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Small Ky. Town on National Stage

October 5, 2000

DANVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ The T&T Main Street Restaurant serves up ``A brief history of Danville″ along with its burgers and BLTs.

Luncheon diners can read about the town’s evolution from pioneer outpost to center of learning on the front of the sandwich menu.

An update will be needed after Thursday, when Republican Dick Cheney and Democrat Joseph Lieberman meet for a vice presidential debate on the campus of Centre College.

Danville, 35 miles south of Lexington, has about 17,000 residents, the smallest city ever chosen as a debate site by the Commission on Presidential Debates. But it’s always had a sense of history.

``It’s kind of an inborn pride in our heritage,″ Mayor Alex Stevens said in an interview.

Cheney and Lieberman are coming to a community of careful planning and controlled growth. Danville guards its image and holds to the best vestiges of its past, like the Victorian houses and deep lawns one passes when driving into town on Maple Avenue.

``It’s sort of a feeling more than any visible manifestation,″ said Richard Brown, historian and retired college professor. ``In many ways, it’s a quite modern, progressive city, but still it has this inclination toward preservation.″

Several historic preservation districts have been created within the city. The state’s first constitution was drafted here in 1792, an event memorialized at Constitution Square downtown.

Centre College, established in 1819, is the town’s cultural center.

Some residents, like Albert Wood, searched for a place to retire before settling on Danville.

``I could have gone anywhere in the world,″ said Wood, 69, a former legal assistant who arrived in 1994 after 37 years in Florida.

The town appeals to more than retirees.

``Where I come from, there’s a lot of racial tension and violence,″ said Rachel LaGrone, a Centre student from Shreveport, La. ``I didn’t realize how much stress I was under, living in that environment.″

Which is not to say Danville is devoid of problems.

Tom Houchin, a 50-year resident, said any social tensions have been rooted in class more than race. ``They never really had a middle class in Danville,″ he said.

Danville is a ``dry″ town, having declined to legalize alcoholic beverage sales.

``It’s a great place to raise children,″ said Tom Major, a retiree and 20-year resident. ``But I don’t think it’s much of a town for young adults. If you want to go somewhere for dinner and get a drink, you’ve got to go to Lexington or someplace.″

As in many other small cities, downtown Danville is trying to find its niche. Many retailers have moved to the edge of town or gone out of business, unable to compete with the big discount chains.

It also suffered an image crisis in the early 1980s, when the state built a medium-security prison near the town.

For political reasons, the prison received a euphemistic name _ Northpoint Training Center _ and an address in neighboring Mercer County. ``That was a bone they threw to the local people,″ said Joe Clarke, a state representative at the time.

Stevens said he expected ``an incalculable amount of long-term benefits″ from the vice presidential debate. ``It moves you to another level of credibility,″ he said.

Centre College has produced two vice presidents of its own.

John Cabell Breckinridge, Class of 1838, was elected with James Buchanan in 1856. He ran for president in 1860, lost to Abraham Lincoln and later joined the Confederacy.

Adlai E. Stevenson attended Centre in the late 1850s but did not graduate. He did, however, marry the college president’s daughter.

Stevenson was elected vice president under Grover Cleveland in 1892. His grandson and namesake, Adlai Ewing Stevenson, was the Democratic nominee for president in 1952 and 1956. A great-grandson, Aldai E. Stevenson III, was a U.S. senator from Illinois.

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