Louisville’s Central Park

Arbor-at-Central-Park-Louisville Of Louisville’s great parks, Central Park is probably not the most impressive. It’s about the size of two city blocks, square and flat. It has a building in it that once was an athletic club but is now a substation for the Louisville Metro Police. It has a wonderful arbor which supports an ancient wisteria vine that gives shade to the whole thing. Most significant probably is the stage for “Shakespeare in the Park” which runs every summer and gives people the chance to come down and see Shakespeare’s plays performed for free.


I happened to catch a show on KET done by metro councilman Tom Owens, who is also a history professor at the University of Louisville. Tom Owens knows the history of Louisville like no one else. His knowledge of each inch of this earth at the Falls of the Ohio can only be called supernatural. In this show, he was doing Central Park and St. James Court in Old Louisville. His narrative of the creation of the park and St. James Court from a hunting camp owned by the DuPont family fascinated me. On a hot Sunday afternoon we went down to Central Park to soak up the history and shoot some pictures.


Central Park is one of the Olmstead parks which give Louisville its distinctive character. Frederick Law Olmsted designed 18 parks in the city of Louisville. He was characterized as “the father of landscape architecture” and I wouldn’t trade our Cherokee Park for New York City’s Central Park, which Olmstead also designed. Louisville’s Central Park must have been a challenge to the master landscape architect. To be fair to Olmstead, he didn’t have much to work with on this patch of ground. There are no hills, no naturally occurring waters or interesting outcroppings of rock – just a flat rectangle of ground. He built the athletic club, laid out the sidewalks and fountain, and planted some trees. I can’t think of anything he could have done that he didn’t do that wouldn’t be totally artificial, and artificial wasn’t Olmstead’s style.



And yet, Louisville’s Central Park has something that no other park in the world has: it has St. James Court across Magnolia Street at its southern edge. From the St. James Art Fair information site:

“In 1890 after the Southern Exposition site was cleared, William Slaughter led the development of St. James Court, one of Old Louisville’s most renowned neighborhoods. Centered on the picturesque fountain, the court was envisioned as a haven for turn-of-the-century upper class and was completely occupied by 1905. Slaughter set up deed restrictions to ensure that all houses on the court were constructed of either brick or stone. From its start, court residents established a homeowner’s association, one of the oldest in the country. Described as the epitome of Victorian eclecticism, the neighborhood included homes in such styles as Venetian, Colonial, Gothic and others. The Conrad Caldwell House on the northwest corner of St. James Court prominently features the turrets, towers and bay windows associated with the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style. Through the years the court has been home to several city officials, judges, doctors, writers, poets, and business leaders. St. James Court residents are proud of the unique history and friendliness the neighborhood offers. When strolling through the tree-fringed court, you too will experience a vibrancy and vitality that no suburban neighborhood can match.”

So, when you visit Central Park, not only do you see an historic old park, but also, you can stroll down a shady boulevard where Louisville did its best to create a little piece of Victorian England in the 1890’s.


Some additional reading on the history of this area:

A History of Old Louisville’s Central Park.

St James Court and Belgravia, Louisville, Kentucky

Satellite Picture



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