Skip to main navigation Skip to main content

Ida Lee Willis Historic Preservation Awards

​​​​​​Named for Kentucky’s first state historic preservation officer, the awards have been given since 1979 for the protection, preservation and rehabilitation of historic buildings and landscapes, cultural resources, and archaeological sites.

​​Awards are presented in four categories and recognize personal commitment, investment, advocacy, volunteerism, building partnerships, public involvement, lifelong dedication or significant achievement. The foundation hosts the awards in partnership with the Kentucky Heritage Council/State Historic Preservation Office (KHC). 

The Ida Lee Willis Memorial Award goes to the individual who has demonstrated outstanding dedication to the cause of historic preservation. 

Preservation Project Awards honor outstanding examples of building or site rehabilitation, restoration, and adaptive reuse. 

Service to Preservation Awards recognize individuals, organizations, nonprofits, public officials, financial institutions, news media, volunteers, and others whose contributions have had a positive impact on preserving historic and prehistoric resources.

Grassroots Preservation Awards are given at the selection committee’s discretion and celebrate those who have committed their personal time and resources to successfully take on a challenge that addresses a preservation issue at the local level. 

About the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation​

​The memorial foundation was chartered in 1979 to honor the late Mrs. Willis, the first executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Commission (now Kentucky Heritage Council), which was created by the state Legislature in 1966 following passage of the National Historic Preservation Act. Board members are Stephen L. Collins of Shelbyville, chair; William Averell of Frankfort, vice chair; Barbara Hulette of Danville, secretary; Robert Griffith of Louisville, treasurer; and Christopher J. Black, Paducah; Marion Forcht, Corbin; Jolene Greenwell and Charles W. Stewart, Frankfort; Alice Willett Heaton, Bardstown; David L. Morgan, Louisville; Donna Horn-Taylor, Springfield; Milton and Anne Thompson, Washington, D.C.; and William Watts of Versailles.

A complete list of previous a​ward winners​ [PDF, 246KB] in all categories.

​About Ida Lee Willis

The annual statewide historic preservation awards are named for the late Ida Lee Willis, a former Kentucky first lady who was appointed first executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Commission (now the Kentucky Heritage Council) in 1966. Under her direction, the agency began in earnest to survey the state, nominate sites to the National Register of Historic Places, award grants and promote preservation statewide.

Mrs. Willis was the widow of former Gov. Simeon Willis, and she was directly responsible for saving the historic Vest-Lindsey House in Frankfort, an anchor in Frankfort's "Corner in Celebrities." The Vest-Lindsey House is one of nearly 40 homes that remain in the Corner in Celebrities, first described by Alice Trabue in her book of the same name, published in 1922.

In the opening paragraphs, Ms. Trabue explains that there is “…a quaint corner of the town from which have sprung, probably, more distinguished men than from any like area in the United States. Covering about four acres, bounded by four streets bearing the historic names of Washington, Wilkinson, Montgomery and Wapping, is the central group of some noble old houses which sheltered sires and sons whose deeds brought fame and ever lasting glory to Kentucky.”  These include:

  • Supreme Court justices John Marshall Harlan and Thomas Todd
  • Nine United States Senators, including John Brown, first US Senator from KY
  • Six Congressmen
  • Eight Governors including Charles S. Morehead and John Jordan Crittenden
  • Seven foreign ambassadors
  • Three Navy Admirals
  • And John Bibb, nationally prominent as a Senator, Secretary of the Treasury and Assistant Attorney General, who developed Bibb lettuce in the back yard of his Wapping Street home.
The Vest-Lindsey House was home of a long-time early Kentucky Congressman, George Graham Vest, who is best remembered for his closing trial arguments in an 1870 lawsuit over a man’s killing of his neighbor’s dog. In his famed “Tribute to a Dog” speech, Vest coined the well-known phrase “Dog is man’s best friend.” In 1846 the house was sold to prominent attorney and state legislator Thomas Noble Lindsey, whose son, Daniel Weisiger Lindsey, was adjutant general and inspector general in charge of all Union Army forces in Kentucky.

The Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation was chartered in 1979 to honor Mrs. Willis for her efforts in helping preserve Kentucky’s historic and archaeological resources. A line drawing of the Vest-Lindsey House (above) serves as the foundation's logo.​

2024 Ida Lee Willis Historic Preservation Award Winners

Ida Lee Willis Memorial Award

  • ​Bill Weyland | Louisville, KY

Grassroots Preservation Award

  • ​​Friends of Huntertown Community Interpretive Park | Woodford County, KY

Preservation Project Awards

  • Belle Louise Historic Guest House | Cary and Melinda Winchester
  • Rockdale | Donald Wenzel and Ron Darnell
  • Sower Building | John and Phyllis Sower
  • St. Joseph Catholic Church | Bowling Green, KY

Service to Preservation Awards

  • Covington Academy of Heritage Trades | City of Covington and Enzweiler Building Institute
  • Harold Edwards | Perryville, KY
  • Bell Theater | City of Pineville and Main Street Pineville​