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Recognizing Historic Places

Nominations now open for the 41st Annual Ida Lee Willis Memorial Awards

Nominations are now being accepted for the 41st Annual Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation Historic Preservation Awards, Kentucky’s most distinguished celebration of historic preservation excellence. Named for Kentucky’s first state historic preservation officer, the awards are given for the protection, preservation and rehabilitation of historic buildings and landscapes, cultural resources, and archaeological sites.

This year's ceremony was originally planned May 27, 2020 at the Kentucky Governor’s Mansion, wrapping up National Historic Preservation Month. However, because of the current concern with COVID-19, this date will be rescheduled and the original nomination deadline of April 15 has been indefinitely extended. So please continue to nominate worthy individuals, projects and organizations!

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). Click here for preservation awards criteria, a nomination form, or an editable nomination form in Word format.

The Ida Lee Willis Memorial Award goes to the individual who has demonstrated outstanding dedication to the cause of historic preservation. Last year, philanthropist Milly Ann Stewart of Frankfort  was honored for her lifetime of service and philanthropy on behalf of many of Kentucky’s most iconic historic sites including the Stewart Home and School, Liberty Hall and the Orlando Brown House, and the Old State Capitol.

Preservation Project Awards honor outstanding examples of building or site rehabilitation, restoration, and adaptive reuse. In 2019, project awards went to The Shoppes at Blue Gables, Shelbyville; Castle and Key, Woodford County; and The Ole Opera House, Guthrie. 

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. Last year these went to the Governor on behalf of the Commonwealth, Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet, and Kentucky Division of Historic Properties; Herb Fink of Louisville; and Michael and Catherine McElwain of Newport.

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. In 2019 these went to Historic Beaver Dam Deposit Bank, and Dinah Bird-Westerfield of Augusta for Baker-Bird Winery.

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 and Charles Parrish, Louisville; Donna Horn-Taylor, Springfield; and Milton and Anne Thompson, Washington, D.C.

Click here for a complete list of previous award winners 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.

For Information

Diane Comer
Public Information Officer
Kentucky Heritage Council
(502) 892-3611