Did you know the Kentucky Museum was an idea started by Western Kentucky State Normal School history professor Gabrielle Robertson? In 1914, Gabrielle began teaching Kentucky history at WKU. Finding that there was only one book on Kentucky in the library, she embarked on a lifelong crusade to add others. As her materials – books, manuscripts, and objects – accumulated, she began to envision a building to house the collection.
By the 1920s, her efforts so impressed President Henry Hardin Cherry that he expanded her idea to include a museum. In 1928, the College Heights Foundation began to raise money for construction of the Kentucky Building. Construction of the 40,000 square foot structure started on August 4, 1931, and the exterior was completed that fall. However, the Great Depression made it nearly impossible to raise funds to complete the interior. Even so, the unfinished interior was temporarily used as classroom space from 1935-1937. School children played an important role in the building’s completion in the late 1930s. Small coin banks were distributed throughout the state, and students donated by placing dimes in the tins and returning them to the College Heights Foundation. In the end, over 4,000 Kentuckians became “stock holders” of the Kentucky Building.
The Kentucky Building was completed in September 1939 with funding from faculty, students, the general public, and the Public Works Administration. It was dedicated on November 16, 1939, which was Founder’s Day – President Cherry’s birthday. When it finally opened, the Kentucky Building had reception areas, classrooms, museum galleries, and library reading rooms; and it contained an extensive collection of manuscripts, artifacts, and books. The building closed in 1976 and reopened on July 4, 1980 after a $2.7 million renovation that doubled its size to 80,000 square feet.
Today, the Kentucky Building houses the Kentucky Museum as well as the Department of Library Special Collections, which contains a variety of rare materials including books, photographs, maps, and genealogical materials.
As we celebrate our 80th anniversary, the museum honors Gabrielle Robertson, President Cherry, and their efforts to establish a place for “Kentuckians to know Kentucky.”
Our 80th Birthday Bash will be held November 13, 2019, from 11:30am to 1pm in the Kentucky Room. Join the Kentucky Museum and WKU Department of Library Special Collections as we celebrate with cake, historical artifacts, and more.