ROSINE, Ky. — A host of musical and political dignitaries converged on the rural Kentucky birthplace of the late Bill Monroe Thursday morning (Aug. 23) to unveil the newly restored structure and add it to the National Registry of Historic Places.
On a sunny day, with temperatures in the 90s, more than 2,000 bluegrass devotees made their way up a narrow, traffic-snarled gravel road to pay homage to the man regarded as the founder of the tradition-based musical style.
Among those on hand for speeches and a ribbon-cutting ceremony was bluegrass standard bearer Ricky Skaggs . “I just felt like I needed to be here today,” he said. “This is such a historic day, to see Mr. Monroe’s house restored. This is the birthplace of a very rare form of American music. It’s pretty awesome to be here.”
Also attending were former members of Monroe’s band, the Blue Grass Boys, including Wayne Lewis, Jimmy Campbell and Robert Bowlin. Between speeches by local and state officials, they were part of a group that played traditional tunes such as “Soldier’s Joy,” “Boston Boy” and “Jenny Lynn,” all mentioned in Monroe’s bluegrass classic, “Uncle Pen.” Three different musicians used the fiddle once owned by Monroe’s Uncle Pen Vandiver, the inspiration for his famous tune.
Following the speeches, musical performances and a blessing of the house by local minister Michael Taylor, Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton cut the ribbon opening the house as the band played “Uncle Pen.” Visitors then were allowed to walk through.
Members of Monroe’s family including his son, James Monroe, his grandson, Jim Monroe, and his oldest niece, Rosetta Monroe Kiper, attended. Monroe’s longtime friend, songwriting legend Tom T. Hall , also was on hand.
“He’d be proud of this house, to see it restored the way it is,” James Monroe said. “He would have loved this kind of thing.”
Monroe was buried here five years ago. A monument, 20 feet tall, marks his grave. Restoring his childhood home is an early step in “The Rosine Project,” an effort to develop a 1000-acre state park that would include the home, a museum, nature trails, the restored home of his brother, Charlie, a restored schoolhouse and Uncle Pen’s cabin, among other things.
The centerpiece of the museum will be Bill Monroe’s 1923 Gibson F-5 mandolin, which recently was purchased for $1.125 million.
Campbell Mercer heads up the non-profit Bill Monroe Foundation. “We want this to be a living memorial to him,” Mercer says. “I look at Rosine as being the birthplace of bluegrass and eventually the entertainment capital of bluegrass music.”
The group has a long way to go. With $800,000 in seed money, they hope to land $16 million more from the Kentucky General Assembly. They also hope to tap private donors and foundations for help in establishing what they regard as a fitting memorial to Monroe.
Thursday, tractors pulling hay-covered flatbed trailers provided transportation from parked cars to the restored home and to a free, all-day bluegrass festival anchored by Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys and Mike Seeger.
“He would have loved seeing the people and I think he would have loved to see the house restored,” Skaggs said. “I saw a video called High Lonesome, and he walked up here and touched the walls and stepped on the doorstep, very sad, walking through the house and seeing it really falling in. It broke his heart.
“He recited the words to ‘I’m on My Way to the Old Home,’ and there was this brokenness in his heart,” he continued. “So I think this would have been something he would have really cherished. I wish it could have happened in his lifetime.”
Jay Orr contributed to this story.