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Oldham County Historical Society

History Center working steadily
to renovate historical church

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (May 2005) – Over the last several years, the Oldham County History Center has steadily grown in space and holdings. It is a repository for county information and an adjoining facility is currently under renovation for related activities.
Behind the history center and the J. C. Barnett Archives and Library sits what is commonly known as the 1880s Presbyterian Church. The Oldham County Historical Society board of directors purchased the church in 2001 through private donations, said history center executive director Nancy Theiss.

J.C. Barnett Library

Photo by Helen E. McKinney

Renovations will make building more
accessible, to be used for community
and educational programs.

Former city clerk Darlene Rusnack wrote two proposals for the project. The history center revised one of these facade grants applications, resubmitting it through Discover Downtown La Grange and the City of La Grange. This grant, obtained through the Kentucky Heritage Council, totaled $18,000, which allowed the history center to renovate the front of the church. The history center was responsible for supplying 50 percent of the match.
For the last two years, the history center has been awaiting the results of a transportation grant, applied for to renovate the sides of the church, said Theiss. Of the applied for $42,000, the history center is responsible for providing one third of this amount. This grant was also submitted through Discover Downtown La Grange and the City of La Grange.
If the applied for funds are received, the history center hopes to complete work on the historic church this year.
Scott Schindler of Top Gun Construction was hired to complete the exterior facade renovation process. The building had been renovated a couple of times, said Schindler, who completed the facade work last year.
Masonite siding was removed to expose windows, and Schindler applied three coats of paint to the front of the building. He is familiar with the history center, as he has done a substantial amount of renovation work in the past on the Peyton Samuel Head Museum. Schindler has also completed personal maintenance and repair work for several historical society members, so they were familiar with his work when he bid for the job.
Other bidding companies wanted to only repair the windows of the building, but Schindler replaced them with new units for the same price. He has also renovated numerous older buildings in La Grange.
The history center is in the process of finishing another grant, awarded through a local funding organization known as the Head Trust, of which they have supplied a 30 percent match for interior work. This grant totals almost $100,000.
Bill Lammlein, of WJL Design Associates, drew up interior and exterior plans for the church renovation project. The interior of the building is in a terrible shape, not really suitable as an open gathering space for museum use, even though the history center has been using it, said Lammlein.
Plans for making the building more efficient call for the installation of handicap accessible restrooms, a small catering-kitchen, a large storage space and a small meeting facility. Lammlein said a 25-foot fake, vaulted ceiling will be removed, and side windows will be restored to let natural light back in.
The fake ceiling covers the top half of the 12-foot windows. “Structurally, it is in excellent condition,” said Lammlein. “But the exterior is not people-friendly.”
The history center’s goal for this project is to use the building for school programs and history education related events. A bluegrass concert by The Cumberlands was recently held inside the church for the private opening of the Hermitage Farm exhibit. “During the summer it will be the base for our history camps and we plan to have a lot of activities outside,” said Theiss. “In case of rain, we can use the church which is heated and air conditioned.”
The property has a long history. La Grange resident Amanda Mount donated the land for the building to be built upon in 1880. Mount, along with her husband, John, lived in the present archives and research building.
Mount was the great grandniece of Elizabeth Railey, Thomas Jefferson’s mother. Mount was a Presbyterian whose son married Rob Morris’ daughter. Morris, an outstanding member of the community in his own right, was the founder of the Eastern Star organization and Poet Laureate for the Masons. Morris often refers to the church in his writings.
So that Mount will not be forgotten by the community to which she gave so much, she is portrayed by history center volunteer Peggy Burge. In her presentation, Burge reads letters sent to Mount by her nephew Amos during the Civil War.
The history center is just waiting for approval from the TEA-21 grant to continue exterior renovations, said Lammlein. While funds for the interior work may be in place, “interior and exterior work needs to be done at the same time,” he said.

• For more information, contact the Oldham County History Center at (502) 222-0826 or ochstryctr@aol.com.

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