Throughout the week, repairs have been ongoing to the exterior of the Irvinton House, in efforts to revamp the historic home located on Lancaster Avenue.
According to Mason Chamblee, museum/recreational programmer, upon approaching the home’s 200-year anniversary in 2020, the Richmond Parks and Recreation Department decided to move forward on repairing the home.
“Basically what we are doing is starting at the top and working down,” he explained. “Once we are done with the repairs outside, then we transition to interior repairs working on the walls where the plaster is cracking, leaks in the ceilings and little updates as we go along.”
He said that the home hasn’t undergone any major renovations since 1998 and was experiencing roof damage, leaks and cracks.
“People want to be in some place that has beauty to it, that has that authentic feel to that period that takes you back,” he said. “And I think the way to do that is to restore it as much as we can to keep the authenticity of it, that should be our first step going forward.”
In addition to revamping the home itself, Chamblee and the parks department are working to bring new exhibits and events to the property that will serve to provide more opportunities for the community to learn about the property’s history, but Madison County’s history as well.
This summer, Chamblee says the house will be hosting a Daniel Boone exhibit with artifacts on loan from the Kentucky Historical Society, and with that they will partner with the Richmond Tourism Department as they host the exhibit about the life of Henry Clay and tie that to the Richmond area.
“We’re doing this to generate interest around the museum,” he said. “We want to get some new things in the house, because for a long time, the things that are in the house are things that people have been seeing for 20 to 25 years and this exhibit will give something new to entice people to come in.”
He hopes to have the renovations done before the summer in preparation for January 2020, to get ready for the 200th anniversary celebration, along with other events that year.
In the winter of 2020, the museum hopes to host an exhibit from the Smithsonian called Crossroads: Change in Rural America, which the city is under review to receive. He says this exhibit will be one of the first after the home’s “face lift” and will be a larger exhibit, with a lot of information.
Looking forward to summer 2020, Chamblee says they hope to potentially hold a big gala event in August on the lawn at the house to celebrate the 200 year anniversary.
“Be it for fundraising or just to have people at the house and see the property post renovations, we think it would be a great way to show what they have going on,” Chamblee said.
The museum also wants to do a suffragette movement that same year, focusing on prominent women, the feminist movement and then the passage of the 19th amendment, which allowed women the right to vote.
He believes this would be a good fit for the home since the family for which the home is named after, William and Elizabeth Irvine, were prominent social and political figures during the time they lived there from 1849 to 1920.
Chamblee explained that the Irvine couple were very popular social figures of their time, and a well-to-do family that was close with other social elites in Madison County such as the Clays and the Burnams.
“They are the namesakes of this place and they are still the reason that we talk about it today,” he said.
Following the death of Elizabeth Irvine in 1920, the residence was willed to the Kentucky Medical Society, which turned the home into a hospital facility, greeting their first patient in October 1926.
At first, the hospital was used as a pregnancy ward where expectant mothers late in their pregnancy would come to prepare a month or so prior to giving birth.
Later, the home would be used to treat and study patients inflicted with Trachoma, an infectious disease which causes roughening of the surface of the inner eyelid, and if left untreated, often leads to blindness.
Since his start at the house, Chamblee has been working to design an exhibit and collect artifacts from the time the house served as the Trachoma hospital, which is his personal favorite piece of history relating to the home.
“I think that was just an incredible thing that happened here,” he said. “Because it brought in all types of different people from all over Kentucky and the country to identify this huge public health issue, this crisis and figure out a way to solve that to bring a new quality of life to people in eastern Kentucky.”
“So I think that having a connection to that of a betterment of society, especially Kentucky life is really huge and Richmond was the forefront, fighting that battle,” he added.
Chamblee says he isn’t sure yet of a date yet in which the museum would hold the Trachoma exhibit.
Chamblee says that he hopes the house can be used as learning environment and a tool that can be used not only to learn about the history of the house, but about Richmond, Madison County and Appalachia.
“There are so many things that have been tied into the house through the years through different tenants, and uses, that it allows itself to be kind of an overall encompassing way to show people what our history is, what it is like to live here and why you should be proud of living here,” Chamblee said.
Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.