Portland’s something of a buzzword in Louisville these days. It seems like everyone who is anyone is headed to the old port city. As Louisville.com reported in late May, Hillbilly Tea has plans to open a second Louisville location in an old firehouse in Portland. Falls City Brewery is moving in with Old 502 Winery on 10th Street, and Peerless Distilling Co.,an old distillery that hasn't been open since Prohibition, is opening up again on Northern 10th Street, as described by Insider Louisville. WHAS11 reported in May 2013 that Portland could be Louisville’s next BIG housing district - and I’ve heard rumors that you can propose a development plan and get a lot there for $500. As Ashlie Stevens said in a recent article for WFPL that was cited in Planetizen, “Change is coming to Louisville’s Portland Neighborhood, like it or not.”
So what's up with Portland, anyway? Portland used to be its own city and a rival city to our beloved Louisville. If you aren’t super familiar with where Portland is, it’s along the Ohio, below the Falls - right where the river curves, placing it at the Northernmost tip of Louisville. It starts at 10th street, right past Museum Row, and spans all the way to 42nd Street. Back in 1811, the founder of Cincinnati, General William Lytle II authorized two gentlemen, Joshua Barclay and Alexander Ralston, to design the town of Portland on a Northwest to Southeast street grid between 33rd and 36th. Portland’s Wharf flourished due to the Ohio River being used as a major shipping port. With Portland located just downstream of the Falls of the Ohio (a naturally occurring obstacle along the river), the development of taverns, warehouses, and shipyards as well as an influx of French immigrants from Alsace, Portland created a strong, economic rival to Louisville. (Alsace is one of two areas in France, along with Lorraine, that France and Germany have traded and argued back and forth historically - hence the migration to the states.)
Then in 1829, the Louisville and Portland canal was built and a majority of the economic growth shifted to Louisville and caused Portland to be annexed for the first time to Louisville - and for the final time in 1852 after a short run as an independent city again. Portland, although no longer an independent city, continued to prosper economically until the two major floods of the 1930s and 1940s. Without a working floodwall, many of the neighborhoods' riverside, pre-Civil War era homes were destroyed and large amounts of middle-class families fled the area. By the 2000s, Portland had become one of the most economically challenged areas of Louisville with the lowest median house value in the city, a high poverty rate, and over 100 abandoned buildings.
And today in 2014? Well, not unlike the revitalization of the East Market District (you may know it as Nulu,), Portland's previously mentioned inexpensive property value combined with the abandoned and unoccupied buildings provide an opportune location for local businesses to open and/or expand into. As WHAS said in their article on the housing boom, the same developer that led the rebirth of Nulu, Gill Holland, is leading the migration of businesses and financial support into Portland. He’s planning for a $22 million investment and is starting with the basics: a coffee shop, a cafe, a burger joint. Equally important with Portland being something of a food desert, he’s hired a Portland resident, Valerie Magnuson, to create a two-acre community garden.
Portland is lookin’ up, y’all - and I for one am excited. I’d love to own a cute little shotgun by the river with a garden and some chickens in the back. Walking distance to Hillbilly Tea and Old 502? Yes please.
Stay tuned the rest of this month as I explore the depths of Portland’s food/bar scene and see what else that magnificent neighborhood has to see.
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