Bill Monroe Friends, Family Return To 'Old Home'

Bluegrass founder's childhood home deemed historic site, opened to public.

ROSINE, Kentucky — A host of musical and political dignitaries converged on the rural Kentucky birthplace of the late Bill Monroe on Thursday to unveil the newly restored structure and add it to the National Registry of Historic Places.

On a hot and sunny day, 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 felt like I needed to be here," he said. "This is such a historic day, to see Mr. Monroe's house restored. This is the birthplace of a 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, Pendleton Vandiver, who inspired this famous tune.

Following the speeches, performances and a blessing by local minister Michael Taylor, Kentucky governor Paul Patton cut the ribbon opening the house as the band played "Uncle Pen." Visitors then were allowed to walk through it.

Monroe family members and his longtime friend, songwriting legend Tom T. Hall, were also on hand.

"He'd be proud to see this house restored the way it is," said Bill Monroe's son, James. "He would have loved this."

Monroe was buried here five years ago, and a 20-foot monument marks his grave. Restoring his childhood home is an early step in the Rosine Project, an effort to develop a 1,000-acre state park that would include the home, a museum, nature trails, a restored schoolhouse and Uncle Pen's cabin.

The museum's centerpiece will be Bill Monroe's 1923 Gibson F-5 mandolin, which was purchased recently for $1.125 million.

Campbell Mercer heads the nonprofit Bill Monroe Foundation. "We want this to be a living memorial to him," Mercer said. "I look at Rosine as being the birthplace, and eventually the entertainment capitol, 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 to help establish a fitting memorial to Monroe.

The celebration included a free all-day bluegrass festival anchored by Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys and Mike Seeger.

"I saw a video called 'High Lonesome,'" Skaggs recalled, "which showed Bill walking up here and touching the walls. He looked very sad walking through the house and seeing it falling down. It broke his heart.

"He recited the words to 'I'm on My Way Back to the Old Home," Skaggs continued. "So this would have been something he would have really cherished. I wish it could have happened in his lifetime."