Downtown set for another revival

Published 12:25 pm Thursday, January 5, 2017

A whole generation has grown up in Winchester since the iconic White Way was recreated in 1983. Little do they know the five-globed Main Street light was an original Winchester creation long before Ale-8 or beer cheese.

The light fixture was designed by Warren Elkin, a draftsman at the Hagan Gas Engine and Manufacturing Co. and fabricated by Eagle Casting, both local companies on East Washington Street at the viaduct. Those original lamps were set 50 feet apart along Main Street circa 1913.

Prior to that, the only light on Main was a lamp hanging at mid-block. While it is unclear as to who actually paid for the lampposts, I believe the property owners did, as they paid for the brick street paving that same year. As a side note, the elevation and grade of Main Street was changed and the high side steps were also constructed about that time.

At the 1958 dedication of Winchester’s public library, Jesse Stuart read from his poem “Up Silver Stairsteps,” “Higher we climb until the lights below are golden eggs down in a velvet nest,” capturing his reaction to the lights as he flew over Winchester one night on his way from Knoxville to Chicago.

The 1913 lampposts were removed in 1952 because of deteriorating components as well as the need for improved Main Street lighting. Adjacent property owners were given the opportunity to keep their lampposts. Today, two of those along Main are originals.

The new lampposts were reproduced by Spring City Electric in Spring City, Pennsylvania, from an original donated to the relighting project by the heirs of James Love, owner of Eagle Casting/Love Foundry. That prototype stands today at the rear of the Clark County Courthouse. Arnie Westlund, an engineer at Osram Sylvania with ties to that area in Pennsylvania, worked tirelessly to facilitate the reproduction and Oliver Trucking handled the transportation to and from Winchester. At a cost of $1,545 per streetlamp, 39 were purchased through donations from individuals, businesses and civic groups.

The Bluegrass Area Development District and the CSX railroad (as reprisal for the demolition of the Union Depot in 1981) also contributed to the project.

In order for the plan to succeed, property owners first relocated their building’s electric service to the rear. Kentucky Utilities then installed new cobra head lights on aluminum poles and removed the overhead wires and old wooden utility poles. The actual installation of the new ornamental lighting system was completed by the City of Winchester Public Works Department just in time for the 1983 Christmas parade.

The decade of the 1910s was a booming era downtown with the White Way, brick streets, high side steps, a new county jail, post office and city building.

The 1980s (actually 1979-92) was also a dynamic time, with a revived White Way, a new jail, improvements to City Hall, a major courthouse addition and a new Winchester Municipal Utilities office building. The Leeds Theater was restored as well as the Opera House and Brown Proctor Hotel. A new post office was constructed on North Main Street and the old 1912 Post Office was transformed into a judicial center.

Thus far, this decade is on track for more activity and revitalization with the rebuilding of Depot Street’s brick, reconstruction of the City Hall tower and the recent start of the Leeds Center for the Arts renovation.

The future includes an upcoming rehab of the courthouse bell tower, the Sphar building project and the completion of the Downtown Master Plan.

Let us build on our past, strive to implement the Master Plan and create an improved and more vibrant downtown Winchester for future generations.

RobertBlanton is a Clark County magistrate and a member of the Main Street Winchester board.