Often referred to as one of the “Crown Jewels” of Main Street, the Bluegrass Heritage Museum occupies a stately 128-year-old Romanesque Revival building on South Main Street that once housed the Guerrant Clinic. The museum covers the history of the Bluegrass people and places from the Eskippakithiki Indian settlements to the modern era.
Recently Chuck Witt caught up with Sandy Stults, director of the museum since 2006.
WCNV – Thanks for taking the time from putting away your Christmas decorations. I wanted to start by asking what year the museum opened to the public.
SS – 2004
WCNV – And for a while, only the first floor was open to the public?
SS – Actually only a part of the first floor. The back portion was still closed off when we opened the doors but we wanted to move ahead and see how the community would accept a museum. The stair to the second floor was also opened, but the only space occupied on the second floor was my office and you should remember that since you were down here helping paint the room. I remember you saying that a canary would get lost in here because of the yellow color.
WCNV – I do remember. So when were the upper floors made available to the public?
SS – The first part of the second floor opened in 2007 and was completed in 2008. The first room to open up here was the military history room, and we immediately saw a large number of donated items for that room. I remember that a lot of veterans were involved and every time they came in they would start talking about their service, so it took longer to get the room prepared. (At this point Sandy chuckled at the memory). Everything was opened in 2009.
WCNV – You took over the directorship in what year?
SS – 2006
WCNV – There were some directors before you weren’t there?
SS – There were three, Nancy Turner, who went on to become director of the Tourism Commission. Clare Sipple was director for a short period and just before me was Jim Pitts. I think he moved and became director of another museum. There were also some individuals who served double duty, working part-time at Tourism and part-time here: Holly Goeing, John Hearn, Matt Graham, and a lady whose last name was Cole.
WCNV – You were a teacher before taking this job weren’t you?
SS – Right. I taught in Jenkins, Kentucky and when I moved here I taught reading and social studies at Conkwright, then at GRCHS teaching history and social studies, and finally at UK where I worked at supervision of student teachers.
WCNV – How much area do you have in the building?
SS – 10,000 square feet. (The response was immediate as she had the answer right on the tip of her tongue.)
WCNV – Tell us about your staff.
SS – Julie Morgan is the only paid staff but there are a lot of volunteers who are always ready and willing to do whatever needs to be done, including Rosemary Campbell, Boo Baldwin, Jack and Cindy Jones, Mary Jo Bond, and Mickey and Brenda Royse.
WCNV – What do you consider your most important display?
SS – (lengthy pause) I’d say the Agricultural room because it relates so much to the history and character of Clark County and we’ve gotten many great contributions that make up that room. It was also one of the earliest rooms developed.
WCNV – Does the museum have any permanent endowments?
SS – No. Would you like to make one? (chuckling)
WCNV – Whose idea was the Second Thursday programs and how long have they been going on?
SS – It was my idea and we started them shortly after I became director so I’d say they’ve been going on for about 13 years.
WCNV – Who comprises the museum board at the present time?
SS – Our total board has 13 members but the executive board is Gardner Wagers, President; Lindell Blackwell, Vice-President; Mary Davis, Secretary; Boo Baldwin, Treasurer, Brenda Royse, and Kitty Strode.
WCNV – What is your most recent acquisition?
SS – A muzzle-loaded long rifle built by D. Bryan in 1810. It was donated by Saundra Caudill and it hasn’t been placed on display yet.
WCNV – What are future plans for the museum?
SS – We don’t have anything large in the works, just several maintenance issues that need attending this year. We’re going to rebuild the steps in the back that lead up to the Kendall House, some gutter work, and some replacement of siding on the dormer over the elevator. Of course in a building that’s 128 years old, you always have maintenance issues.
WCNV – You re-did the patio last year, didn’t you?
SS – Right. The old patio was paved with some pretty rough stone which posed some problems for people who are physically challenged, so we took all that up and had a concrete patio put in.
WCNV – What about the Kendall House? How is that being used?
SS – The building is being used for social functions. We don’t rent it, but request donations. As you know, it was the former nurse’s residence for the clinic that was here before the museum. And we recently rebuilt the steps to the side entrance and built a handicap accessible ramp to the back door.
WCNV – Tell us about memberships in the museum.
SS – Our regular memberships are: Individual: $20/year, Senior, $15/year, and Family, $50/year. We also have Heritage Memberships which include: Friend, $100; Sustaining, $250; Sponsor, $500; Patron, $1,000; Benefactor, $2,500; Cornerstone, $5,000. There are some perks that come with Heritage membership and at the Patron level and above is a lifetime membership. And, of course, all donations are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
WCNV – Any last thoughts?
SS – I’m just so glad that the community has so bought into the museum. The gifts, donations, and work by so many people are far beyond anything that, I think, anyone ever expected. The number of donated items is really amazing.
WCNV – Thanks, Sandy. I know that the museum is a real treasure for everyone here and we all appreciate your leadership in making it what it is today.