Adamstown, established in 1872, was an African American community that lay between Winslow/Euclid (now Avenue of Champions) and Maxwell Streets, not far from what is now the center of Lexington.
Adams Street ran through the neighborhood. Later College View was developed between Adamstown and Maxwell. Most of the Adamstown houses were shotgun-style, one room wide and three or four rooms deep. Most Adamstown residents were skilled and unskilled workers. As in the other Black enclaves, residents worked, raised families, and joined social organizations and churches.
The map is from the WPA Real Property Survey, with highlighting added.
Much of what we have learned about Adamstown is from James Hanlon's insightful 2011 article, "Unsightly Urban Menaces and the Rescaling of Residential Segregation in the United States." Hanlon describes the decisions that led to the community's demise and the racial attitudes that led to those decisions. We offer a brief summary of that history below; we recommend the full article to those who want to know more.
About ten years after Adamstown came into being the University of Kentucky (which had been founded in 1865 in another part of town) established its campus across the street. Over the next 40 years as the university grew, homes for middle-class White people were built along Rose Street and on College View, and the swampy area across from Adamstown was filled in and became a football field. Kalvin Graves, a UK history graduate who has studied Adamstown, has said that the residents enjoyed sitting on their roofs to watch the games (Tipton November 1, 2019).
In the first half of the 20th century, Adamstown faced threats that reflect the attitudes of some White Lexingtonians about the small community. The first came in 1914, when Patrick Devereux (apparently a real estate dealer) announced his plan for "the complete elimination of Adamstown and Winslow street as a colored section" in order to "transform" the area with "modern public improvements and restrictions" (Lexington Leader 1914).
Devereux's plan did not come to fruition, but in 1924 the University of Kentucky announced a plan to convert the football field across from Adamstown into a stadium. The middle-class White residents of Rose Street objected to the proposal; their petition argued in part, “With the stadium erected there, the plague spot bounded by Winslow, Rose and Adams will become a fixture, as no one would wish to buy, and that section of the city would never be cleaned up" (Petition from Residents of Rose Street 1924). The university did build the stadium, but chose a section of the field farther away from Adamstown and Rose Street.
In 1939 the university began to consider Adamstown as the site for a new basketball arena. As the university weighed its options, the Lexington Leader promoted Adamstown as the site because that option would result in removal of the “unsightly block of low-class dwellings” with its "cheap frame houses occupied by poorer-class tenants, houses that are unpainted and in poor repair and surrounded by premises that are in keeping with the unbeautiful dwellings" (Shropshire 1939).
By that time, only 5% of the homes in Adamstown were owner-occupied, and one White landlord owned 57 of Adamstown’s 75 lots (Hanlon 2011, 745–747). The residents were powerless to prevent the demolition of their homes.
After much negotiation, threatened zone changes, and an eminent domain suit against some of the properties, the university acquired all the land and lots in Adamstown. By 1943 the neighborhood was gone, and in 1950 Memorial Coliseum (home of the all-White basketball team at the all-White University of Kentucky) stood in its place. Neither the university nor the city of Lexington made concerted efforts to find new homes for the displaced Adamstown residents (Hanlon 2011, 747).
The demolition of Adamstown was not the result of a city-driven slum-clearance project, but of a university decision to make room for Memorial Coliseum. The 1924 petition by White neighbors, and the 1939 newspaper comments, make it clear that many in Lexington wanted Adamstown gone. James Hanlon posits a likely underlying reason: originally built on the outskirts of town, but later surrounded by middle-class White homes and the university, Adamstown had become "out of place" * (Hanlon 2011, 746–747).
Thanks to the efforts of Kalvin Graves and others, there is now a plaque outside the Memorial Coliseum-Craft Center complex, commemorating Adamstown’s history. The Adamstown community was also celebrated at a UK exhibition basketball game (Tipton November 1, 2019).
*(Intrigued by Hanlon's discussion of "out-of-placeness", we continued to read and think about that idea. We came to see the concept of White/Black space as broader than we could do justice to on this website. Some of our reading and thinking about it, however, is included in "What We Don't Know.")