I typically don’t like to write about buildings I’ve never seen in person – the experience of cataloging a house in my head as my eyes dart over its various components, and walking through its rooms, imbues a meaning that goes far beyond the facade (and what can be seen in a photograph). That said, the demolition I read about this past weekend encourages a bending of my personal guidelines on this issue. The Judge John Boyle House, constructed around 1815, ended up a pile of rubble recently, making way for a new house to be built on its site.
Now, I’m a native Kentuckian. I’m a native rural Kentuckian, who grew up on a farm, in a county with no zoning outside of the county seat. Property rights are sacrosanct in rural Kentucky – and I am well-versed in how dearly they are held. But seriously? Really? In the age of reclaimed lumber being labeled as “sexy” and HGTV shows promoting the “redo” of older homes, the only possible venue for the property owners was to invite the bulldozer to the party?
The Boyle Landmark Trust waged a valiant effort to persuade the owners to not demolish the house. But, as my regular readers know, being listed in the National Register of Historic Places does not place any restrictions on private property owners.
And since demolition permits in Boyle County do not carry a waiting period – assuming that demolition permits are even required outside of the city limits – the owners’ desire to have just the building site they wanted faced no impediment. So the 200-year old house, home of one of Kentucky’s “most distinguished lawyers and politicians” and the fellow for which the county is named, returned to the earth from which its bricks were fired.
Was the Boyle House worth saving because of Judge Boyle? I don’t know. What I do know is that this story is all too common in Kentucky, and it is the worst kind of waste. Will the home built to “replace” the Boyle House still be standing in 200 years? Based on my knowledge of modern construction standards, and I know a fair bit about the industry, I would venture a definitive no.
Does this story make you angry? Sad? Sick to your stomach? Then do something – join a local preservation organization, encourage your local elected officials to consider demolition stays on historic properties of a certain age,* become an advocate for Kentucky’s historic places and buildings.
And I am going to look into what it would take to form a Preservation SWAT Team – trained architectural historians who could go into a building, and in a day, document the physical structure, then conduct the research to tell the rest of the story of that resource. This, of course, depends on the owners letting the SWAT team have access to the site – the sort of documentation that lasts can’t be done while trespassing.
The compiled documentation might not result in saving a threatened building, but it would preserve a better record of it than we have of the Judge John Boyle House, or countless other demolished buildings across Kentucky. The local library would get a hard copy, and a copy would live on-line, accessible to anyone interested in the stories of the lost. Who knows? Maybe I’ll form a non-profit that you can make a donation to – and help save some vestige of our irreplaceable history.
*For example, properties over 50 years of age in Fayette County are subject to a 30-day holding period when a demolition permit is submitted, so that the property can be documented if such a study is deemed appropriate. This type of permit-associated delay could be tied to National Register listing, and could be as short as 10 days – provided that my Preservation SWAT team could swoop in and carry out the documentation in that time period.