Home » City of Somerset to receive Kentucky History Award for preservation of The Virginia

City of Somerset to receive Kentucky History Award for preservation of The Virginia

SOMERSET, Ky. — The City of Somerset will receive a Kentucky History Award for education and preservation Saturday, June 3, at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort for its renovation of The Virginia, downtown Somerset’s century-old theater.

The Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) will recognize 25 individuals and organizations for their contributions to the field of history at the annual Kentucky History Awards Celebration, which serves as a kick-off to Kentucky History Day. This year’s history award winners represent communities from across Kentucky in categories that include a range of disciplines from education to publication, along with special awards named after some of the Commonwealth’s greatest historians.

“The Commonwealth is fortunate to have over 370 history-related organizations,” KHS Executive Director Scott Alvey said. “From history museums, historic sites and parks to historical societies and Kentucky historians, they play a fundamental role in understanding what it means to be a Kentuckian. The annual Kentucky History Awards recognizes outstanding work done in Kentucky history and the community of public historians who help us see the unfolding story of our past.”

Nominated by Somerset-Pulaski County Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) President and CEO Chris Girdler, the award recognizes the City of Somerset’s outstanding achievement in promoting the value of Kentucky history through education and preservation by renovating The Virginia.

In his nomination, Girdler tells the story of The Virginia’s past — its contributions to the local economy from the 1920s until 1994 when a historic winter storm crippled the building’s roof and forced its closure — as well as the valiant efforts of the Downtown Somerset Development Corporation (DSDC) and later the City of Somerset to ensure The Virginia had a future.

DSDC was responsible for purchasing the building, replacing its roof, and clearing out two decades of decaying debris during the late 1990s and early 2000s. But multiple efforts to raise capital and grant funding for The Virginia’s revitalization never materialized. In 2020, as part of his campaign to revitalize downtown, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck approached DSDC with a proposal: Deed the building to the city for $1 with the promise that the city will invest in renovating it into a live performance venue and operating it as such. If the building were not open by its 100th anniversary in 2022, it would revert back to DSDC’s ownership.

In April 2021, Somerset City Council passed a $13 million municipal bond initiative, including $2 million to renovate The Virginia and convert it into a live performance venue. Construction began immediately, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Much of the building’s shell was preserved during construction. Its interior brick walls were left mostly untouched, where the outline of the original balcony can still be seen. And the new marquee was designed to resemble the original that lit up East Mount Vernon Street nearly a century ago.

The Virginia reopened to the public in June 2022 with much fanfare, just in time for its 100th anniversary. The venue has hosted sell-out crowds in some countries in its first year. Americana music’s rising stars celebrated the holidays with live performances of Miracle on 34th Street and has been home to state and national conferences. Its new monthly Classic Movie Night series honors the building’s history as a cinema by showing some of its most well-attended films during the last century, like Gone With the Wind and The Godfather.

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