Love and legacy in Paris
By Theresa Soares

Debbie and Darrell Poynter gather with members of the community for the groundbreaking of the new court sports facility at Bourbon County Park, which will include basketball, tennis and pickleball courts.

When Debbie Poynter was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, her husband, Darrell, chose to retire early from a successful career in construction to be by her side through her treatments. Her motto then was "faith, friends and family," and she persevered through treatments with the support of her community.

When they found out she was going to live, the Poynters realized they needed to get back to work. They decided to follow their passion for old buildings by buying and restoring some of their hometown's dilapidated icons.

As a youngster in Paris in the early 1960s, Darrell remembers riding in his father's orange 1951 pickup truck and seeing an old opera house being torn down. Watching the history and character of the buildings being erased made him sad – and he never forgot it.

Darrell brings his construction expertise to the enterprise, while Debbie focuses on interior design. "We love preserving the buildings," Debbie says. "Darrell loves tearing up and making the messes, and I love visualizing how everything is going to look and picking out the finishes."
To date, they have renovated several buildings in Paris, including the old train depot, which now houses Trackside Restaurant; the Robneel Building, which has mixed-use retail space at street level and apartments on the second and third floors; the Hopewell Bake Exchange building; the Baldwin Hotel building; and, most recently, the circa 1891 Varden's Pharmacy building – their fourth project on Main Street.

"All of us have benefited from the renovations and projects that they have worked on here in the county, and we're grateful," says Sharon Fields, a pastor and retired educator. "Darrell seems to be a genius when it comes to renovating and building, and making things bright and beautiful. Debbie is his sidekick, and they work hand-in-hand with their son, Chris. They're a real asset to the community."

Their careful restoration efforts have garnered several awards from Kentucky historic preservation groups.

"They're go-getters," Mayor Johnny Plummer says. "Everything they touch is nice – it really is."
Darrell and Debbie, both 72, enjoy travel, but they always love coming home. They miss the small-town feeling they have found unique to Paris, having raised their sons, Chris and Brian, there.

"They're terrific people, and they care so much about Paris and Bourbon County," says Rita Williams, a friend.

Darrell and Debbie were high school sweethearts. After they married, he built a business as a painting contractor and followed opportunity to Atlanta. They were there for about five years. After spending one Christmas in Paris, the boys didn't want to leave. "We knew we didn't want to live anywhere else," Debbie says of Paris.

Walking down Main Street is a lot like opening a time capsule for Debbie. "I can remember shopping for school clothes at the J.C. Penney on Main Street for the boys when they were little," she says.

Hard work runs in their family. Debbie's father, Bill Lyle, 96, only recently retired after 80 years of cattle farming. He sold his last cow at the Paris Stockyard on October 26, 2023.
They've always been by each other's side, proud of their family, friends, faith and history. "Generally when you see Darrell, you see me," Debbie says.

Their work is memorialized at the new Secretariat Park, on a Main Street block where they either have restored, or are restoring, most every building. The sponsorship paver with their names on it also includes this inscription: "All because two people fell in love."

Darrell stands on a lift above the first floor of the 1891 Varden's Pharmacy building to investigate a wasp nest during renovations on upstairs apartments.

The Varden's Pharmacy renovation will create four apartments above retail space on the first floor. The building still has such original features as black-and-white penny top style floors and cabinets made from mahogany imported from Africa in the late 1800s.

Debbie visits the Robneel building, the Poynters' first historical preservation project on Main Street. The three-story apartment building with retail space on Main Street was built in 1908.

Debbie helps her son-in-law, Andy Embry, hang lights on the back deck of the Baldwin Hotel building. The deck has views of the new Secretariat Park.

Debbie stops to smile and greet friends on Main Street as she carries out business errands.

Darrell looks out on Main Street, standing in the doorway of the entrance leading up to the new apartments in the Varden's building.

With their sleeves rolled up, Darrell and Debbie take a moment to discuss lighting improvements during renovations on the back deck of the Baldwin Hotel building.

Debbie and Andy put finishing touches on string lighting improvements on the back deck of the Baldwin Hotel building.

Debbie sits with her father at the Stockyards Bank & Trust on Main Street after depositing a check for the final cattle sale of his 80-year farming career.