house stands as testimony to the odyssey of downtown Frankfort and I use it here as an example of what can rise from almost the dust of neglect. I won’t go into the details but the corner of Ann and Clinton today looks nothing like it did in 1976.

Nor does Broadway … or Main … or St. Clair.

Stand on the front porch of 418 Ann Street today and you look at the back of the Kentucky History Center and the lovely landscaped area there. Across the way is the updated Old Governor’s Mansion where Steve and Jane Beshear lived then when he served as lieutenant governor.

I was proud then and I think I’m even prouder – and perhaps more humbled – on this Sunday morning to have been part of that journey – the revitalization of downtown Frankfort when we were young.

We didn’t buy 418 Ann Street with any great pie-in-the-sky notions about restoration – we bought it because it was all we could afford to buy! The thing about old, historic properties – whether used as residences, businesses or offices – is you become a part of them and they become part of you, it’s as if your souls become entwined.

I know that’s how the Moores felt and feel about Ann Street and Larry updates me regularly when he sends in information about exhibits at the gallery that bears his late wife’s name.

After sharing some of his plans for the house now that his beloved Jane is gone, he wrote – and my eyes moisten as I share it with you: “I’m taking care of your place, Brother!” Following an exhibit last year of his own photography, he gave me a framed copy of a picture he took of 418 Ann Street.

It hangs by my desk at home as we speak. I can live in a lot of houses in a lot of places, but a portion of my heart will always be there unlike anywhere else.

The vagaries of life take all of us on journeys unplanned to places we never intended to go, but one thing I’ve found is if you have ever owned – or even just lived in and loved – an old property, you never leave it and it never leaves you!

Yes, Larry and Jane’s names are on the deed, but 418 Ann Street “belongs” in a sense to all of us who have ever lived there from its beginning – and perhaps more appropriately we all “belong” to it. It’s entirely appropriate for Larry to call it “our place” because a place like that “belongs” to more than just the current occupants.

I’m sure all those who took the risk to buy an old building and open a business in the virtual “slum” that was Broadway across from the Old Capitol in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s feel the same. It would have been so much easier, so very much, to rent a storefront in a strip mall on the edge of town where there’s plenty of parking and no pigeons in the attic.

But that wasn’t where their lives took them anymore than it took us to a lovely little bungalow in a Frankfort subdivision. Sure, during the renovation there were days we would have gladly gone anywhere else but most of the time we were glad we hadn’t!

This week we have four days to “celebrate downtown” and to walk among and shop in these old giants that are hard to cool and next to impossible to heat because of their huge rooms and soaring ceilings, where no matter what you do an icy finger of air finds a water pipe in mid January – but where each day, in some little way, you “feel” the presence of those who’ve gone before allowing you to almost “see” through the eyes of the home or building into the past, into days long gone.

Thanks, Candlelight Tour for reminding me just how much I love downtown Frankfort. We’ve gone south now, across the river to a lovely OLD place overlooking the New Capitol dome, but a portion of our hearts will always live in the shadow of the Old Capitol, “living downtown” before living downtown was in.

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  • Hey lady....downtown Frankfort is dead and has nothihg to offer