In the summer it’s the crickets – the resounding, creaky folk music they make at night; you won’t notice it until you’re finally all by yourself on the porch. The buzz is enveloping because the houses are tall and close together. You need to come up for air from the sound once you hear it. And spring means a thousand flowering trees you forget about every year until they make all that pale popcorn of tiny, white buds. The flowers get stuck in your hair; track across the hard wood from the bottom of shoes. Winter is the slender fingers of flickering gas lamps in the dark, lonely little orange flames out the front window. The windows are very, very cold in the winter.
I don’t particularly want to talk about fall and wolf spiders.
But I could talk more. I could tell you about the slices of sky I see: mansard rooftops silhouetted against streetlight-orange at night, deep blue in late August – almost unnatural. The Tetris game of old brick work. The creeping ivy like heavy hair over railings. I could say wainscoting. I could say a lot of things in an attempt to capture what life looks like played out in Belgravia Court every day. It’s where I live; it’s where I’m writing to you now. It’s home, and home is something that lives in your skin.
To try to exorcise home into words, to tell a stranger from memory what’s collected over years on your insides, is not easy. Or it could easily turn into everything – there’s so much to tell. But my story in Old Louisville is just one of thousands that will be laid to rest here on the sidewalk, and one of a thousand more that came and lived well before I ever set foot in the shade of these historic homes.
And that’s the key here. My home has a history, a long and winding tail of a thing that involves more people and dates and memories than I could ever hope to know. A history of numerous decades stacked like a layered cake. That’s more story than any one human has words to tell. Very daunting. But finding the words to paint a clear picture out of the murky past doesn’t intimidate everyone. For my fellow resident Shawn Fields Williams, the long and winding history of one home isn’t enough – try the entire neighborhood of Belgravia Court for starters.
Published this past fall in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the community preservation group Restoration Inc., Shawn Fields Williams’ book, Belgravia Court: Old Louisville’s Premier Walking Court, takes readers on a tour of both the beauty and the history to be found in the neighborhood’s homes. With chapters divided to mirror the four quadrants of the Court itself, Belgravia Court dedicates a spread to each residence, combining both the exterior and special interior photography of Louisvillian Dan Colon with Williams’ historical and creative research. And it is this marriage of image and story that I think elevates the book from being merely referential or encyclopedic. This book gives intimacy.
While not lacking on information – the architectural and design aspects of each home are carefully documented – what caught my eye and kept me flipping was the blending of the back-story with the modern as explained through the voice of an author not just interested, but invested. This is home. These are her friends and neighbors on paper, and Williams gives readers a refreshing mix of residential history to pair with how the neighborhood looks and lives for the people actively engaged in calling it home. The reader can fall in love with Williams’ Belgravia just as much through an interior image of a cat asleep on a chair in the sun, as though the history of its building, timely preservation and ongoing restoration.
These homes are beautiful, yes. I know this because I see it every day in all different kinds of weather. I know other people know this because I watch them get married, take tours and conduct photography classes in my front yard all the time. But they are beautiful not because they are stagnant Victorian statues; Belgravia Court flourishes because people both past and present have recognized that some-special-thing in the unique way of life to be found in the neighborhood. The Court is beautiful because its residents have taken the time and effort to make it a special place to live and blur the grand histories into modern stories. 50 years of planting preservation goes a long way towards something sweet to savor in the here and now, and Williams’ book illustrates that clearly.
I’ll never know every story that unfolded here inside my (wainscoted) walls. I’m sure most of mine will go untold and be absorbed into the past. But now, after reading Williams’ book, I can tell you this: my home was built in 1905 in the Neoclassical Style, and the balcony where I grow basil in the spring is supported by Tuscan-style columns. My ironwork railings are original. And if I had been growing basil in the spring of 1912, one of my neighbors would have been a lost soul on the Titanic. His name was Dr. Earnest Moraweck, and he was the original owner of 508 Belgravia Court. I can tell you that now, too. That’s history and that’s home.
Belgravia Court: Old Louisville Premier Walking Court retails for $50 and is currently available at many local hot spots, including Carmichael's Bookstores , A Reader’s Corner Bookshop , the Brown Hotel Gift Shop, Taste of Kentucky Stores , the Louisville Visitor's Center and the Locust Grove Gift Shop .
Cover photo: Courtesy of City-Data www.city-data.com 
Book image: Courtesy of Amazon www.amazon.com