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Ida Lee Willis Memorial Awards

Nominations due Friday for 38th Annual Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation Awards

Fulton Conway BuildingNominations are now being accepted for Kentucky’s most distinguished awards honoring excellence for the preservation and rehabilitation of historic buildings, archaeological resources and cultural sites. The 38th Annual Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation Historic Preservation Awards will be presented in May, National Historic Preservation Month.

The awards recognize investment, advocacy, volunteerism, building partnerships, public involvement, lifelong commitment and significant achievement, and are sponsored jointly by the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation and the Kentucky Heritage Council/State Historic Preservation Office.

Preservation Project Awards honor outstanding examples of historic building rehabilitation or for other projects that have furthered the preservation of Kentucky’s built environment; Service to Preservation Awards recognize individuals, organizations, nonprofits, public officials, financial institutions, news media, volunteers and others whose contributions have had a positive impact in their communities; and the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Award goes to the individual who has demonstrated outstanding dedication to the cause of historic preservation in the Commonwealth.

In 2015, awards went to successful adaptive reuse and rehab of a former tobacco warehouse, a row of shotgun houses, a cemetery, a battlefield, a historic commercial building ravaged by fire, a rural church and a coffee house located in eastern Kentucky, and the steering committee for an annual event that teaches about traditional Native American lifeways. K. Norman Berry of Louisville was recipient of the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Award.

All nominations must be received in the KHC office or postmarked by Friday, April 15. See below for a nomination form and complete guidelines.

Left: The Fulton Conway Building at 805 West Main Street in Louisville, before and after rehabilitation, recipient of a Preservation Project Award in 2015. Originally a tobacco warehouse constructed in the late 1800s, today the building serves as national headquarters for Sons of the American Revolution.

The awards have special meaning this year as 2016 is the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act and the founding of the Kentucky Heritage Council.

The foundation was chartered in 1979 to honor the late Ida Lee Willis, widow of former Gov. Simeon Willis and first executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Commission (now the Kentucky Heritage Council). Under her direction, the agency initiated the first statewide survey of historic resources and nominated the first sites to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, Kentucky is fourth among states in National Register listings, nearing 3,400 districts, sites and structures, and in 2016, the Kentucky historic resources inventory database will surpass 100,000 listings.

About Ida Lee Willis

Mrs. 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 (rendering below), 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 I 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.Vest-Lindsey House

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.  Sally Willis Meigs is her daughter, and she continues her mother’s legacy with her service on the foundation board.  A line drawing of the Vest-Lindsey House serves as the foundation's logo.

For more information:

Diane Comer
Public Information Officer
Kentucky Heritage Council
(502) 564-7005, ext. 120