Preservationist architect works on local projects

January 29, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

Joseph Opperman phones on his way between Perryville and Danville. He has about 10 minutes that he can spend to answer questions about his businesses before a meeting with a contractor at McDowell House.

He spends that 10 minutes talking, not about his business or himself, but about how much he loves to work in Kentucky, especially in Perryville and Danville.

He lives in Winston-Salem, N.C., but he works here and there and, really, everywhere from the East Coast to Galveston, Texas, as a preservation architect.

"Joe Opperman is probably the most qualified preservation architect in the South," said Jim Thomas, chief executive officer and president of Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill.


Opperman first came to Kentucky in 1988 to look at the Pope House in Lexington after a major fire. The house was designed by Benjamin Latrobe, who worked on the White House and U.S. Capitol. Opperman was hired to restore the Pope House.

From there he was hired to work on the Water Tower, next to 1860 Water Works in Louisville, and then on the state capitol building and the old Governor's mansion, which is one of the oldest in the country.

In the late 1980s, he made his first trip to Central Kentucky to look at Old Centre at Centre College. He now has worked on a menagerie of historic places in Boyle County, including Merchants' Row in Perryville and most recently McDowell House.

Carol Senn, executive director of McDowell House, said she felt fortunate to have such a qualified person as Opperman work on the project.

"Very often consultants speak a language you don't understand, but Joe is very down to earth," she said.

They are doing a complete report on McDowell House

Opperman and his manager of the McDowell House project, Jenny Plocher, are doing a complete structure report on McDowell House, solving moisture problems in the cellar and replacing the heating and air conditioning system with one that is museum-quality.

Opperman and Plocher said it is projects that keeps them coming back to Kentucky.

It is a 3 1/2 hour flight to Lexington or Louisville from Winston-Salem. They will make the trip two or three times a month, visiting each of their Kentucky projects while they are here.

Plocher said the state is relatively unhampered by development and an out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new philosophy that surrounds other parts of the country with historic buildings.

"Kentucky really is kind of like a time capsule," she said.

Perryville, Opperman believes, is one of the most pristine of any of the Civil War sites because the community looks relatively close to what it did during the period.

Not only are the two impressed with the kinds of buildings there are to work on, but also how proud the people in Kentucky are of those buildings.

"You can tell that people here appreciate what they have," Plocher said.

Thomas, who has admired a number of Opperman's projects, believes Kentucky is lucky to have Opperman.

"Very few people in the country have that kind of depth and breadth of understanding of historical structures," he said. "Kentucky is lucky to have him even on a part-time basis."

Joseph K. Opperman, Architect is located at 539 Trade St., Winston-Salem, N.C. and can be reached at (336) 721-1711.

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