Gardens to Gables

Safeguarding the Past: Hayward Wilkirson, Preservation Advocate

In 1970, Lucy Coleman Johnston Graves confronted a bulldozer about to tear down a house on West High Street in Lexington, Kentucky. The photograph made The New York Times, and further cemented Graves’ reputation as a determined preservationist. Forty-five years later, the organization she helped found bestowed its 2015 Lucy Graves Advocacy Award to another passionate, hardworking preservationist, my friend Hayward Wilkirson.

Hayward Wilkirson, recipient of the 2015 Lucy Graves Advocacy Award.

Hayward Wilkirson, recipient of the 2015 Lucy Graves Advocacy Award.

I can’t think of a better recipient of the Lucy Graves Advocacy Award. The first stories I heard about the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation centered on Lucy Graves, and her determination, energy, and indomitable spirit. I don’t imagine Mrs. Graves sought the headlines for the sake of publicity – she was fighting to save the culture and historic fabric of her community. And Hayward, who received the award on Sunday, June 21, 2015, has never sought the limelight – but worked, constantly, in a myriad of ways, to protect the built environment of Lexington.

The Hunt-Morgan House was saved by the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation in 1955 - the group founded by Lucy Graves and her husband Joseph.

The Hunt-Morgan House was saved by the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation in 1955 – the group founded by Lucy Graves and her husband Joseph.

I’ve known Hayward for years, as we both swim in the tiny pool that is historic preservation in Kentucky. Every advocate and champion of a cause brings something different to the table  – and Hayward is one of the best well-rounded preservationists I’ve ever met. A native of Lexington, Hayward grew up on the family farm at what is now the corner of Richmond Road and Man O’War. He has experienced the effects of Lexington’s sprawl firsthand.  After graduating from Transylvania University, he worked in Nicaragua, Mexico, New York, and Tennessee, helping communities and groups organize, focus, and achieve. He brought that experience home to Lexington, and this community is far better for it.

Hayward has worked hard to preserve historic dwellings, and also their neighborhoods.

Hayward has worked hard to preserve historic dwellings, and also their neighborhoods.

“I love architecture, as both something that can be appreciated aesthetically and as something that should be understood as a sort of incarnation of human culture at a given point in time,” said Wilkirson. “I’m a preservationist because I want to protect and celebrate the aesthetic richness of our built environment. And I’m a preservationist because I believe in safeguarding the historical and cultural understanding that is embodied in the built environment.”

Wilkirson has owned two historic houses in two of Lexington's H-1 neighborhoods.

Wilkirson has owned two historic houses in two of Lexington’s H-1 neighborhoods. Stilfield is the oldest log house in Lexington still on its original parcel.

During the painful and bitter struggle to preserve the buildings on the block now known as CentrePit, I was impressed by Hayward’s even keel and calm approach to issues that infuriated me. Emotion is necessary, but the thoughtful harnessing of emotion is even more important when you are an advocate. He didn’t give up, and he didn’t give way to cynicism. I witnessed him motivate a group of disparate individuals to work together for a common goal, and then just as easily, talk with the opposition with courtesy and a measured calmness.

Part of Morton's Row, one of the oldest commercial buildings in Lexington, this building was demolished for CentrePointe.

Part of Morton’s Row, one of the oldest commercial buildings in Lexington, this building was demolished for CentrePointe.

“In recent years, we have had some terrible losses. And CentrePointe being the example that most quickly springs to my mind,” said Wilkirson. “But at the same time we have had some amazing successes. I choose to be optimistic, and believe that the enlightened people who see value in preserving, for example, the Peoples Bank, will prevail over those who are all too willing to discard our culture and our history in the name of some nebulous and outmoded sense of progress.”

The rear elevation of the Peoples Bank Building, one of the more recent preservation campaigns in Lexington.

The rear elevation of the Peoples Bank Building, one of the more recent preservation campaigns in Lexington.

Preservation in America straddles a seesaw of emotions, mirroring the relative youth of our country, as well as the deeply entrenched principles of property rights. We are a perfect illustration of the preservation dichotomy – many Kentuckians are proud of the state’s history and heritage, but also leery of any government efforts involving the preservation of historic sites, buildings, and landscapes. Preservation comes down to individuals, and the efforts and passion they donate to the movement. I’m thankful for all of these people, past and present, and delighted that preservation community has recognized such a stalwart and committed advocate as Hayward.

 

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