Among Louisville’s many treasures is a national gem. Tucked between the University of Louisville and Downtown is the largest preserved Victorian neighborhood in the United States--Old Louisville. At the heart of Old Louisville is St. James Court.
Locally, the area is famous for its annual art festival. The St. James Court Art Fair is a huge event that hosts an estimated 300,000 people every year, a third of them from out of the state. While the art fair is a big draw, St. James Court has a lot to offer outside of the festival, both aesthetically and historically.
Let’s be clear – Old Louisville isn’t actually old like its name suggests. However, it does have a long and interesting history. Old Louisville’s development didn’t begin until the 1870’s -- a full century after the founding of Louisville. Soon afterward, the neighborhood began to host the Southern Exposition. From 1883 – 1887, Old Louisville brought in people from all over the region for an annual industrial and mercantile show.
The Southern Exposition was a series of the famous World’s Fairs and was held for 100 days of each year on the land that is now St. James Court. The expo was larger than almost any other American exhibition. This expo had the prominence of being the first place to use incandescent light to illuminate a large space – Thomas Edison’s invention got a lot of exposure in Louisville, the city he had lived in over a decade before.
At one end of St. James Court lies the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum. A prime example of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, the home has been preserved in its original state. Not only does the museum preserve the essence of life in the early 1900s, but also hosts weddings, special events, meetings and regular tours.
Along the court are beautifully preserved homes, including a towering pink home nicknamed the “Pink Palace.” As I walked along the houses taking pictures, it briefly occurred to me that taking pictures of peoples’ homes is kind of incredibly creepy. However, as long as you don’t invade anyone’s space, no one seems to mind – Just don’t get up against anyone’s windows and you should be fine.
Make sure to walk up and down Belgravia Court, my favorite place in the city, to see what it offers. The homes face inward toward a grassy strip, rather than facing a street. This creates an intimate setting that is absolutely beautiful to photograph.
In the center of the court is the block’s iconic fountain. Take a moment to enjoy the cool mist coming off the water and get a 360 degree view of the area.
After taking a stroll around the court, head over to Central Park for Shakespeare in the Park. These free performances go on throughout the summer. You can find a detailed schedule here.
If you can, stop by for the Exuberant, Elegant and Alive Old Louisville Homes Tour on May 24, 2014. The event is a rare opportunity to enter some of the beautifully preserved homes that make up this historic Victorian neighborhood. You can find more information on the tour here or buy $20 tickets here.
In a new series from Louisville.com, “Instagram Your Way Through Louisville,” I'm revisiting some of my favorite Louisville spots and hoping to find some new favorites.
Be sure to follow our Instagram account @louisvillecom to keep up with the project, and use the hashtags #DiscoverLou and #BestofLou to highlight the local places you're discovering this summer.
Louisville is a beautiful city, go out and explore it.
Photos: Michelle Eigenheer (Instagram: meeshasaur)
Special thanks to Sieanna Fuller (Instagram: sieannafuller)
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