Gardens to Gables

Demolition Files: Versailles High School, Woodford County, Kentucky, 1927-2017

I detoured off of the bypass around Versailles yesterday afternoon to drive through town  – bypasses aren’t known for their pleasing aesthetics. After dilly-dallying a bit, I set off for Lexington, and caught in a dense row of cars heading east,  I couldn’t stop when I saw the bulldozers chomping through the brick building that had once been Versailles High School, at the corner of  Lexington and Maple Streets. Built in 1927-28, the school was demolished on December 19, 2017.

The Maple Street elevation of the old Versailles High School, most recently used as the Woodford County Middle School.

The local school board sold the building in 2006, and it has been vacant since that time. While a number of alternate uses were proposed over the years, nothing came to fruition. The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation included the school on their 2015 Eleven Endangered list, but according to some sources, the price demanded for the building was simply too high, and no parking space was included.

And is so often the case in our consumer culture – the two-story brick brick building was torn down.

Undated postcard of Versailles High School from the postcard collection at the University of Kentucky. A.B. “Happy” Chandler, later governor of Kentucky, coached the football team during the 1922 and 1923 seasons – before this building was constructed.

During a visit to Versailles in August, I stopped and took photographs of the building, fearing its inevitable destruction.

Red brick, with stone accents, and influenced by any number of architectural styles, the building was a physical manifestation of a time when schools were community resources. Students walked to school – and the role of the school building (and the role of education) was underscored by the size, scale, and even the materials of the building.

Looking west at the rear of the school.

When Versailles High School was built, in 1927, compulsory high school education hadn’t been around that long in Kentucky – only since 1908. The Progressive Era of the late 19th and early 20th century stressed the importance of high school for everyone (almost everyone) and the value of education.

THe freshman class of Versailles High School, 1939. Image from the Lafayette Studios Collection at the University of Kentucky.

Although I look at the Versailles High School and see a monument to education, I also know it was just a veneer. That education, in such a handsome, well-built building, was only for white students. Kentucky subscribed to the “separate but equal” system for a long time, but education and educational facilities for African Americans were rarely equal to those provided for white students.

Maple Street entrance to the school.

Additions to Versailles High School followed in quick succession – the south wing in 1938, the renovation of the north wing 10 years later, and the addition of a gym in 1952. Finally, in 1982, the school underwent another renovation and addition. At that time, it appears the building was serving as the Woodford County Middle School, as the high schools in the county had consolidated in 1963.

A secondary entrance on the Lexington Road side of the school.

Spaces matter. Design and form of buildings matter. I wasn’t lucky enough to attend high school in a building steeped in history like the former Versailles High School – wide hallways, rooms flooded with natural light, and a exterior that seems to express the gravity and merit in learning.

So, I add this building to my demolition files, shaking my head over the waste and lost opportunities, but hoping that it lives on in the hearts of its former students and staff.

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One Thought on “Demolition Files: Versailles High School, Woodford County, Kentucky, 1927-2017

  1. Brandon Nichols on December 20, 2017 at 11:34 pm said:

    I tried very hard to save this property. The owning bank would not relent. There was also a major $13 million addition in 1995 that added two state-of-the- art science labs, 3 classrooms, and a computer lab.In it’s final year of use (2005-2006) the facility was actually Simmons Elementary (not Woodford County Middle School. The new Middle School opened in Fall of 2004 and Simmons used the old building while theirs under went a serious remodel. I have all of the history of the building if you would like to discuss.

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