Danville's Constitution Square changes with HUD projects

July 07, 2008|BRENDA S. EDWARDS

Danville has seen many improvements since it began to receive funds from the federal government for housing, sewer and sanitation projects in the city.

Millions of dollars have been poured into Danville projects through the Housing and Urban Development department, according to articles in The Advocate-Messenger. The program began in 1963 and improvements have been made to housing, city parks, sidewalks and commercial sites.

One of the most noticeable downtown projects includes improvements made at Constitution Square State Historic Site at Main and Second streets, which is the birthplace of Kentucky's statehood.

A portion of First Street was closed and many of the older buildings, once used as a business section for the black community, were razed and some of the more historic structures were renovated.


Historic Grayson's Tavern, Fisher's Row, Alban Goldsmith House, an old school building along with the Russell House (the first school in Kentucky for black children) east of the park were saved and renovated during the urban renewal project that began in the 1970s.

The Governor's Circle was added after the park was enlarged. It features a bronze statue that depicts two friends clasping hands, and has the state seal in the center and a circle of plaques dedicated to Kentucky governors, according to the park's Web site.

Grayson's Tavern was built in 1785 by Benjamin Grayson. The tavern often was the meeting place for the Political Club and the scene of many heated debates about issues concerning statehood. The two-story frame structure currently houses the Convention and Tourism Bureau and The Great American Brass Band Festival offices.

The Watts-Bell House was built about 1816 by William Watts for merchant David Bell. The house is constructed of brick in the Flemish-bond pattern. The building now houses the Danville/Boyle County Historical Society Museum.

Goldsmith was McDowell's assistant

The Alban Goldsmith House, built about 1820, was a brick house for Dr. Alban Goldsmith, a pupil and assistant to Dr. Ephraim McDowell. Goldsmith assisted Dr. McDowell when he performed the first successful ovariotomy on Jane Todd Crawford in 1809, pioneering abdominal surgery. This building currently houses Constitution Square's Museum Store, with Kentucky handcrafts, souvenirs and educational/genealogical books and items.

Fisher' Row consists of two, two-story brick houses joined by a common wall. These row houses were built in 1817 by Jeremiah Fisher for use as rental property. The building now is the home of Wilderness Trace Art League and Boyle County Historical Society Museum.

The first brick schoolhouse west of the Alleghenies, circa 1820, now serves as a private residence for the park manager.

By 1785, Danville was chosen as Kentucky's first seat of government, and a meeting house, courthouse and jail were built to administer the growing territory. Since Kentucky was bound by Virginia laws, several Danville citizens formed the political club that recognized the need for a convention to discuss statehood.

Ten constitutional conventions took place between 1784 and 1792 at the courthouse on Constitution Square. In 1790, Kentucky delegates accepted Virginia's terms for separation from the state.

On June 1, 1792, Kentucky became the 15th state in the union, and Isaac Shelby, a Revolutionary War hero, was named the first governor of the commonwealth.

The historic site is a part of the Kentucky Department of Parks system.

Urban Renewal got its start locally when Centre College President Thomas A. Spragens came back from Washington, D.C., with information about the new program. The first project provided space for Centre College to add dormitories on Main Street and to clear away a section on Lexington Avenue known as "Smokey Bottom." New houses and apartments replaced dilapidated houses on Lexington Avenue.

Guy Best was executive director of the agency from the start and talked about projects with pride, but also said the projects did not always run smoothly.

He mentioned in a 1991 article that one of his big disappointments was not being able to relocate the stockyards to an out-of-town location while working on the Dillehay Street project. The agency also was sued over the way the Fairview-Cowan project was handled where dumping areas and hog lots were removed and sewer and water services were added.

Best said the primary goal of the federal program was to improve housing and living conditions and that the town had succeeded in doing that to Danville's landscape.

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