Thu May 16, 2013
Fundraising Deadline Looms to Save Historic Bardstown Birthplace of a Civil Rights Activist
Preservationists are racing to raise money for the restoration of a 19th century plantation house in Bardstown. If the $500,000 goal is not met soon, most of the house will likely be dismantled to make way for a high school campus expansion project.
The site in history-rich Bardstown has a storied past. The plantation was the birthplace of a one-time slave who became a leader of the nation’s black Catholics and a renowned civil rights activist.
The three-story, 26-room antebellum mansion, now vacant and crumbling, was built in 1847. Until about five years ago, it was in continuous use.
Historian and former Bardstown Mayor Dixie Hibbs says the house got its Native American-derived name from one of its many owners, James Druien. He called it Anatok.
“Because it’s up on a hill, and there’s always a nice breeze. Someone asked, ‘What does that word mean?’ And he said, ‘It means meeting of the winds,’” she said.
Rudd was born into slavery on the plantation in 1854. He moved to Ohio with his brother after the Civil War, beginning what biographer Gary Agee calls a “remarkable and inspirational” career as a journalist, Catholic church leader and advocate for racial justice.
“Rudd was the real deal,” Agee said.
In 1889, Rudd convened the first National Black Catholic Congress, which is still active today.
“Rudd wrote two books, he met the president twice," Agee said. " He ran one of the most successful black newspapers in the country and he headed up the Afro-American Press League. He was a lecturer, one of the best-known black Catholics in the country in his day.”
Daniel Rudd never wrote about his early childhood on the plantation, but he returned to Bardstown after suffering a stroke in 1932 and died the following year. Rudd was buried in an integrated section of St. Joseph Cemetery.
“He said he believed he would live long enough to see a black man president of his Republic. He really believed in the Catholic Church, he really believed in an America without a color line. And so, interestingly enough, he was buried in a cemetery among his white brothers and sisters,” Agee said.
Anatok, the plantation house, now belongs to the Catholic church, part of the campus of Bethlehem High School (which I should disclose is my alma mater). In addition to a private home, Anatok was for many years a convent for the school’s founders, the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth.
Principal Tom Hamilton said Bethlehem needs room to grow. About three years ago the school board began exploring several ways to restore the house, but couldn’t afford any of them.
“Everybody had great ideas but nobody had any money,” Hamilton said.
So the board approved a plan to dismantle Anatok and integrate some if its features into an outdoor classroom and amphitheater, and construct a memorial to Daniel Rudd.
But local preservationists filed suit, and won an injunction to delay the work. Under a mediation agreement the group was given time to raise $500,000 to transform Anatok into classrooms, art gallery space and a reading room dedicated to Daniel Rudd.
Hamilton says he supports the fundraising plan.
“I’m hoping, that regardless of how this thing turns out, folks will see this as a real effort to preserve the historical nature of the site, but also to build for the future as well.”
Dixie Hibbs acknowledges that she has more than just a historian’s passion for keeping Anatok intact. She and her family lived in the house for 17 years. Hibbs says despite the mansion’s rough appearance, with boarded up windows and some water damage, Anatok is structurally sound.
“If this building is taken down, this is going to be a hole in our physical heritage in Bardstown," Hibbs said. We are known for preservation, we don’t want to be known for taking down a building that still had life in it.”
Hibbs said last week that if she and her fellow preservationists meet a challenge grant from Christy Brown, they’ll have about $225,000. The deadline to raise $500,000 for Anatok is May 31.