Shelby Park neighborhood to get historical marker

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Shelby Park's Carneige Library

The Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) will dedicate a historical marker to the Shelby Park neighborhood at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 13, at 600 E. Oak St. in Louisville.

According to the Olmstead Parks Association, by the early 1900′s, the Shelby Park neighborhood was a dense urban and industrial area. Louisville Mayor Paul Barth commented, “The neighborhood is thickly settled with men who have families. For the most part they have little space for breathing as the houses are close together.” Mayor Barth championed the need for a city park in the neighborhood, “Few people realize the need of a park in that section of the city. They have no park with in their reach.” The Board of Park Commissioners purchased the land that became Shelby Park at a cost of $75,000. It was named for Kentucky’s first governor, Isaac Shelby.

Designed by the Olmsted firm, it is the only Louisville park designed in conjunction with a Carnegie Library. Shelby Park is an example of Beaux Art design created during a time when physical fitness and active recreation became the driving force in park design.

In 1906, neighbors each donated $2 to purchase land for a library. The Second Renaissance Revival-styled library, designed by Arthur Loomis, opened in 1911. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and is one of seven Carnegie-endowed libraries in Louisville.

By 1910 the 17-acre park was one of the most patronized in Louisville. Tennis and track meets were held and there is record of 1000 spectators coming out to watch one track meet. Park features included hard sand croquet courts, tennis courts, separate gymnasiums for men and woman, gymnastic apparatus, a pole vaulting area and basketball courts.

After 1970, Shelby Park was used less as many families moved to suburban nieghborhoods. As park usage declined so did maintenance and upkeep. In 1999, Jefferson County Board of Education proposed using half of Shelby Park as a site for a new elementary school. Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Mayor Abramson and neighbors advocated saving the park. Mayor Abramson offered $100,000 towards park improvements if the Conservancy agreed to raise matching funds. This public-private partnership resulted in the creation of a master plan and the successful completion of many improvements resulting in the restoration of this historical park.

Shelby Park and the surrounding neighborhood are experiencing revitalization as a result of the improvements. Support received from corporate partner Gresham, Smith & Partners and the Shelby Park Neighborhood Association’s commitment to the park is crucial to keeping Shelby Park a beautiful community asset.

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The Kentucky Historical Marker Program, administered by KHS in cooperation with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, tells Kentucky’s story through the people, places and events that have shaped local communities across the Commonwealth. These markers highlight the importance of place in Kentucky’s collective history, in order to build strong communities for the future. The markers are on-the-spot history lessons that make connections between history, place and historical evidence housed in the Commonwealth’s many historical organizations. Through the program, Kentucky’s history is made accessible to the public on markers along the state’s roadways; online at www.history.ky.gov/markers and via the Explore Kentucky History smartphone application available for free at iTunes and Google Play.

For more information, contact Becky Riddle, Kentucky Historical Marker program coordinator, at 502-564-1792, ext. 4474 or becky.riddle@ky.gov.

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Photo Credits:  Shelby Park Neighborhood Association

About Thomas McAdam
At various times I have been a student, a soldier, a college Political Science teacher, a political campaign treasurer, and legal adviser to Louisville's Police Department and Board of Aldermen. I now practice law and share my political opinions with anyone who will listen.
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