Historical Old Louisville Walking Tour, Louisville

Historical Old Louisville Walking Tour (Self Guided), Louisville

The third largest urban district in the United States and the country's largest preservation district of Victorian-era buildings, the Old Town of Louisville is an ideal area in which to travel through the city's history. It is here that Louisville's oldest and most peculiar houses and other reminders of the past are concentrated, featuring a wealth of architectural styles.

Central Park, located in the heart of Old Louisville, offers green spaces for relaxation and community events. One notable gem in the vicinity is the Conrad-Caldwell House, a notable example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. Nearby, Saint James Court, part of the historic Saint James–Belgravia District, is a model of thoughtful urban planning, featuring picturesque Victorian homes surrounding a beautiful fountain, creating a quintessential Southern ambiance.

The Pink Palace, with its distinctive pink façade, adds a touch of whimsy to the area. Werne's Row showcases row houses that date back to the late 1800s, distinguished from each other by subtle ornamental details, with the original private park.

The West End Baptist Church and Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church are both notable religious landmarks, each with its unique architectural style and historical significance. For those interested in delving deeper into the area's history, the Filson Historical Society provides a wealth of information and resources.

If you're ever in Louisville, don't miss the chance to explore its Old Town. With its charming parks and majestic historic homes, this part of the city can equally attract a history enthusiast, architecture buff, or anyone looking for a peaceful stroll, whilst admiring beautiful surroundings. So, come and explore these and other interesting facets of Old Louisville, whenever you can, on this self-guided walk.
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Historical Old Louisville Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Historical Old Louisville Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Louisville (See other walking tours in Louisville)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.2 Km or 1.4 Miles
Author: Cathy
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Central Park
  • Conrad-Caldwell House
  • Saint James Court
  • Pink Palace
  • Werne's Row
  • West End Baptist Church
  • Filson Historical Society
  • Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church
Central Park

1) Central Park

Old Louisville's Central Park has a long and interesting history. It was originally the country estate of the DuPont Family and early on served as the site of the Southern Exposition which later became known mostly for hosting the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival and northern portions of the annual St. James Court Art Show.

Interest in developing park space for Louisville's growing population arose in the late 1860s. On June 15, 1872 the DuPonts decided to open the front lawn of their estate to the public thus enabling the city to finally have its own park. During the Southern Exposition in 1883, 13 of the park's 17 acres (69,000 m2) were temporarily "roofed in" and used to showcase Thomas Edison's light bulb, one of the first large-scale public displays of the light bulb in the world. In 1885, the park was unroofed and was instead used as an outdoor exposition with an Edison-designed electric trolley line transporting visitors around the park to see such sites as a roller coaster, bicycle trails, and an art museum surrounded by a lake.

In 1901, the DuPonts hired nationally renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to draw up a ground plan which came to fruition in 1904–05 seeing the old DuPont mansion demolished and the basic outlines of the park, as seen today, put into place. Olmsted also created a wading pool and athletic fields. The original walking trails from Louisville's 1883 Southern Exposition, which spilled over into the DuPont estate, were kept in place.

In 2004, the park celebrated its centennial. It is now fast becoming an entertainment destination. Besides the C. Douglass Ramey Amphitheater, where the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival is held, the park includes the Old Louisville Visitors Center used to educate guests from out of town, as well as a community meeting space. It also has tennis courts and a sprayground.

Designed as a place of relaxation where people could take a walk, admire the pond, have a picnic and generally enjoy themselves, Central Park often hosts diverse concerts, celebrations and other events. Among them are the Old Louisville LIVE concert series, Jazz in Central Park, and an annual Halloween event called Victorian Tales of Terror.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Conrad-Caldwell House

2) Conrad-Caldwell House (must see)

The Conrad-Caldwell House, or Conrad's Castle, is a historic, Victorian mansion set in the heart of Old Louisville, on St. James Court. Today it serves as a museum. Commissioned by Theophilus Conrad, a rich local businessman, the house was built by famed Louisville architect, Arthur Loomis, in 1895. Boasting a striking Richardsonian Romanesque exterior, the castle-like structure is one of the finest examples of this architectural style and symbolizes the progressive spirit and Victorian grandeur of Louisville’s Gilded Age.

Surrounded by a beautiful courtyard neighborhood, Conrad's Castle featured all the latest innovations of its day, including interior plumbing and electric lighting. Known for its beautiful woodwork and parquet floors, this massive Bedford limestone home, covered with gargoyles, beautiful archways, and elaborate stone designs, incorporated seven types of hardwoods and magnificent stained glass windows in the interior design, making it one of the most stunning dwellings in Old Louisville.

After the owner's death, the mansion was bought by the Caldwell family who lived here for 35 years. After the Caldwells, the house was used as a shelter for the Rose Anna Hughes Presbyterian Retirement Home. Currently a museum, its Victorian interiors are lovingly restored and preserved, featuring a wealth of period items, including many original pieces belonging to both families.

Why You Should Visit:
A site of cultural and architectural significance in Louisville, a standing testament to the abundant lifestyle of the owners, Theophile Conrad and William E. Caldwell, two of Louisville's most prominent businessmen and entrepreneurs.
A distinguishing marker in America’s largest concentration of Victorian homes.
A step back in time enabling to learn more about the era and the neighborhood.

Guided tours of the museum are run on a “first come – first served” basis; no reservations accepted for groups less than 10. Advanced reservations are necessary for groups of 10 or more. Tickets can be purchased in advance at the door, 30 minutes prior to each tour. Children aged under 5 enter free of charge. On the third Thursday of every month, the museum offers extended times, at 5pm & 7pm, for its third Thursday Twilight Tours. The tours last from 60-90 minutes. Donations are greatly appreciated.
Saint James Court

3) Saint James Court

St. James Court forms the northern part of the St. James–Belgravia Historic District, within Old Louisville. This neighborhood was originally the site of the Southern Exposition held 1883-1887 on 23 acres of open land south of Central Park, surrounded by a wealthy residential neighborhood. The Exposition was essentially the World Fair of the time; it ran annually for five years and highlighted innovations of the day. Thomas Edison personally turned on the switch to light the Exposition with the largest display of electric lighting outside of New York, and the electric trolley car premiered here, riding delighted passengers through lighted tunnels on the adjoining DuPont estate, now Central Park.

Upon the conclusion of the Exposition, the land was developed as "Louisville's first example of thoughtful urban site-planning." The design of residential rows that face not a street but the green pedestrian mall became a model for other areas of the city. Thus St. James, Belgravia, and Fountain Courts were born, becoming some of the most recognized landmarks of Louisville. Together, they make one of the most beautiful and recognizable areas of the city. On St. James Court, stately Victorian homes make an oval frame around two lush shaded greens centered by a magnificent bronze fountain. At night, the area is lit by the soft glow of gas light: a setting to soothe the soul.

St. James Court and the entire surrounding area come to life in a remarkable way every year on the first weekend of October for the St. James Court Art Show. After more than four decades, it has become one of the largest open air art shows in the country, with about 700 artists, artisans and craftsmen exhibiting and selling paintings, drawings, sculptures, textiles, art glass, pottery, jewelry and much more. Several hundred thousand people make their way to Old Louisville each year to enjoy the event as well as the fall colors and elegant Victorian surroundings. The St. James Art Show is free.

In 1972, the district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Pink Palace

4) Pink Palace

The Pink Palace is a private residence, one of the most popular in Old Louisville, that sits on the corner of St. James and Belgravia Courts. This beautiful, pedestrians-only area was developed by William Slaughter, who designed it to resemble the residential parks of London, with a central fountain and esplanade.

The towering house itself was built in 1897, in the style of French palaces featuring details of Ecletic and Chateauesque, to accommodate the gentleman's club and casino. Unfortunately, the club enjoyed the Palace only for a few years before it was sold to a new owner. In 1910, the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) — one of the driving forces behind prohibition — purchased The Pink Palace (a red brick building at the time), unaware of its former life as a brothel. When the history of The Pink Palace was revealed to the WCTU, the women were so embarrassed they decided the only way to wipe the house’s slate clean was to paint it the bright shade of pink which still decorates the walls today. Later, the property was purchased by a family who turned into their home.

Resplendent in its pink glory, for all neighbors to see and for all St. James Court Art Show patrons to ogle in envy, The Pink Palace nonetheless has the reputation of being haunted. Over 100 years since construction, the surrounding area is still the quiet, beautifully green space, just as William Slaughter intended it to be.
Werne's Row

5) Werne's Row

Werne's Row is a row of five nearly identical Chateauesque mansions in the heart of Old Louisville. The houses were built in 1897 for Joseph Werne, a prominent jeweler and antiques dealer, to the design by William J. Dodd, a famous architect of that period. Werne and his wife lived in the house overlooking the corner of 4th & Hill, while Dr. William Wathen resided in the blue house bordering Belgravia Court. The interiors of the houses were designed by Claude Balfour while the exteriors were "intrusted to Mr. F. W. Mowbray, architect", who also designed Union Station (Louisville) at 10th & Broadway in Louisville.

All five homes are very similar in style except for small ornamental details that give each building a personal touch. Although only one foot apart, none of the houses touch, despite the first impression that they may be town homes. A private park for the Wernes existed behind the five houses, it has since become a parking lot for the Belgravia Court Association.

Three of the homes are subdivided into apartments, the other two remain single-family dwellings.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
West End Baptist Church

6) West End Baptist Church

The West End Baptist Church, which was initially built as St. Paul's Episcopal Church is one of the most beautiful Gothic structures in Old Louisville. The architects who worked on the design of the building were the famous William J. Dodd and Mason Maury. The most special feature of the building is the square tower, ornate with numerous decoration elements.
Filson Historical Society

7) Filson Historical Society

The Filson Historical Society (formerly the Filson Club) is named after early Kentucky explorer, John Filson, who wrote “The Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucke” which included one of the first maps of the state. The Filson's primary founder was Col. Reuben T. Durrett. In May 1884, he and nine other prominent Louisville residents, including Gen. Basil W. Duke, Judge Alexander Pope Humphrey, and Richard H. Collins, founded the Club in a bid to preserve Kentucky's past. Pursuant to their goal, the Filson maintains a small museum, one distinctive possession of which is a section of American beech tree trunk, with the carved legend "D. Boon kilt a bar [killed a bear] 1803."

In the early 1910s, after Durrett's health had seriously deteriorated, he decided to sell his collection to the University of Chicago. Most of the Filson's holdings, which were not part of the purchase, went to Chicago as well, so the Club was forced to start again.

Since 1946, the Filson has amassed a collection of over 1.5 million manuscript items and over 50,000 volumes in the library. Additionally, it has accumulated an impressive collection of Ohio Valley portraits and over 10,000 museum artifacts. The general public has access to the Filson's vast resources, which provide valuable source material for books, articles, dissertations, and other work. The Filson also presents a variety of programming, including public lectures and academic conferences. In 1986, the Society moved to its current location on Third Street in Old Louisville. The building is called Ferguson Mansion and was constructed between 1901 and 1905 by Edwin Hite Ferguson. Upon its completion, the Mansion was declared the most expensive home in the city.

In 1991, Thomas Walker Bullitt willed his farmhouse and immediate historic properties to The Filson Historical Society.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church

8) Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church

Fourth Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, also known as Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, is a historic temple in Louisville. The present congregation of the Church had its start in 1888 when members of the Walnut Street Methodist Episcopal Church South united with members of the Chestnut Street Church.

By January 1902, the congregation had grown to 472 members and the present sanctuary was built, featuring new main facade complete with the remains of the old building, dating back to 1888, which were deemed significant as "an exceptional example of Gothic Revival ecclesiastical architecture". In 1922, a Sunday School Annex was added, and the entire church complex underwent major renovation following Louisville's flood of 1937. The newest annex of the church is the Sallie Smyser Chapel erected in 1957.

The sanctuary was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and is still known throughout Methodism as one of its most beautiful places of worship.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

Walking Tours in Louisville, Kentucky

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