Change, I think, is one of the most difficult things to accept in life, yet it is a constant force (just like death and taxes). Change moves and works on the landscape around us like the tide, ceaselessly lapping and ever so slightly shifting, until one day – everything is completely different. In March 2015, I watched demolition crews fencing off another section of what is known as the “State Street” neighborhood off of South Limestone. I wondered about the stories of those houses before the neighborhood became almost entirely a rental zone. Soon, the bungalows and Cape Cods tumbled down (14 parcels in all), in a choreographed dance known as development, as the land was cleared for a new Shriner’s Hospital.
I wasn’t quite proactive enough in my documentation (as a land-grant university, UK doesn’t have to follow city permitting laws, so there was no documentation of these houses by the city, as would be the case in any other demolition), but I managed enough to craft a small imprint of the life of each house. I’ll start with my favorite.
Rodes Addition to the city of Lexington was recorded in the city plat book in 1914. It was located on the west side of South Limestone, and ran from State Street to Waller Avenue. It encompassed 135 parcels, and was described as a “high-class residential district.” Sewers, electric lines, sidewalks, and other improvements were underway by the summer of 1914. World War I slowed down construction, but by 1920, the houses along South Limestone – large, stylish American Foursquare dwellings with front porches and nice deep lots – were occupied. Almost all of them were brick, with basements and airy attics, large windows, and a prime location. A young professor from Minnesota, by the name of William Dorney Valleau, his wife Marion, and their baby son Edward, came to Lexington in 1919, after Dr. Valleau returned home from serving in Europe.
Dr. Valleau was a plant pathologist with a keen interest in plant diseases. He was in the right place for his research, as his career at the University of Kentucky spanned the heyday of the burley tobacco industry in Kentucky. His home, too, was perfectly situated – close to groceries, schools – and right across the street from his office. The Valleau family – baby Edward would be joined by four more siblings – made their home at 1041 South Limestone from 1923 to 1955.
In the 1940s, Dr. Valleau saved Kentucky’s tobacco industry. Or as the Lexington Herald-Leader put it, he saved “the tobacco industry in the state from near extinction.” In 1948, Progressive Farmer magazine named Valleau “Man of the Year in Kentucky Agriculture.” Valleau’s contribution? He developed several tobacco cultivars resistant to black rot, a fungal disease that could decimate fields of tobacco and ruin a farming family.
Dr. Valleau and his family moved in the mid-1950s, but his house on South Limestone would remain a home until the 1970s, when it was divided into apartments. The neighboring Foursquares that were also part of the Rodes Addition plat followed a similar pattern, and conditions began to deteriorate over the next three decades, as UK’s housing needs began to outstrip what the school provided.
South Limestone grew into a medical corridor, and the mixed use neighborhood – one with single family homes, apartment buildings, and stores – gave way to a type of blight known as demolition by neglect. Much as traces of the tobacco industry have disappeared from Lexington – few tobacco warehouses now remain, as their sites sprout condominiums – the sense of this neighborhood as one where UK professionals lived and worked, and raised their families, has vanished as well. I don’t think there is a cultivar resistant to this type of black rot, only that some people may note a neighborhood’s passing, and records its stories in one way or another.