County discusses cost of maintaining Presbyterian Meeting House

Published 2:54 pm Thursday, November 2, 2023

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Members of LC Historical Society voice support for site

By Abigail Roberts


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STANFORD – Due to the cost of expected repairs that will be needed to maintain what is believed to be the state’s oldest still-standing church, the fiscal court is taking a closer look at its ownership of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Stanford.

A discussion that was held during the Oct. 10 Fiscal Court meeting about the cost of maintaining the site spurred members of the Lincoln County Historical Society to attend the following meeting to voice their concerns.

Jane Vanhook, president of the local Historical Society, told magistrates she was there to address a valid concern about the future of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House located at 315 W. Main St. in Stanford.

“On Oct. 10, the Fiscal court agenda was ‘Presbyterian Meeting House distribution.’ I was here, I sat there, I was in shock. I didn’t know what to say because I had no idea that this was even a possibility that we may be, I don’t know, in danger of the county not actually owning the Presbyterian Meeting House,” Vanhook said. “So I spent the last 14 days doing my due diligent research, trying to find as much information about the house and contents as possible.”

Vanhook called a special-called meeting of the Lincoln County Historical Society, during which the group voted to recommend to the Fiscal Court that the county continue to own and maintain the Meeting House. Members of the Historical Society, as well as the Presbyterian Church, also agreed to volunteer to keep the Museum open, plan events and advertise accordingly, Vanhook said.

“The 250th Anniversary of the Wilderness Road will be celebrated in 2025,” she said. “Lincoln County has already been planning events for the next three years and beyond, so that we can invite as many visitors as possible and share this vital part of the history of Lincoln County.”

Vanhook gave a brief history of the Presbyterian Meeting House.

The Presbyterian meeting house was originally built in the 1790’s and served as one of the first Presbyterian congregations in Kentucky. It has since been restored and now contains artifacts related to the early settlement of Stanford and life in the 1800’s.

“It is thought to be the oldest Church in Kentucky that still exists. I think that’s major, to have the oldest church in Kentucky that still exists has got to be something that we should be proud of,” Vanhook said.

At that point, Vanhook asked all of the members of the Historical Society in attendance to stand, which included about 15 to 20 people.

“Over the last few years, these members of the audience have volunteered at Logan’s Fort, the William Whitley House, L&N Depot and downtown, wherever we’ve been asked to go,” Vanhook said.

“As members of the Lincoln County Fiscal Court you should be very proud to be the owner of this historic site and take pride in how it is maintained. You should be eager to promote its history and support all of the events that will be happening there. We know that historic sites are not profitable,” Vanhook said. “But they do attract visitors who stay here, eat here, purchase gas here, shop here, etc, which is a much bigger return for our tourism and our economy…”

Vanhook said according to data each person that visits spends on average $100 in town.

Vanhook said she has spoken to several state historians about the fate of the Presbyterian Meeting House.

Magistrate Bobby King asked how many visitors on average visit the site.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on the number of visitors to the site, Vanhook said. Historical Society volunteers regularly take groups through the site on a tour of Lincoln County historical sites, she said.

“I’ll admit, it took a back seat whenever we got the William Whitley House because we were trying to make sure that was a success,” Vanhook said.

Lincoln County Judge Executive Woods Adams said he commended Vanhook for “rallying the troops” and gathering the support of the Lincoln County Historical Society.

“I think our biggest problem is, we’re responsible for where the tax dollars get spent in Lincoln County that is paid for Lincoln County residents and outside that work here, so we have to be responsible of that and it just hit our radar that it was kind of just sitting there, not really a lot of activity. We were generating quite a bit of expenses,” Adams said. “It is an expense every year and with no activity and just a dilapidated building, it really doesn’t make sense for us to use taxpayer dollars to fund something, to keep up that’s not being used. So that’s our concern.”

Now that some interest is rolling in it, Woods said maybe some of the state historical names that Vanhook mentioned may have some financial interest in the site.

According to County Treasurer Mary Hopkins, during Fiscal Year 2023, the utility and insurance cost for the Old Presbyterian Meeting house totaled $5,011.66.

“While this number is not overwhelming, it is the capital improvement needs of the facility that the county cannot afford to take on,” Hopkins said. “Currently, the property needs a roof, windows, and a porch repair/replacement on the rear of the facility.  These are the kinds of improvements that if remain deferred for too many years, will lead to the dilapidation of the building.”

Hopkins said members of the Fiscal Court, including Adams, appreciate the historical value of the building and want it to be preserved.

“There are, however, other needs of the county that must take priority over this building.  That is why the discussion of finding another owner who could preserve the property began,” she said.

Vanhook said she wanted to know what the next step is so they don’t put a whole lot of work into something that is going to leave their hands.

Lincoln County Daryl Day said the hope is that a non-profit or historical agency would take on the responsibility.

“There is a limited amount of dollars to go towards keeping a number of historical sites open,” Day said. “If you get to 12 or 15 that are costing $10,000 a year each, I think that the majority of Lincoln County taxpayers would say ‘start getting rid of some of those.’”

Vanhook said they have been seeking new grant funding, specifically grant funding that allows for a person to be present at the Museum to keep it open 20 hours a week.

Several members of the Lincoln County Historical Society spoke in support of the site, including Eddie Carter, who spoke on the unique history of the building as a Presbyterian church.

“I just think, when we talk about tourism folks, the William Whitley House, that’s a treasure…they, all together, it’s a story to tell here in the county, they’re all important,” Carter said.

Irene Jaggers, former president of the Lincoln County Historical Society, also spoke to magistrates. Jaggers was president of the local historical society when the Lincoln County Fiscal Court took over ownership of the building.

“When I called the PVA office, I wanted to know the assessment on it…the assessment shocked me so, I called the next day and said ‘did I write that down correctly?’” Jaggers said. “$405,000. $4,000 for the lot. That was years ago. What I want to express to you all, that number one, history is not taught very much anymore in the schools. People do not know about this church…now that’s not our fault. But maybe it is in a way. Maybe we are not promoting it enough.”

Jaggers asked the Fiscal Court to give the historical society a chance and to work with them.

“I know there’s a lot of expense…it is an expense. But it’s for a very valuable site. To me, it’s holy ground,” Jaggers said.

No action was taken on the issue during Tuesday’s meeting. Adams thanked everyone for attending and showing their support.