By Barbara Hadley Smith, The Garden Club of Frankfort

In the early decades of the 1900s, the role of women in community affairs was relatively restricted. Wife, mother, homemaker and support to the males of the family took precedence. But, there were some women able to step out and lead the efforts toward community betterment. One such person was Lilian Lindsey, born in 1878 in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Lilian’s many accomplishments enrich the lives of today’s citizens of Frankfort and Franklin County. As president of the Woman’s Club of Frankfort, she led the drive to establish a library in Frankfort in 1908. She collected books and found space in her own home to store them. Since there was no money to hire a librarian, Lilian took it upon herself to get training in library science at the University of Chicago and the Indiana Library Commission so she could fulfill the role on a volunteer basis.

Over the years, the library was in the McClure Building, the Old Capitol, the Masonic Building, the Woman’s Club of Frankfort building and the Federal Building. In 2006, it moved into the newly constructed Paul Sawyier Public Library at 319 Wapping St. next to the Vest-Lindsey House, which had been the home of Lilian and her family. A plaque notes Lilian as the library founder and the bookstore on the first level is named after her.

Lilian Lindsey

What may not be so well known is that Lilian is the founder of The Garden Club of Frankfort. On March 28, 1924, Lilian, her sister, Cordelia Lindsey, and Ms. Elizabeth Patterson Thomas met at the Lindsey’s home at 401 Wapping St. and officially launched the club. Their specified purpose was “to stimulate knowledge and love of gardening among amateurs; to share the advantage of association through conference and correspondence in this country and abroad; to aid in the protection of native plants and birds, and to encourage civic beauty and planting.”

The Garden Club of Frankfort is proud of its history and excited to celebrate its centennial in 2024. A Petite Flower Show honoring Lilian was held in August and several activities are planned for this year. Those include a special reception in March, a display at the library, dedication of a sign at the Lilian Lindsey Garden next to the Woman’s Club of Frankfort building at 200 Washington St. and publication of an updated history of the club.

In the first written history of the club, Lilian’s dedication to the natural beauty of her community is evident. In actions that have relevance today, she strongly protested the excavations at the quarry on Taylor Avenue.

The report said:

“In July 1925, there was a discussion about the quarries, in connection with the reading of an editorial by Mr. Tom Wallace, who has always been a vigorous advocate of conservation. From that time on, under the zealous leadership of Miss Lilian Lindsey, the Club worked in every conceivable way — through sales, through speakers, through letters, through the press, and through personal appeals, to save the hills of Frankfort. Mr. Fred Sutterlin and other citizens have been most helpful, and much interest has been created throughout Kentucky and elsewhere. But if we could only arouse Kentucky’s pride!

“For years, we have fluctuated between hope and disappointment. The records show that the owner of one of the quarries once committed himself so far as to promise that, from that time on, he would ‘dynamite softly.’ Softly!”

In one of her later reports, Lilian spoke of being impressed on ready a timely sentence, “It takes great faith to stand steadfast in the face of apparent disaster, but no effort is made in vain.” She concluded, “At any rate we have tried, and the Garden Club has stood definitely in this community and in the state against the destruction.”

Lilian left an indelible mark on the Frankfort community and its citizens today benefit from her leadership. She lived with her three sisters in the Vest-Lindsey House until her death from tuberculosis on June 1, 1939, and is buried with her family in the Frankfort Cemetery. Her obituary read, “her ideals were high and noble.”

Vest-Lindsey House (Photo by Hannah Brown)
One of the concrete benches in the Lilian Lindsey Park pays tribute to the founder of the Frankfort public library. (Photo submitted)
The Garden Club of Frankfort maintains the Lillian Lindsey Memorial Garden adjacent to the Frankfort Women’s Club building. (Photo submitted)