Willis Russell Cabin a surprise omission from historic district

Published 1:20 pm Monday, September 25, 2017

One of Danville’s oldest buildings is not currently protected within the city’s historic overlay district, but the process has started to add it to the district’s list of addresses.

The Willis Russell Memorial Cabin on East Walnut Street was thought for years to be within the historic overlay district, meaning work done on the building had to be approved by the Architectural Heritage Board and projects that would harm the building’s historical value would not be allowed.

Barbara Hulette, chair of the Boyle Landmark Trust, which currently owns the cabin, told AHB members the non-profit preservation organization is formally requesting the property be added to the district.

Ben Kleppinger/ben.kleppinger@amnews.com
Barbara Hulette, chair of the Boyle Landmark Trust, asks members of the Danville Architectural Heritage Board to add the Willis Russell Memorial Cabin to the city’s historic overlay district during the AHB’s meeting Wednesday.

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“The Willis Russell Memorial Cabin was constructed around the time that Kentucky became the 15th state in the union and was built less than a block from where the new state’s first constitution was signed,” Hulette said, reading from a letter she presented to the AHB Wednesday. “The cabin is one of the only surviving structures from this important period of Kentucky’s earliest days and is one of the oldest structures still standing in its original location in Danville. This cabin is assumed to be part of the historic district in Downtown Danville but the address … is not listed. Boyle Landmark Trust respectfully requests that the cabin be listed officially so that it can be protected.”

Hulette came before the board to request a certificate of appropriateness for $10,000 worth of improvements to the cabin, even though the AHB couldn’t technically do anything because the building is outside its district.

The project is funded by a $5,000 grant and $5,000 from Boyle Landmark Trust. It will replace windows and doors that could not be put back in following an earlier project to correct a lean in the structure.

“We’ve applied for a National Trust grant to do the work and we received a $5,000 grant, which was extremely generous of them — we thought we might get $2,500,” Hulette said. “… Boyle Landmark Trust will match it with $5,000 and we will try to do $10,000 worth of work.”

AHB members indicated they would have deemed the project appropriate, but currently they have no authority to say yes or no.

“Have fun putting your windows in is about all we can tell you,” Chair Tom Tye said. “We like your idea.”

AHB members said previous requests to be added to the historic district have been granted, and they would begin the formal process required to add the cabin, so that future projects will have to come before the board for approval.

“It’s quite unusual,” Hulette said. “We thought all these years we were in the historic district and we just (went) along, totally ignorant of the fact that we’re not in the district.”

The Lowry Restoration Group will do the work on the cabin, which will include replacing stairs that were never put back after the last improvements, Hulette said.

File photo by Ben Kleppinger
The Willis Russell Memorial Cabin on East Walnut Street in Danville is one of the oldest structures left in the city.

Boyle Landmark Trust had planned on making the cabin the first building to benefit from its new “revolving fund,” which provides money to help with restoration efforts of worthy buildings, and then recoups some of what was spent when those buildings sell. But those plans changed when the trust’s board met last month and someone suggested keeping the cabin and using it as the office for the trust, Hulette said.

“So we’re starting the (revolving fund) process all over again.”