A HISTORY OF NORTH LIMESTONE STREET
Roads in Kentucky have this funny way of being named for where they are going. For our neighborhood’s namesake road, it all started with what defines Kentucky. It’s why we have horses, it’s why we have bourbon, it’s what makes the bluegrass blue – Limestone.
When Lexington was chartered in 1782, there were two streets that ran from the town center northeast – Cross Street, and Mulberry Street. As Lexington developed and expanded in the early 19th Century, these streets changed names – Cross Street became Broadway, and Mulberry Street became Limestone.
The intersection of Limestone and Main Street was one of the most important hubs of the city. It was the confluence of the region’s most important roads – Limestone, heading north, was the road to Maysville, where the majority of Lexington’s limestone material for building stock came from, and it extended south to Nicholasville; Main Street ventured east to Richmond, and west to Frankfort, Kentucky’s capitol. What is now known as Downtown Lexington developed around the Limestone and Main Street crossing.
North Limestone Street, and the corridor surrounding it, runs through some of the most historical areas in the city. From the 1790s to the 1870s, the first few blocks north of Main Street was a mix of single-family homes and commercial businesses. From wagon manufacturing to leather goods, the healthy mix of business served travelers heading north to the Ohio River. This area now is home to the Fayette County Court Houses, commercial businesses, restaurants, and bars.
Past the central business area, the large out-lots were home to large estates, farms and gardens that would end up being subdivided into smaller lots over the years. By the 1880s, North Limestone had developed alleyways and substreet branches that were filled with less expensive clapboard cottages and shotgun-style houses.
A main fixture of North Limestone Street in the 1890s was an electric streetcar/trolley system. The trolley started in the downtown core, and proceeded north to Loudon Ave. The trolley drove commercial business to the Sixth and Limestone intersection, a main stop on the route, to capture pedestrians getting off the trolley on their way home. With the popularity of the automobile growing, Limestone Street shifted to a one-way northbound street in the early 20th century to prevent congestion without expanding the width of the road.
By the 1920s, North Limestone was one of the most diverse areas of the city. Residents of the street had wildly varying occupations – from artists, factory workers, and doctors, to hemp manufacturers, ministers, and saloon keepers.
The majority of Lexington’s light manufacturing industry developed around the intersection of North Limestone and Loudon Avenue. It was home to Lexington’s Trolley System (contained in the Southeastern Greyhound Line building), the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, numerous hemp manufacturing plants, and the Luigart and Harting Malt Factory. Until the city-county merger in 1974, Loudon Avenue was the northern border of Lexington, and became an active suburban area in the early 20th century. New brick commercial businesses developed at the Loudon and Limestone intersection, mixing with the older factory-based businesses, while residential structures began to pop up on Loudon Avenue itself.
Branching off of North Limestone is Bryan Avenue (becoming Bryan Station Road), which runs north following the original Limestone Trace, an old buffalo path that ran from Lexington to Paris. North of Loudon, Bryan Avenue is flanked on the east by Castlewood Park., a small remnant of the Hunt family farm, mercantilists that made a fortune in the hemp and textile industry in 19th Century Lexington. The farm was founded in 1852 when Frances Key Hunt received the property from his wife’s family, and erected a Gothic Revival villa for his home. This building came to be known as the Loudoun House. Decades after Hunt’s death in 1879, the farm and villa were bequeathed to the city. The Loudoun House currently houses the Lexington Art League, Lexington’s premiere visual arts organization.
The area surrounding Castlewood Park and Limestone St north of Loudon Avenue consists of commercial businesses and single-family residences that were part of post-World War II infill redevelopment efforts.
As “urban renewal” hit Lexington in the 1950s and 1960s, the industrial centers of Lexington shifted outside of the downtown area. This disinvestment in the area caused a massive loss in jobs for the mostly pedestrian north side. As a result, the North Limestone neighborhood’s economy collapsed, and many of the houses fell into disrepair and went vacant. Following the exit of industrial centers, businesses began to move out of downtown Lexington, causing further disinvestment in the southern part of the North Limestone neighborhood. In 1954, unemployment was growing at a rate of 260% in the neighborhood.
When Lexington began work on New Circle Road in 1955, a circumferential highway encompassing the city, there were encouraging signs of reinvestment along the new highway. However, as construction dragged on and frontage road construction projects were delayed, businesses began to build their own driveways that extended to New Circle. The result of this is one of Lexington’s most congested stretches of roadway, hampered by traffic lights and drive-in strip-malls that are difficult for pedestrians to access. The largely pedestrian Northside is now cut-off to the north by a car-clogged highway.
In the early 2000s, the city began infill studies to encourage reinvestment in the downtown and Northside neighborhoods. In 2001, the Whitaker Bank Ballpark was erected on North Broadway, a block away from North Limestone, bringing tourism dollars into the Northside economy. Around this same time, grassroots residential reinvestment began to happen in the area, along with new business openings and investments in culture and public art from LexArts and LFUCG.
In the mid 2000s, the North Limestone Neighborhood Association, in partnership with other Northside neighborhood associations, led a charge to create a master plan for the economic and urban development of the “central sector,” essentially all of Lexington’s Northside. In 2009, the city released the Central Sector Small Area Plan, which highlighted the needs and goals of the community, and created strategies to execute these goals. This was followed up two years later by the North Limestone Sustainability Plan, which addressed environmental quality issues that affected the North Limestone neighborhood. In 2013, the North Limestone Community Development Corporation was established in order to execute the goals of these two plans.
North Limestone is one of Lexington’s most diverse, vibrant, and engaging streets. It is an arts and cultural hub of the city featuring organizations like Institute 193, the Living Arts and Science Center, the Lexington Art League, and many more. It also features some of the best restaurants and bars in Lexington – including Le Deauville, Arcadium, and Minton’s Restaurant. The North Limestone neighborhood is rapidly returning to its original state as a walkable neighborhood – you can buy your groceries at Shorty’s, get your hair cut at Fleet Street Hair Shoppe, get a straight razor shave at Supreme Service Barber Shop, hear music at Al’s Bar, grab a donut at North Lime Coffee and Donuts, have a picnic in Duncan Park, take your kids to school at Arlington Elementary, Lexington Traditional Magnet, or Sayre School – all within 10 minutes of each other on foot.
While we have all of these amazing amenities, there are still so many in our community that are in great need of support. One of the most serious issues that effects our community is a lack of high-quality affordable housing. Currently we are working on developing our own affordable housing, through the support of LFUCG's Affordable Housing Trust Fund, along with other private investment.
There are also many social service organizations in our neighborhood that need support to continue their operations, whether through volunteering or financial contributions. You can find out more information about them on our Neighborhood Resources page.