an article from the Lexington Herald-Leader (12/07/07

Park to honor African-American horse racing legacy



Fayette's Isaac Murphy broke Derby records
Isaac Murphy, the three-time Kentucky Derby winner who has been called the greatest jockey of the 19th century, once called northeast Lexington home. So have a number of other African-Americans who were noted jockeys, horse trainers and grooms.

Jockey Oliver Lewis, who won the first Kentucky Derby in 1875 with the horse Aristides, and Ansel Williamson, who trained Aristides, are buried in African Cemetery No. 2 on East Seventh Street. Jockey James "Soup" Perkins, who won the Derby in 1895 aboard Halma, once lived on Thomas Street and is buried in the northeast section of Lexington cemetery, said Bruce Mundy, a community activist, history researcher and lecturer.

Northeast Lexington also was once home to a racetrack run by the Kentucky Association for the Improvement of the Breeds of Stock. The track was in operation long before Keeneland Race Course was built. Isaac Murphy won his first race at the Kentucky Association track, Mundy said.

Now, a new park designed to point out northeast Lexington's role in the history of thoroughbred horse racing is in the works.

Some involved in the project see the park, to be called the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, as a first step in reclaiming the legacy of African-Americans who have contributed to the horse industry.

The park will be located on a piece of land just over a half-acre in size that is bordered by Midland Place, Nelson Avenue and Third Street near where Third runs into Winchester Road, not far from where Murphy once lived.

Organizations involved in the project are seeking input from the public about what should be included in the garden, and they are seeking donations to pay for it.

"It's been talked about for years -- how to take advantage of this neighborhood being historically connected to the horse industry," said Jim Embry, a member of NorthEast Lexington Initiative, one of the organizations involved in the development of the garden.

"Hardly ever is there recognition within the community at large ... of the important role that this community played in the development of the horse industry," he said.

Now, with major revitalization going on in other parts of northeast Lexington, with the World Equestrian Games coming to the city in 2010 and with this year's class of Leadership Lexington, an organization for young professionals, seeking a project to do, the time is right to create a park to help correct past slights and enhance the area, project coordinators said.

The organizations Leadership Lexington, NorthEast Lexington Initiative and Arts Power are leading the effort to develop the land; however, individuals and representatives of many other groups have been brainstorming about what to do with the property.

The land is owned by the state, which has issued a permit for it to be used as a park with plantings and sculpture.

If park planners decide they want other things on the property, the permit can be amended, said Kelly Baker, permit engineer for the state highway department's District 7.

As long as elements of the park don't interfere with traffic, there should be no problem in using the property as a park, he said.

Baker said the local government could purchase the land from the state if the state deemed the land to be surplus property.

"Just looking at it, I think it would be a piece of property that we would consider surplus," he said.

Work on the garden is expected to start in the spring, Embry said.

So far, ideas for the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden include making the land an interactive teaching garden with native plants and installing art, possibly art created from recycled materials, with horse themes on the property. Another idea is to place markers on the property that would tell the history of the neighborhood, especially as it relates to the horse industry.

"We're thinking of a variety of ways to approach it," Embry said.

Planners want youths to participate in the development and maintenance of the garden, he added.

Embry said he didn't know what establishing the garden would cost.

He threw out a ballpark figure of $200,000.

"We want this community to go back to its former glory," Mundy said. "Doing this park is our chance to say it's going to happen; it is happening. Let's do it collectively."

Mundy said renovation of the Lyric Theater, where entertainers such as Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie once performed; redevelopment of the Bluegrass-Aspendale neighborhood; improvements being made to African Cemetery No. 2; and now the establishment of the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden are interconnected segments of the path to "glory."

"It's a little piece of property that's just asking to be made into a warm and inviting spot," said Pat Gerhard, another member of NorthEast Lexington Initiative.

"It would be a great extension to Thoroughbred Park that's already on Midland (Avenue)," she said.

"It's really fitting that it's happening right now as we're gearing up for the games that are going to be here," said Chris Harrison, a member of the 2006-07 Leadership Lexington class. He added that it is hoped that the park project will lead to more community teamwork.

People with ideas or monetary contributions for the garden are asked to call Embry at 312-7024 or Mundy at 494-4883.