February is African American History Month, and if you happen to be in Danville, Kentucky, you can immerse yourself in a fascinating part of our local history. We recommend taking a driving tour of the following spots:
Willis Russell Memorial Cabin
Standing amid modern residences at 204 East Walnut Street, the Willis Russell Memorial Cabin is a blast from the past with its log walls and frontier architecture. The house pays tribute to the first school for African American children in Boyle County. The building is located near land that originally belonged to Revolutionary War soldier Lieutenant Robert E. Craddock, who, being unmarried and without children, used his will as a way to emancipate and provide for his slaves. One such slave was Willis Russell, who was educated by Craddock and given a plot of property in Danville, where he moved in 1838, founding a school for African-American children--the first of its kind in Boyle County.
(Sidenote: In 2013, the Boyle Landmark Trust researched land titles and deeds and discovered that Russell actually owned property at 105 East Walnut Street and near Stanford Road that would have been contemporary with the log cabin still standing at 204 East Walnut. However, Boyle Landmark Trust continues to honor Russell by keeping the historic property in his name. Fortunately, the 225-year-old log cabin will now be stabilized and prepared for restoration thanks to two generous grants from the Bunny Davis Estate and the Owsley Brown Charitable Foundation.)
Doram Sledd House
The Doram and Sledd families were one of the small groups of free African Americans in the Danville area during the early 1800s. A rare couple, the Dorams were wealthy business owners who possessed much of the land containing modern-day Bate Middle School, Martin Luther King Boulevard and East Walnut Street. They donated the land for the first Freeman School, a public school for newly freed slaves, which was located on the site of Bate Middle School. The family purchased several different homes in and around Danville, one of which (privately owned) is still standing on Martin Luther King Blvd. Pictured left are Dennis Doram, Jr. and his wife Diademia Doram; learn more about their incredible family story by clicking here.
African American Business District
The African American Business District encompassed roughly one square block of downtown Danville and was established as the economic and social center of local African-American life at the beginning of the twentieth century. The thriving district on Second Street housed restaurants, barber and beauty shops, medical and dental offices, retail shops, and more. Most of the buildings were razed by urban renewal in 1973.
Doric Lodge #18
The Doric Lodge No. 18 was founded in 1888 and moved to Second Street in 1920. Before it was razed in 1973, it stood for over 50 years as a social and cultural center of the African American community in Danville.
St. James AME
The oldest African American Church building in Danville, St. James dates back to 1882 and has beautiful Colonial Revival architecture. Legend tells that original members of the church met in a blacksmith shop that stood on the property while the church building was being constructed.
Old Crow Slave Cemetery
Located on the north side of the Chateau du Vieux Corbeau Winery property, the cemetery holds at least 13 known graves, probably more. Most likely, these slaves served either the Crow family, which first settled the area in the 1770’s, the Barbee family, who lived in the home from 1780 to 1784, or the McCarty family.
Civil War buffs will be fascinated by the May 23, 1863 march of almost 250 of Danville’s African-Americans, many of whom were slaves, to neighboring Camp Nelson, to join the Union army. These recruits were accepted into the ranks, causing a Union army policy change allowing any able-bodied African-American man to enlist. More than 5,000 U.S. Colored Troops were eventually recruited at Camp Nelson as a result. You can visit Camp Nelson in Jessamine County, and see a historical marker commemorating the march at Constitution Square in Danville.
These places and people are just a sliver of African American history in Danville; learn more from the Danville-Boyle County African American Historical Society. You can also find out more about African American History events happening in our community on our events calendar.