For the past two weekends, students in History 621, “Historic Preservation Fieldwork,” have traveled to Sadieville, Kentucky. Sadieville is a small town in northern Scott County. It developed as a railroad stop after the Civil War. By the early twentieth century it had more than 600 residents. Today, Sadieville is a quiet spot off the beaten track. Left behind by a globalizing economy, it is has only a few stores, a bank, and a handful of residents. Fortunately, some of its citizens care deeply about its future. They hope to use the town’s rich history and historic charm to bring it new vitality and attract heritage tourism.
History 621 students have taken on the task of nominating the heart of the community to the National Register of Historic Places. As an initial step, they’ve collected information about extant buildings and sites. Sadieville was last surveyed in the late 1980s by Ann Bevins, an extraordinary local historian. Plenty of changes have taken place in the years since. Perhaps as many as a third of the buildings that Bevins surveyed have been demolished. Other have been modernized in ways that make it difficult to understand their original character. Replacement windows and vinyl siding are common, and new additions are almost as ubiquitous. Changes of this sort reflect the need to keep buildings weathertight and comfortable. But they also make it difficult to understand their histories. Most are, however, reversible.
Sadieville is more than just a postbellum railroad town. It also has ties to one of the most dramatic episodes to take place during the thoroughly dramatic era of Reconstruction. In the late 1880s, about 150 families from Scott County packed up and headed to Kansas. Tired of the violence that plagued the post-emancipation South, they sought better lives for themselves in a territory with comparatively little race prejudice. Families from Sadieville helped found Nicodemus, the best-known of several towns established by African Americans in Kansas. Today, Nicodemus is a national historic site (http://www.nps.gov/nico/index.htm).
In the coming weeks, the students will compile the data they’ve collected, wrap up their archival research, and begin preparing the nomination. They’ll also draft a report to the city of Sadieville. Guidance on how property owners can take advantage of financial incentives for historic preservation and how the town can promote itself will help Sadieville fulfill its potential.
Check back soon for updates on this project. In the meantime, the photos posted below show some of the students hard at work.