This is the first in a series of five excerpts from Insider Louisville contributor and author Kevin Gibson’s new book, “Secret Louisville: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure,” to be published by Reedy Press this month. The author is scheduled to appear at Carmichael’s Bookstore, 2720 Frankfort Ave., for a reading and talk at 7 p.m. on March 23.
Louisville is indeed my city, but I don’t know everything there is to know about her; boy, did that point ever come home to roost as I was writing this book. What awaits you are eighty-nine stories about interesting, fun, or just puzzling places, people, things, and historical facts that you might not know about—or if you do know about them, you might not know the full story.
That’s exactly what “Secret Louisville: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure” is all about: I want to give you a view of Louisville you may never have seen before. In writing this book, I found myself driving all over the metro area, to the far reaches of Louisville’s outskirts and across the river into Indiana, looking for all things weird and wonderful. I found myself moved by a prayer grotto and spooked by a hidden cave. My heart was touched by an out-of-the-way animal farm, and I marveled at an island getaway on the Ohio River that is easily accessible by a small bridge. It was quite a journey.
But again, the highlight of the journey for me is that I learned even more about my city than I had already known from living in it and covering it as a food and beverage writer, not to mention the years I spent covering news, arts, and sports. What I hope is that I can share some of that experience with you, the reader, and possibly inspire you to get into your car or onto your bike and explore the unique spaces and experiences I’ve laid out in the pages that follow.
Hey, there’s only so much you can learn on social media—so, let’s go discover Louisville together.
THE CHICKENS CAME HOME TO ROOST
Marked only by an easily-missed sign along lower Brownsboro Road, the Chicken Steps offer a means for
travelers on foot to either ascend to Vernon Avenue, connecting them with busy Frankfort Avenue, or to descend in the opposite direction. The spot on Vernon where the steps begin their descent is the one-time location of Fort Elstner, one of eleven Union forts constructed to defend Louisville during the Civil War. (In fact, an artillery gun was mounted on the spot that is now 188 Vernon Avenue.)
The thing is, no one is one hundred percent sure why they’re called “the Chicken Steps”—that’s just what they’ve always been called. Some believe the steps, which number thirty-five including the midway landing, may have gotten their name because chickens used to roost on an earlier wooden version. (The current concrete ones were constructed by the city in the 1970s.)
A 2003 report from Louisville Metro Planning and Design Services notes, “The name ‘Chicken Steps’ likely came about from the days when area residents raised chickens, some of which chose this hilltop site upon which to roost.”
Hey, regardless of where the name originates, it beats climbing down that hill.
WHAT A hidden set of stairs
WHERE Tucked in a wooded area between Vernon Ave. and lower Brownsboro Rd.
PRO TIP The Chicken Steps offer safe passage to Lower Brownsboro for the visually impaired who live in the
neighborhood near the Printing House for the Blind. Coming down the hill, the pathway leads you right past CVS. Might as well grab some allergy medicine while you’re there. What is this hidden and mysterious set of stairs?