McGrorty Avenue district named to National Register of Historic Places

Published 6:51 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2019

It’s official — McGrorty Avenue/Old Wilderness Road has been named to the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service.

The McGrorty Avenue/Old Wilderness Road district is one of the few intact African-American neighborhoods remaining in the city, with 16 homes dating from 1806 to 1950, according to Danville’s preservation coordinator Joni House. A plaque showing the historic designation will be posted on the street sometime this year.

House said she is very pleased with the area being named to the National Register. “I hope that this designation will help the area with investment,” she added.


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Being on the register “will open up abilities for the property owners to apply for tax credits and get state and federal assistance if they want to do work on the properties,” House said earlier.

“I hope that this recognition will actually help the folks that own the property there to get some tax credits to start working on their properties. It’s an important corridor coming into downtown Danville.”

House said in order to get tax credits for work on their properties, the owners will have to fill out the proper applications. She said the Kentucky Heritage Council has a “complete staff” that can help with the paperwork.

House also said she will help anyone “get to where they need to go” in order to be awarded the tax credits.

 In an email to the local Architectural Heritage Board and other city offices, Vicki Birenberg, Certified Local Government Program planning coordinator, said, “Congratulations, Danville, for your successful listing and foresight in the area of preservation planning. This is the type of work we encourage (and support) Kentucky’s Certified Local Governments to accomplish!”

Work on the nomination began about a year ago, after a Certified Local Government grant was awarded specifically to recognize the district. The Danville Architectural Heritage Board selected the consulting firm Cultural Resource Analysts Inc. to produce the final application. House and consultants made several visits to the area and interviewed numerous citizens in regards to the project. The final nomination was reviewed by the Heritage Board as well as Danville City Commission in late July 2018.

After a period of public comment, the nomination was sent to the Kentucky Heritage Council (KHC) for final review and submittal to the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. Last week, NPS notified the Kentucky Heritage Council that the McGrorty Avenue Nomination was accepted and is Danville’s newest National Register of Historic Places district. The district was recognized for its “significant association with events that made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.”

The small, historic African-American neighborhood reflects an evolution of housing styles, from vernacular to bungalow and Craftsman, according to a previous news release from the KHC.

The oldest home, being the only brick home in the district, was also very important during the days when hemp was being produced and made into rope, House said earlier.

You can tell that the area is intact because of the narrow road and how the homes are set back off the road, House said.

“It’s probably what it would have appeared shortly after the Civil War,” she said. “… You can easily go back in time and see what that looked like shortly after the Civil War.”

The original street was named after Captain Alexander Scott McGrorty, a Danville resident for several decades.

When he died in 1915 at the age of 96, Captain McGrorty, a native of County Donegal, Ireland, was the oldest member of Danville’s Trinity Episcopal Church. He was also a longtime druggist in the community. Soon after his death, efforts were underway to rename McGrorty Avenue as the Old Wilderness Road.

However, not everyone wanted the name change. According to The Kentucky Advocate in January 1917, S.D. Van Pelt, who lived on McGrorty Avenue, wrote about what he thought was a good compromise.

“McGrorty Avenue is one of the oldest streets in Danville. It is part of the Old Wilderness Road on the Boone Trail over which many of the old pioneers traveled about 1760 and many years after. … It is with much pride that I can boast of being located on the Old Wilderness Road.”

But, he added, “McGrorty Avenue was named in honor of Capt. A.S. McGrorty, one of the oldest and most highly honored citizens that Danville has ever had. He lived on that street for about 80 years. May it not seem a little discourteous to the memory of that good old citizen, so soon after his death, to change the name of that street from McGrorty Avenue to that of the Old Wilderness Road? … It is both. Why not let it be known and designated as McGrorty Avenue and still recognized as the Old Wilderness Road, and thus ignore neither name, but honor both.”

Van Pelt’s suggestion was to have a sign placed on both ends of the street that read, “North McGrorty Avenue. The Old Wilderness Road.”

Now, 102 years later, because the McGrorty Avenue/Old Wilderness Road District has been named to the National Register of Historic Places and a plaque will be posted with the name, Van Pelt’s suggestion has been realized.