Gardens to Gables

The Arts & Preservation: Mt. Sterling’s Gateway Regional Arts Center

Place is very important to most Kentuckians. We identify ourselves not by where we live, but where we are from – or where “our people” are from. I may live and work in Lexington, but I am from Mt. Sterling, and I cheer on efforts in my hometown that make it a more interesting, inclusive, and dynamic community. One of the most exciting ventures began almost 25 years ago – the Gateway Regional Arts Center –  a perfect melding of the humanities and adaptive reuse of a historic building.
One of the galleries in the Gateway Regional Arts Center in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky.

One of the galleries in the Gateway Regional Arts Center in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky.

 A bit of background: Mt. Sterling, the county seat of Montgomery County, is located in the Outer Bluegrass Region of Kentucky, and became known as the “Gateway” to the east, due to its position along several pivotal transportation routes (including the railroad, which arrived in 1872 as the Elizabethtown, Lexington, and Big Sandy – later to be the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad). As the last major retail and trading center before entering the eastern Kentucky mountains, the community enjoyed a long period of growth and prosperity during the 19th century.
South Maysville Street in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky.

South Maysville Street in Mt. Sterling, Kentucky.

My people came to Montgomery County in the 1820s from Fayette County, and settled on the west central side of the county, about two miles in from the Clark County line. Although frugal farmers, they instilled the importance of culture, education, and self-improvement into their children.
A section of the 1879 Beers & Lanagan Atlas of Montgomery County, Kentucky.

A section of the 1879 Beers & Lanagan Atlas of Montgomery County, Kentucky.

When the Montgomery County Council for the Arts was founded in 1991, I perhaps didn’t appreciate it as much as I should. At that time, all I wanted to do was get far away from my familiar environment (oh, those pleasant teenage years). First housed in a storefront on East Main Street, the program benefited from the hard work of many individuals and community organizations, as well as funding from the Kentucky Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Built circa 1883, the former Methodist Episcopal Church South became the Gateway Regional Arts Center, an amazing community effort and admirable adaptive reuse project.

Built circa 1883, the former Methodist Episcopal Church South became the Gateway Regional Arts Center, an amazing community effort and admirable adaptive reuse project.

I lived many hundreds of miles away from Kentucky in 2002 when the Arts Council purchased the former  Methodist Church. The Methodist Episcopal Church South bought the lot in 1827 for $161 and built their church. This structure lasted until 1881, when a new Gothic Revival brick church (above and below photos) was constructed to house the growing congregation.
The west elevation of the church.

The west elevation of the church, with a corbelled cornice and Gothic arched stained glass windows separated by pilasters.

Upon my return to Kentucky, I went to work for the Kentucky Heritage Council, the State Historic Preservation Office, in Frankfort. One of my co-workers came up to me one morning and wanted to know if I was related to a woman he was working with, who was applying for a Save America Treasures  (SAT) grant (if you’ve lived in Central Kentucky for anytime, you are inevitably kin to almost everyone). SAT grants were not easy to come by, especially at that time, when federal aid was shrinking – but the Council for the Arts won the grant, and launched a $1.3 million renovation of the former church.
A view of the interior of the former sanctuary.

A view of the interior of the former sanctuary.

The former church formally opened in 2009 as  three-story arts center with “a large public performance hall, art gallery, gift shop, arts resource library, visual arts classrooms, music rehearsal rooms, artists studio space, offices and basement which includes a small performance cafe, dressing rooms and additional classrooms.”
The church sanctuary, where the students of Mrs. Alice McNew held their piano recitals for many, many years (I suffered through my recitals, though today I am so glad my parents forced me to take lessons…) is now an airy, light-filled space that hosts lectures, concerts, plays, workshops – the offerings at the Gateway Regional Arts Center truly are tremendous.
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On May 17, I attended  a wonderfully delicious Tea and Chocolate Tasting at the Gateway Regional Arts Center. Since my time at Regent’s College as an undergraduate, I’ve been a confirmed hot tea drinker, and subsequent adventures in England have only strengthened my utter devotion to all things tea…and chocolate, of course, is one of the main food groups.
Bruce Richardson, with Elmwood Inn Fine Teas, provided a lively and fascinating overview of tea history, culture, and the subtle nuances of the teas on the menu. The heavenly samples of chocolate came from Mt. Sterling’s own Ruth Hunt Candies, and paired perfectly with the tea.
In 2011-2013, the Gateway Regional Arts Center sponsored an oral history imitative in Montgomery County. Remembering the Gateway was a fascinating project.

In 2011-2013, the Gateway Regional Arts Center sponsored an oral history initiative in Montgomery County. Remembering the Gateway was a fascinating project.

I never would have imagined such a event being held in my hometown while I was growing up. The Gateway Regional Arts Center took an existing historic building, re-purposed it, and in doing so, not only brought new life to that streetscape, but has enhanced the quality of life in the surrounding area. Far from  just being a Gateway to the east, the efforts of the Montgomery County Council for the Arts has shown that you don’t necessarily have to flee your hometown to find culture, theater, art, and an appreciation for the tangible and intangible benefits of learning about the world and its peoples. You can find a Gateway to the wider world right where you are. My frugal ancestors would have approved.
Elizabeth Chandler Prewitt - Ed Rogers Prewitt - Kenny Prewitt
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6 Thoughts on “The Arts & Preservation: Mt. Sterling’s Gateway Regional Arts Center

  1. Janet Johnson on May 22, 2015 at 4:40 pm said:

    Love love this article! You forgot to mention that Janet and Kenner Johnson were married in this historic church before it became the arts center. Haha!

  2. John Oberg on March 10, 2017 at 1:59 am said:

    Is your building – – Mt. Sterling’s Gatewau Regional Arts Center – – what used to be the Methodist Episcopal Church in Miles City? If so, this is where my paternal Grandparents
    were married on September 1st, 1910 bu Rev. Henry A. James. Is there a repository of that church’s history and historical artifacts? If you are NOT the location of what was the Methodist Episcopal Church back in September 1st, 1910, can you tell me where that church is – – if it still stands – – in Miles City? Thanks you in advance by the Oberg Family genealogist, plugging away!

    • Janie-Rice Brother on March 10, 2017 at 10:41 am said:

      Yes, the Arts Center is the old Methodist Church, and would have been the Methodist Church in 1910. I don’t know what sort of archival records the church maintains, but here is an email you could try: office@msfumc.org
      Good luck!

      • John Oberg on March 10, 2017 at 11:16 am said:

        Thank you, Janie-Rice, for the quick response, but I have to check the message I sent originally last night to be sure I asked the right question. And, having checked, I see that I did ask the right question: “Is your building …. what used to be the Methodist Episcopal Church in Miles City?”

        Your answer, though, refers to “… Methodist Church in 1910.” As you probably know, the Methodist Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church refer to two different organizations/churches in the Protestant Christian portion of the Christian religion. And my question asked about the Methodist Episcopal Church, NOT the Methodist Church.

        So, without antagonizing you, would you please re-address my original question in the context of what church organization was, in 1910, in the location of your Mt. Sterling’s Gateway Regional Arts Center in Miles City?

        It is possible that your organization is located where a United Methodist Church used to be located, but I think it may also be true that before the United Methodist Church was located there, a Methodist Episcopal Church was located there. Indeed, it may be that the original building was built by people of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

        Can you ascertain whether the sequence of congregations was more or less as I have
        described in the preceding paragraph?

        Thanks,
        John

        • Janie-Rice Brother on March 11, 2017 at 8:51 am said:

          If you read the post, you will note that it states that the building that now houses the Arts Council was the former Methodist Episcopal Church South. “I lived many hundreds of miles away from Kentucky in 2002 when the Arts Council purchased the former Methodist Church. The Methodist Episcopal Church South bought the lot in 1827 for $161 and built their church. This structure lasted until 1881, when a new Gothic Revival brick church (above and below photos) was constructed to house the growing congregation.” The captions also note that this building was the M.E. Church South. The schism during the Civil War did NOT result in two separate congregations, only this church that allied itself with the southern faction and remained so until the divide ended in the mid-20th century – at which point its “new” name was the United Methodist Church. There is also a historic African American church in town, Keas Tabernacle Methodist Episcopal Church (the building dates to 1883, the congregation to 1878).That about exhaust my knowledge of the Methodists in Mt. Sterling – I’m a Presbyterian, so I really only know cursory historic information on that congregation. You would best be served to contact the church office or the local historical society (though I doubt they have any records). Good luck!

  3. John Oberg on March 11, 2017 at 6:05 pm said:

    Thank you, Janie-Rice!
    Mission accomplished; I see the reference to the Methodist Episcopal Church.
    My Grandparents’ wedding was held there on September 1st, 1910, with Rev. Henry A. James officiating. They are long gone now, but they both referred to the happy wedding they had had there, followed shortly after by their drive overland to California in a new Franklin automobile.
    When I write their story genealogically, I will include some photos I have just recently found of the building.

    Thanks again,
    John

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