Old Louisville

Old Louisville, which is just south of downtown Louisville and north of the University of Louisville, is famous for its many Victorian era homes featuring Romanesque, Italianate and Queen Anne architectural styles. The majority of these homes is all brick and includes stained glass windows. While the City of Louisville was first chartered in 1780, Old Louisville was initially developed in the 1830s by wealthy city dwellers who established country estates in the area. One favorite picnic area was known as Jacob’s Wood, which was very popular until the mid 1840s. Significant development didn’t begin until the 1850s, when streets were extended further south from Broadway, which included a mule car line that extended down Fourth Street to Oak Street in 1865. The area now known as Old Louisville was called the Southern Extension, which was annexed by the City of Louisville in 1868.

The catalyst for significant development south of Oak Street was the Southern Exposition, which was held annually from 1883 to 1887. The idea of an exposition focused on cotton was first presented by Edward Atkinson in an 1880 letter to the Boston Herald and later supported by Henry Watterson, the owner of the The Courier-Journal. Atkinson’s idea was to showcase the different ways cotton was produced and also identify its various products and uses. In 1882, The Committee of Fifty was formed, that included most of Louisville’s most influential citizens. This group then incorporated and raised $300,000 of capital stock. A fundraiser at the opera house in Louisville raised another $288,000 in late 1883. Construction began in January 1883 on the massive 2-story exhibition hall, which covered more than twelve acres. Surrounding the main building were four open courts, each covering more than 2 acres. The actual exposition showcased much more than cotton production, with separate sections devoted to machinery, natural products, manufactured products, transportation and music, literature and art. The exhibition was a great success with over one million attendees in 1883, including President Chester A. Arthur who opened the event. One featured technology was the light bulb, which was first patented in 1875. The hall was illuminated at night by thousands of incandescent light bulbs, acquired from the Thomas Edison Company. The acreage used for the exhibition is now comprised of Central Park and St James Court, which was created by William Slaughter. After the exhibition ended in 1883, the area between Oak and Hill Streets grew rapidly. By 1885 more than 250 Victorian style homes were constructed at an estimated total cost of $1.6 million dollars. In the late 1800s Old Louisville was home to the wealthiest denizens of Louisville. Old Louisville began to gradually decline with the advent of an expanded streetcar system and the availability of the Louisville and Frankfort Railroad. The Great Depression accelerated its decline and led to many of the large homes being converted into boarding houses. The Ohio River Flood of 1937 resulted in the exodus of the remaining wealthy families to the suburbs offering higher elevations and land for large estates.

In 1960, the revitalization of Old Louisville began with the reporting of J. Douglas Nunn of the The Courier-Journal. Nunn, Barry Bingham, Jr., the owner of The Courier Journal, and Phillip Davidson, the president of the University of Louisville provided the impetus for the creation of the Old Louisville Association. In the mid-1960s Nunn and several other like-minded individuals formed “Restoration, Inc.,” to purchase and restore properties on Belgravia and St. James Courts. These efforts galvanized others to become involved in the preservation and renovation of many properties in Old Louisville, which today is protected by The Old Louisville Neighborhood Council.

Given the plethora of large, stately, Victorian-era structures, parks and tree lined streets; Old Louisville is very popular with young professionals, small businesses, artisans, restaurateurs, and real estate investors, who have converted many of the homes into multi-family dwellings. Given the close proximity to the University of Louisville and Spalding University, the neighborhood is also very popular with students. It’s an eclectic population with a great diversity of spirit and culture. http://www.oldlouisville.com/

Amenities & Special Events
Besides the usual collection of coffee houses, shops, taverns, restaurants, and libraries, Old Louisville is blessed with multiple museums, parks, a planetarium, and various festivals and fairs.

The Speed Art Museum
The “Speed,” Kentucky’s oldest and largest museum, was founded in 1925 by Hattie Bishop Speed. It was created in honor of her husband James Breckinridge Speed. The primary focus of the collection is Western art, from antiquity to the present day. Besides paintings, the museum also has collections of tapestries, furniture, North American Indian artifacts, and sculpture. Representative artists include Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn, Henry Moore, Thomas Gainsborough, Claude Monet, Marc Chagall, Henri Matisse, Giovanni Tiepolo, Pablo Picasso and contemporary artists Helen Frankenthaler and Frank Stella. http://www.speedmuseum.org/

The Filson Historical Society
The oldest privately supported historical society in Kentucky began operation in 1884. It’s collections, which may be searched on-line or in person, includes fifty-thousand books, 1.8 million documents, 400 portraits, 10,000 museum items, and thousands of historic photographs and prints of Louisville and Kentucky. http://www.filsonhistorical.org/

Crane House, China Institute, Inc.
Helen Lang founded Crane House in 1987. Helen Lang’s initial objective was to share her expertise in Chinese cooking, history and culture. This mission has expanded considerably and now involves Chinese language classes for pre-school and school aged children. Chinese and Japanese classes are available for adults. Also, the educational program now encompasses all of East Asia, with programs offerings for China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Bhutan, among others. Crane also has a small gallery of Asian artifacts and objects. http://www.cranehouse.org/index.php

 Theatre in Old Louisville
Annually the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival is held at the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheatre in Central Park. This summer event is free and typically attracts upwards of ten thousand attendees each season.
The University of Louisville offers productions at its Belknap Playhouse and the Thrust Theatre. The playhouse was built in 1874 and initially served as a chapel for a local orphanage. It was acquired in 1923 by the university and converted into a theatre. It was carefully dismantled in 1977 and moved to its present location in 1980.

St James Court Art Show
This event was founded in 1957 by St James Court Association president Malcolm Bird. The event’s initial focus was on raising funds for the association treasury, by simply having local artists display their creations. Through the years the event has gradually increased in size and fame. Besides fine art, the event also includes ceramics, pottery, antiques, and a wide variety of unique handcrafted items. On multiple occasions, including in 2011, it has been voted the best art show in the nation by the Sunshine Artist trade journal. This annual event is held over three days during the first full week of October. It typically attracts more than 300,000 attendees and 700 exhibitors. The judging is done by a jury of professional artists. http://www.stjamescourtartshow.com/

Old Louisville encompasses an area of 1.7 square miles. The 2010 US Census doesn’t break out Old Louisville from the overall City of Louisville. However, one estimate of the 2000 population was 13,317, with 24% being college graduates. Due to its proximity to the University of Louisville and Spalding University, upwards of 27% of the residents are full time college students. The neighborhood is diverse and a bit bohemian.

The Disadvantages of Living in Old Louisville
Grocery shopping isn’t convenient, due to the absence of any large grocery stores. The grocery shopping is limited in this area and for downtown Louisville, in general. Additionally, as with any urban environment, some of the neighborhoods contiguous with Old Louisville have crime and drug problems.

Attention Downsizers
This neighborhood, while vibrant, has few small homes and is therefore not recommended as a prime candidate for those wishing to downsize their residence.