Cincinnati has one. So does Atlanta, Richmond, and New York. But does Louisville need a museum to showcase its long and storied history at the Falls of the Ohio? Historian and author Bryan S. Bush thinks so and has drafted a proposal for just such an institution.
Bush said Louisville already has an authoritative museum row on West Main Street but could benefit from an institution dedicated to the history of the city itself. His proposal is only a rough draft but he wants your input to refine the plan.
Since it was released in mid April of 2009, Bush says the proposal has generated quite a bit of positive buzz from people he has spoken with but admits support from the City and many of its institutions has been lukewarm. He hopes once the economy improves that the idea can pick up some momentum.
There’s currently no financing plan or location in mind, but Bush believes such a museum could serve as an anchor in the West Main Street cultural district. Ideally, Bush would like to see a Louisville History Museum set up in a renovated historic structure.
It takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to take an idea like this from the drawing board to reality, but could offer many benefits for the city in the long run. If the idea generates enough interest, it’s going to take a dedicated team to pull off a comprehensive solution—and it won’t be cheap. A Louisville History Museum will need to establish a permanent collection, find resources to acquire a home, and fund an endowment. But first, it starts with an idea.
From the proposal:
The purpose of the Louisville History museum is to establish a permanent location for a museum showcasing Louisville’s rich political, economic, social and cultural history. With the development of the Louisville Waterfront Park and the showcasing of Louisville’s new museum row with the Louisville Slugger Museum, the Frazier International History Museum, and the Louisville Science Center, Louisville needs a museum dedicated to Louisville’s history.
Many major areas of the country already have museums dedicated to their history, such as the Atlanta History center, which covers Atlanta’s turbulent period in the Civil War, the Richmond Historical Center, in Richmond, Virginia, and Museum Complex in Cincinnati, Ohio, which includes three museums in one area. Louisville is a great city, but has no comparable comprehensive museum for showcasing the city’s history.
Louisville is a very important city, which should have a museum showing her rich history, from the city’s very beginnings on Corn Island to the great city she has become today. Louisville citizens should be proud of their steamboat, riverboat, and railroad history. Louisville became part of the Lewis & Clark expedition. Louisville became a great center for supplies, soldiers, and transportation during the Civil War. The city became a great industrial center. With these and many other elements of our great history, a Louisville Historical Center would be an asset to the community, mostly by increasing tourism as well as unique educational opportunities for Louisville students. Most importantly, especially to historians, is that Louisville needs a museum dedicated to our history before the historical artifacts become lost, damaged or destroyed.
What do you think? Could you get behind a Louisville History Museum? Help to refine the proposal in the comments. Thanks to Steve Magruder at Louisville History & Issues for helping to advance the idea.
The Museum’s historical coverage will be broken into several time periods:
- 1700–1810: The museum will discuss Louisville’s first settlement at Corn Island and the Life of General George Rogers Clark.
- 1820–1850: Louisville becomes a prosperous city with the settlement of their first successful families, such as the Speeds.
- 1850–1860: Louisville becomes an important city for steamboats and railroads, with the founding of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. Politically the city turns to an unsettled period and has one of the cities deadliest riots in August 1855, during the Blood Monday riots.
- 1860–1865: THE CIVIL WAR! Louisville goes through turbulent times, with many financial and personal losses during the War. The city comes close to invasion in 1861 and 1862. In 1864, one of the most important meetings of the Civil War takes place at the Galt House. Union General Ulysses S. Grant meets with the Union generals of the western theater to plan out the upcoming March of the Sea Campaign, and later Union Ulysses S. Grant meets with Union General William T. Sherman.
- 1866–1890: The City of Progress. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad expands and fuels Louisville’s economic boom. The bridge of 1870 connects North and South. The Louisville Industrial Exposition opened in 1872 and runs until 1882. Louisville becomes a manufacturing town, with a rise in industry of 61 percent. The Southern Exposition opens in 1883 and runs until 1887. The Louisville Jockey Club opens in 1875, which becomes Churchill Downs. Henry Watterson takes over the Louisville Courier-Journal. The Great Cyclone of 1890. The rise of Macauley Theater, and the opening of Union Station.
- 1910–1919: Electric railways expand in Louisville. The heart of downtown Louisville begins to move south. Ford Motor company opened in 1916. Louis and Otto Seelbach’s hotel opened in 1905. The Majestic, Louisville first movie theater opens in 1912. Louisville supports World War I. Camp Zachary Taylor opens to train soldiers for the war.
- 1920–1939: Louisville suffers with the loss in prosperity, with Prohibition, the Stock Market crash and the 1937 flood hitting the city. The Rialto Theater, Louisville’s most elaborate motion picture theater, opens in 1921. Fourth and Broadway becomes the “magic corner” with the rise of the Brown Hotel and the Heyburn building. In 1922, WHAS becomes Louisville’s first radio station. In 1925, the University of Louisville moved their College of Arts and Sciences from Broadway to the Belknap Campus. The J. B. Speed Art Museum opened in 1927. Spalding College opened in 1920. In 1927, at the Falls of the Ohio was built the dam and hydroelectric plant. Fontaine Ferry Park and Rose Island become Louisville entertainment centers. In 1933, WAVE becomes the first regular broadcasting station.
- 1939–1945: Louisville supports World War II. Louisville becomes the world’s largest producer of synthetic rubber.
- 1945–1969: The ending of segregation. The rise of Louisville as an industrial center such as Ford and General Electric. Standiford Field opens to commercial aviation. In 1956, white and black students attend public schools together. The Louisville Zoological Garden opened in 1968.
- 1970–2000: A great Tornado hits Louisville. Forced Busing. The rise of the Kentucky Derby Festival, Saint James Court Art Festival, the Bluegrass Music Festival. The city changes from industrial to business sector. The rise of UPS.
- 2000–Present: The Revitalization of the Riverfront. New museums come to Louisville, such as Frazier, the Slugger Museum, and the Muhammad Ali Center. This timeline is meant only as a suggestion to inspire debate and discussion and can be expanded upon.