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About Ida Lee Willis

Mrs. Ida Lee Willis

The annual statewide historic preservation awards are named for the late Ida Lee Willis, a former Kentucky first lady who was appointed first executive director of the Kentucky Heritage Commission (now the Kentucky Heritage Council) in 1966.  Under her direction, the agency began in earnest to survey the state, nominate sites to the National Register of Historic Places, award grants and promote preservation statewide.

Mrs. Willis was the widow of former Gov. Simeon Willis, and she was directly responsible for saving the historic Vest-Lindsey House in Frankfort (rendering below), an anchor in Frankfort's "Corner in Celebrities."  The Vest-Lindsey House is one of nearly 40 homes that remain in the Corner in Celebrities, first described by Alice Trabue in her book of the same name, published in 1922.

In the opening paragraphs, Ms. Trabue explains that there is “…a quaint corner of the town from which have sprung, probably, more distinguished men than from any like area I the United States.  Covering about four acres, bounded by four streets bearing the historic names of Washington, Wilkinson, Montgomery and Wapping, is the central group of some noble old houses which sheltered sires and sons whose deeds brought fame and ever lasting glory to Kentucky.”  These include:

  • Supreme Court justices John Marshall Harlan and Thomas Todd
  • Nine United States Senators, including John Brown, first US Senator from KY
  • Six Congressmen
  • Eight Governors including Charles S. Morehead and John Jordan Crittenden
  • Seven foreign ambassadors
  • Three Navy Admirals
  • And John Bibb, nationally prominent as a Senator, Secretary of the Treasury and Assistant Attorney General, who developed Bibb lettuce in the back yard of his Wapping Street home.Vest-Lindsey House

The Vest-Lindsey House was home of a long-time early Kentucky Congressman, George Graham Vest, who is best remembered for his closing trial arguments in an 1870 lawsuit over a man’s killing of his neighbor’s dog.  In his famed “Tribute to a Dog” speech, Vest coined the well-known phrase “Dog is man’s best friend.” In 1846 the house was sold to prominent attorney and state legislator Thomas Noble Lindsey, whose son, Daniel Weisiger Lindsey, was adjutant general and inspector general in charge of all Union Army forces in Kentucky.

The Ida Lee Willis Memorial Foundation was chartered in 1979 to honor Mrs. Willis for her efforts in helping preserve Kentucky’s historic and archaeological resources.  Sally Willis Meigs is her daughter, and she continues her mother’s legacy with her service on the foundation board.  A line drawing of the Vest-Lindsey House serves as the foundation's logo.

For more information:

Diane Comer
Public Information Officer
Kentucky Heritage Council
(502) 564-7005, ext. 120
diane.comer@ky.gov

 

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Last Updated 3/13/2015