Battle Brewing Over Monument Park At State Capitol

Frankfort, KY – Kentucky's limestone and granite State Capitol nestles in a park-like setting designed by the Olmstead brothers, sons of America's first landscape architect, the renowned Frederick Law Olmstead. Since the building's dedication in 1910, the grassy, tree-shaded northwest quadrant of the 33-acre campus has remained virtually untouched. But two years ago, Governor Ernie Fletcher's administration decided the space should be used for a monument park. David Buchta was director of state Historic Properties back then, and still is. "There became an interest in having a tourism enhancement package, and part of that was to develop that park as well as a visitors center over here, which is underway."

In the last two years, the monument park has begun to take shape. Water lines are in. It's landscaped with trees, shrubs and boulders. There's a walking trail, a water fountain and two brick patios supporting large, concrete benches embossed with the state seal. Several low-profile monuments dot the area, including one honoring Kentucky POW-MIA's. For the most part, the project is proceeding as planned. But development of the previously undisturbed lawn has caught the eye of preservationists, like Ashley Averell of the Garden Club of Frankfort. "I prefer the green space that sets our beautiful Capitol and Executive Mansion apart from the rest of the city."

Averell says the garden club isn't opposed to monument parks. It just questions the wisdom of putting one on the historic Capitol grounds, where space is at a premium. But that hasn't stopped the state from soliciting non-profit organizations to erect even more monuments in the park. The first to win approval is the Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates, or KODA. The group is constructing a seven-foot tall, 20-thousand dollar granite monolith, says KODA's Jenny Jones. "We were interested in honoring individuals throughout the state who had given the gift of life through organ donation."

The Criteria for Monuments on the State Capitol Grounds says they "should be of historical significance to the Commonwealth of Kentucky," but Jones says that's not the sole criteria. "It can be based on a group's or individual's contribution of several instances, one being civic or social."

But the disruption of historic green space on the Capitol lawn has also caught the eye of Stephen Collins, son of former Governor Martha Layne Collins. He chairs the Historic Properties Advisory Council, which signed-off on the park and the KODA monument, prior to his tenure. He says the council may need to revisit the park project. "As we see more and more people wanting to honor their organization or groups that make significant contributions to the commonwealth, we may have to look at how it will be able to be expanded without diminishing a very historical resource and the beauty of our Capitol grounds."

That's good news to the garden club's Ashley Averell, who wants to see the lawn preserved. "That's what makes it unique from so many other state's capitols. It's set on grounds. It's not hemmed-in by office buildings. And it's beautiful and we should be very cognizant of the green space that we do have."

For now, the project moves forward. There have been some weather delays, and the state budget crunch put plans for a gazebo on the back burner, but work on the granite foundation for the KODA monument is underway. If you'd like to draw your own conclusions about the park, look for it on your right as you enter the drive that encircles the State Capitol.