More than 12,000 people attended the 44th annual Portland Festival this weekend. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

More than 12,000 attended the 44th annual Portland Festival on June 1 and 2, despite the high temperatures and predictions of rain.

The festival began in 1974 as the Portland Family Reunion and while the name may have changed, festival treasurer Kerrie Clifford, of the nonprofit Portland Festival Inc., said it is still viewed by the community as a homecoming celebration.

Clifford said many former residents marveled at the changes that had taken place in the neighborhood since the developer Gill Holland helped start a multimillion-dollar revitalization effort five years ago.

In that time, the Louisville Visual Art, McQuixote Books & Coffee and Catholic Charities have come to call the west Louisville community home.

The Tim Faulkner Gallery also is in Portland, but the owners announced recently that it would be moving to the new development in Paristown Point. Its location is expected to continue as a performance space.

“The neighborhood is in a state of evolution that we are really proud of,” Clifford said. “The festival has grown into an opportunity for new and old neighbors to mingle with one another. We are really proud in this community.”

The free, family friendly event was spread out over five blocks of Northwestern Parkway beginning at North 33rd Street. The festival featured carnival rides, raffles, arts and crafts booths, a parade and live music on multiple stages.

Courtney Eckley grew up in Portland, but now she lives in east Louisville near Brownsboro Road. As a child, Eckley participated in the parade at the Portland Festival every year, but this weekend was the first time she had attended the event in five years.

“I brought my boyfriend with me so he could meet some of my old friends,” she said. “I still have relatives in Portland, so it was fun to walk around the neighborhood and catch up on everything that has been going on. Hopefully, I’ll get back here more often.”

Shirl Kelly, right, has attended every Portland Festival since 1974. Here he is sitting at a booth for the American Legion. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

Shirl Kelly is just the opposite of Eckley — he hasn’t missed a festival since it began 44 years ago. Sitting at the American Legion booth, he marveled that what started out as a small block party has blossomed into a major event.

“When I started coming to the festival, beer was 50 cents, and it’s $4 this year. That should tell you how times have changed. The festival started on Rudd (Avenue), but they moved it after it got too big. I hope it keeps growing,” Kelly added.

Clifford said it costs nearly $40,000 to put on the Portland Festival. She won’t know for two or three weeks how much it made this year, but any profits will go toward next year’s event.

The nonprofit would like to start using some of the funds to help children in the neighborhood in some way, such as offering scholarships. Organizers also want to add more traditional church picnic festivities to the event, like maybe a cake-baking contest.

“The Portland Festival is only the first event of the year to celebrate the roots and diversity of Portland,” Clifford said. “In the fall, we’ll have our annual arts and heritage festival.”

Daniel Horton finds a way to keep cool at the Songs by Shea booth at the Portland Festival. | Photo by Michael L. Jones

Michael L. Jones
Michael L. Jones, a freelance journalist and author, covers communities for Insider Louisville. His latest book "Louisville Jug Music: From Earl McDonald to the National Jubilee" (History Press) received the 2014 Samuel Thomas Book Award from the Louisville Historical League. In addition to his contributions to Insider, his writing appears regularly in LEO Weekly, Louisville Magazine, Food & Dining – Louisville Edition, and Who’s Who Louisville: African American Profiles. He also sits on the board of directors of the National Jug Band Jubilee. Jones and his wife, Melissa Amos-Jones, a physical therapist, live in the Kenwood Hills neighborhood near Iroquois Park.


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