Louisville sounds like a French colonial city, but it was founded long after France’s claim to the area was ended. Founded in 1779 during the Revolutionary War and the settlers decided to name it after King Louis XVI in recognition of the support given by France to the revolutionary cause. Located at the Falls of the Ohio River, Louisville did good business from the handling of goods that had to be unloaded to allow boats to hauled past the falls. The arrival of steamboats in 1811 triggered rapid growth as an industrial centre and also as a centre for the slave trade. During the Civil War the city was a Union stronghold and was never attacked. After the war Louisville recovered quickly and the first Kentucky Derby was run in 1875. Louisville’s most famous son is Muhammad Ali aka ‘the Louisville Lip’, who was born Cassius Clay in the city in 1942 and began his boxing career there.
In 1904 the Kentucky legislature ordered Jefferson Fiscal Court to erect an armoury. Louisville architect Brinton B. Davis designed a building in the Beaux Arts style that could be used a for civilian events alongside its military purpose of armoury and drill hall. Jefferson County Armory opened in 1905 but by 1923 it had become so popular for civilian events that the county had to build a new drill hall elsewhere. In 1938 major modifications were made to adapt the building for conventions and athletics events. Thereafter it increasing became known as the Convention Center rather than Jefferson County Armory until in 1975 it was renamed Louisville Gardens to avoid confusion with a new Convention Center. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Thomas Edison House
Inventor Thomas Edison became a Western Union telegraph operator at the age of 15. In 1866 aged 19 he took a job in Louisville. He volunteered to work the night shift as this left him with time for his favourite pastimes, reading books and running experiments. During part of his stay he rented a room in a cottage in the Butchertown neighbourhood. Edison’s stay in Louisville was short as one night in 1867 when working with a battery he spilled sulphuric acid onto the floor. The acid ran between the floorboards and onto his boss' desk below. He was fired the next morning and left town. The cottage where he rented a room still stands and it is now a museum showing how his room might have looked and exhibiting many of his inventions. Click Tab 2 to see the Phonographs exhibit.
After the Civil War Louisville quickly got back to business and a priority was the building of a City Hall. The City government and officials had been using space in County Courthouses, but the time had come for a dedicated City Hall. Designed by local architect John Andrewartha in the French Empire style, construction began in 1870 and the building opened in 1873. The statue visible in front of City Hall (centre of the picture) is of King Louis XVI of France after whom the city was named.
Cathedral of the Assumption
A small group of Catholics in Louisville formed Saint Louis Church in 1811. By 1830 the congregation had outgrown the church and a larger one was built on a new site. The first inland diocese in the United States was the Diocese of Bardstown, established in 1808. In 1841, the diocese was moved from Bardstown to Louisville, and Saint Louis Church became a cathedral. Construction of a larger cathedral on the same site began in 1849. It was designed in Neo-Gothic style by William Keeley and Isaiah Rogers and was completed in 1852. The new cathedral was built around the old Saint Louis Cathedral which was demolished as the new one was completed. The new Cathedral was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of the Cathedral of the Assumption. It is the fourth oldest public building in Louisville as well as the third oldest Catholic Cathedral in continuous use in the United States.
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Conrad-Caldwell House, Old Louisville
In the 1830s the area south of Louisville became a popular place to build a country residence. As more houses were built the area became increasingly urbanised and in 1868 it was incorporated into Louisville. The area is now known as Old Louisville and many of the fine houses remain. Most are private, but the Conrad-Caldwell House is one that is open to the public. Built for Frenchman Theophilus Conrad, the house is in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. The Caldwell family purchased it in 1905 after Conrad died, and they lived there for 35 years.
Horse racing has long been part of Kentucky culture. In the 18th century downtown Louisville streets were used for races and in 1805 the first race course was set up on Shippingport Island. Further race courses opened, but many closed as Louisville expanded over them. Churchill Downs was set up to fill a void left by the closing of Oakland and Woodlawn race courses. Col. M. Lewis Clark (grandson of explorer William Clark) visited England and France and he decided to set up the Louisville Jockey Club to conduct race meetings. He leased land from John and Henry Churchill to set up his race course. It opened in 1875 and the first Kentucky Derby was run that year. A museum at the race course tells the story of the Derby. Click Tab 2 to see the Grandstand and Kentucky Derby Course.
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