October 15, 2019 —Kendal resident Margaret Skovira resumes a local history column. She invites readers to ask a question about an event, person or place of historic interest in Rockbridge County (including Lexington and Buena Vista) to be answered in this column.
Q. What was at the corner of Nelson and Jefferson streets in Lexington before it became a park?
A. Hopkins Green, the park on the site you ask about, was part of a large tract of land originally purchased by James Hopkins from the newly-formed town of Lexington in 1788. (Hopkins House next to Hopkins Green on West Nelson Street was built in the mid-1840s.) Almost 200 years later, in 1984, the Historic Lexington Foundation made a public appeal for funds to purchase and landscape the lot as an urban park. HLF’s fundraising was successful and in 1985 Kendal resident Matthew Paxton and his brother, Robert Owen Paxton, descendants of the 1788 purchaser, transferred ownership of the lot to the Historic Lexington Foundation in a gift/sale. HLF consulted with nearby business and property owners as plans for the park were developed, oversaw the landscaping, and put an easement on the property giving HLF the right to approve changes. In 2003 HLF deeded the park to Lexington.
Back in 1984 Washington and Lee students had performed an archeological study of the lot that was to become the park, looking for evidence of a building on the site. They found and catalogued an assortment of small items, but concluded that no building of significance had ever occupied the lot. One reason could have been the fact that whenever there was a heavy rain, the lot, which has always been below street level, flooded. This was corrected when Lexington installed a storm drain system to carry off rain water.
Today Hopkins Green is a pleasant place to enjoy a sunny day and is the location of many civic events, including art shows, Christmas Tree lighting, rallies and other community activities. Royster Lyle (1933-2007), a local preservationist and early supporter of the park, and Pamela Simpson (1946-2011), a local educator devoted to historic preservation, are memorialized with sculptures in the park.
Resources: Historic Lexington Foundation
(Originally published on the April 2019 CONNECTIONS Resident Newsletter)