One of the things I love most about England is the sense of timelessness you get when hiking somewhere like the Lake District. The landscape seems so permanent and stable, subject only to grazing sheep and the forces of nature. I feel the opposite in the tiny world that forms most of my Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 life – particularly the area around the University of Kentucky, where I work. The landscape is ever pulsing and changing – mostly from demolitions and new construction. And in this landscape, I see dead buildings. (Yes, I stole that line from The Sixth Sense. And I like it so much I might make a t-shirt out of it.)
Earlier this spring, while attending an event at the Singletary Center, I noticed one forlorn house on the opposite side of Linden Walk from where we parked. As I glanced around, all I saw were parking spaces and this one sad bungalow. I’m not sure of the exact date of its death, but its demise was speedy and well-planned.
Although I know that the University is ruthless in expanding its territory (and countless neighborhoods faded away to the tune of chomping bulldozers during the 20th century), the obliteration of this block (save for one Dutch Colonial house that is not owned by UK) still seems brutal. And that was when I noticed, if I squinted in a particular way (especially while looking into the sun), that I could see dead buildings. (Oh, I am having fun with this.)
This area of Lexington was developed as part of the Aylesford Subdivision, platted in 1904. The heart of the new Aylesford Subdivision was the stunning 1850s Gothic Revival home known as Elley Villa, which still stands in the 300 block of Linden Walk.
The promoters of this new development hailed the subdivision’s proximity to town, large lots, and careful landscaping. A 1906 advertisement in the Lexington Herald-Leader proclaimed the benefits of buying a lot in the Aylesford Subdivision, among them “because you are protected in Aylesford by wise building restrictions.”
It proved a popular subdivision! The 400 block of Linden Walk was, by 1934, completely developed with a mixture of Free Classic cottages (like the one at 424 Linden Walk, above), Colonial Revival and Dutch Colonial Revival houses (with neat classical columns, tidy yards, and gambrel roofs), and of course, a smattering of bungalows. It was, as a 1907 advertisement boasted, “the most successful subdivision ever opened in Lexington.”
Long before UK’s rentless march across its adjacent residential neighborhoods, Linden Walk was home to teachers and professionals. William Carroll, who taught at the University, and his wife Cassie, lived at 411 Linden Walk. The sweet cottage at 424 Linden Walk was home to the widowed Ruth Depew and her daughter Elizabeth, a public school teacher. Insurance agents, bankers, clerks – all bought into the dream that was this bustling and lovely subdivision. The little bungalow that outlasted all its companions was home for many years to Daniel B. Morris, a horse trainer, and his wife Ellen.
The tide turned slowly. By the mid-20th century, most homes were still owner-occupied. Professor Carroll still lived at 411 Linden Walk. Salesman, teachers, an engineer – all strolled the “best streets and walks in the city.” In 1981, the block “retained its charm,” despite the loss of a few houses and the introduction of a parking lot and some modern apartment buildings.
The funeral dirges increased in this past decade. As a land-grant university, UK is essentially a state institution, and is therefore not bound by local regulations and ordinances. If a structure is in the way, there is no need to check with the city or wait (a paltry 30 days) so the building, if it is historic, can be documented. The university’s will is law.
The 400 block of Linden Walk will likely never again be a neighborhood. When I stand on a parking lot like the ones in that block, and imagine the lines of a roof of a house, or a front porch, or backyard gardens where someone coaxed tomatoes into early fruit, and a sidewalk where a baby took tottering first steps – these are the ghosts I see. And I wonder if anyone else ever senses their presence. Ghosts of neighborhoods – all around us.