Lessons in architecture

‘Discover Louisville’ bus tour
offers unique look at local history

By Don Ward

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Winding through the streets of Louisville by tour bus, you soon begin to see how the city developed, neighborhood by neighborhood, by simply studying its architecture. Tour guide Joanne Weeter, the city’s historic preservation officer, brings this history to life as she conducts what has become a monthly event since it was first conceived a year ago for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Conference, held in October 2004 in Louisville.

Kadie Engstrom

Photo by Don Ward

Kadie Engstrom (center)
begins her walking tour of St James Court,
part of the “Discover Louisville” tour,
sponsored by the Louisville Metro
Landmarks Commission.

During the conference, local officials gave 15 such bus tours for nearly 2,000 people from around the country, Weeter said. She is an appropriate tour guide, considering that her job of 22 years with the city is to consult with property owners about investment tax credits and help them assess their houses for eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places.
The three-hour bus tour, titled, “Discover Louisville: Louisville’s Landmarks and Neighborhoods Tour,” was slightly modified to include more areas and was held Nov 6 and for the first time since the conference. More than 50 people boarded two TARC buses for the guided tour. It included a goodie bag and two stops – one at Louisville’s Union Station and another at St. James Court, for a guided walk through that historic neighborhood. Additional tours are scheduled each month, with proceeds from the $45 ticket to benefit the U.S. Marine Hospital Foundation’s restoration fund (See story, Page 4).

Louisville’s Eight National Historic Landmarks
(as recognized by the
National Trust for Historic Preservation)

• Bank of Louisville Building, now home of Actors , Theatre of Louisville (Circa 1837), 316-328 W. Main St.
• Belle of Louisville (1914), Fourth Street at River Road
• Mayor Andrew Broaddus Wharf Boat/Coast Guard, Station #10 (1928), Fourth Street at River Road
• Churchill Downs (1874), 700 Central Ave.
• Locust Grove (Circa 1790), 561 Blankenbaker Rd.
• The Zachary Taylor Home (Circa 1785), 5608 Apache Rd.
• U.S. Marine Hospital (1845-52), 2214 Northwestern Pkwy.
• Louisville Water Co. Pumping Station & Water Tower (1858-60), 3005 Upper River Rd.

The tour explores Louisville’s rich heritage as a pioneer village, bustling riverboat town, Victorian city and today’s remarkable contemporary architecture. Weeter explains the architecture behind many homes and government buildings, as well as libraries and public and private structures.

Weeter explained that Louisville’s historic preservation efforts began when a group formed to save the 550-acre Farmington plantation, home of the John Speed and Lucy Gilmer Fry Speed. The federal style home dates to 1815. The preservation movement grew when interstate highways began spreading across the country in the 1950s, gobbling up many historic neighborhoods at about the same time that federal urban renewal programs were removing “blighted” neighborhoods through demolition.

St. James Court

Photo by Don Ward

The bus tour makes two stops,
one at Louisville’s Union Station
and the second at St. James Court.

The Barry Bingham family is credited with initiating the drive to save Louisville’s historic past in the wake of Congress’ passage of the 1966 National Preservation Act. That law represented a way to recognize America’s treasures by listing those qualified on the National Register of Historic Places, thereby affording them some protection from destruction. Former Mayor Harvey Sloane became a preservation activist while in office, and at one point, Louisville ranked second only to Boston in the number of sites listed on the Register. Today, the city ranks in the top 10 and is supported in preservation efforts by the Louisville Metro Landmarks Commission, created in 1973.
The “Discover Louisville” tours are sponsored by the Louisville Metro Landmarks Commission.

• “Discover Louisville” tours are held on the second Sunday of each month through June 2006. Additional tours are anticipated in May, which is National Preservation Month and the Kentucky Derby season. Tours begin at 1 p.m. and return promptly at 4 p.m. Boarding begins half hour prior to departure. The next tour is Dec. 11. Tours begins at the Louisville Water Tower, located at the northern end of Zorn Avenue at River Road. Tickets may be reserved by calling Joanne Weeter at (502) 574-2868 or via email at: joanne.weeter@louisvilleky.gov.

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