'Little Blue House' revived

Plans advance for converting house
into Welcome Center

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (January 2005) – Renovation of the “little blue house” is a project close to Elsie Carter’s heart. As mayor of La Grange, Carter has high hopes that this building will become the focal point in welcoming newcomers to her city.

Welcome Center

Photo by Helen E. McKinney

This 150-year-old home will be restored
by community volunteers.

The little blue house is situated behind Carter’s Garden Party Restaurant on Popular Avenue, just off Main Street. Unused for many years, plans are being made to renovate the building for use as a welcome center to promote county tourism.
A resolution was approved Nov. 1 by the La Grange City Council authorizing Carter to sign an agreement with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet to pursue $75,000 in funding for the project. The city will be required to provide 20 percent of in-kind matching funds, said former deputy city clerk Darlene Rusnak, who wrote the grant.
So far, the city has “got the OK and the legal documents signed” for this project, said Rusnak. The city actually received a TEA-21 grant 1 1/2 years ago, but because there were certain things it would not fund, it had to be resubmitted, said Rusnak.
The little blue house has a long history. It is the oldest Gothic structure in La Grange, said Carter. It dates to 1850 and was originally built at 124 Second St. on property owned by the First United Methodist Church. For a time, it was used as the youth pastor’s home. When the church relocated, the house was sold to the city. Plans had originally called for turning it into a parking lot, said Carter.
But City Council members saw potential in the structurally sound building.
The future welcome center will be a friendly place for visitors to learn more about the county, Carter said. The inside will contain displays about the history of transportation within the county.
Since the TEA-21 grant stipulated that all funding granted would need to be applied directly to the house itself, the transportation displays and outside landscaping will have to be paid for through in-kind donations.
Carter envisions this as a true community project, one literally built and maintained by the community. “Everyone can have a part in it and feel that it’s not just a building,” she said.
Many area residents already have pledged their time and talents. Local businesses are donating their time to it, said Carter.
The state has requested that the welcome center be staffed while businesses are open and operated by volunteers or city workers. Many Kiwanis Club members have volunteered their time already.
Crossroads-La Grange Main Street Inc. director Keli Quinn said the building is in relatively good shape. “It would be easy to restore it to create an office environment or welcome center.”
The upstairs of the building could house an office, which may be used for the Main Street manager or a city employee, she said.
Renovation cannot begin until results are released on an environmental study being supervised by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The building had to be assessed inside and out to determine how to remove the paint currently on the building. Carter said it should not be long until volunteers are scraping off old paint, repainting inside and out and installing two restrooms and a handicap ramp at the rear of the building. Maps directing visitors to restaurants and retail businesses will be available, plus a public phone and water fountain.
Parking has been a concern, but space is available behind the Garden Party Restaurant, directly in front of the little blue house. Carter said a brick pathway leading through an open garden area behind her building could direct visitors from Main Street to the welcome center.
Twigs, which is next door to Carter’s restaurant, is considering selling decorative statuary from the backside of the business. Consumers would be able to enter stores on Main Street and Poplar Avenue, increasing retail business.
This, in turn, would increase the value of the buildings. All property on Main Street was too valuable to give up for a welcome center, but Quinn said the little blue house will still be highly visible through lots of signage. It would become a “central location for tourist information,” she said.
Carter said the La Grange branch of the Oldham County Library is contemplating a move to the empty lot across from the firehouse. If this move were to occur, she would like to see the city use the existing library building as a city hall. Carter thinks this would tie in nicely with the idea of a welcome center across the street, expanding this area of La Grange as a government center.
Susan Eubank, director of the Oldham County Public Libraries, said a contract has been submitted to the city, which owns the library property. “They have 60 days to respond,” said Eubank, who is hoping to know something by mid-January.
As of now, the intended site for a new library is a parking lot, but Eubank said a two-story, 20,000-square-feet building has been proposed. The current La Grange library is under 5,000 square feet and “very crowded,” she said. Of the three library branches in the county, the total square footage equals 11,000 square feet, which is below county standards for a county the size of Oldham County.
Plans call for office space, a large children’s area, a conference room and the addition of books and new technology, such as increased computer space. Patrons are standing in line now to use computers and are restricted to 30-minute sessions.
A new location for the library would mean more space for local governmental affairs to be conducted. As the county continues to expand, additional space is needed to service residents and promote tourism to keep the local economy healthy.
One of the goals of Crossroads-La Grange Main Street Inc. is to make the city more pedestrian friendly and welcoming, said Quinn. Many feel the establishment of a welcome center is a step in the right direction.

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