Whether learning about the area’s relationship with the Ohio River at the Louisville Water Tower or discovering how enslaved people contributed to the founding of the city at Locust Grove, visiting the places where history unfolded can make it easier to connect with the past.
Louisville has eight National Historic Landmarks (six are open to the public), all of which have banded together to promote tourism and history education under a new umbrella group, the National Historic Landmarks of Louisville. The group’s first initiative is the launch of a special pass that’s similar to the Urban Bourbon Trail and Louisville Cultural Pass programs: Pick up a pass at any of the public landmarks or the Visitor’s Center on Fourth Street; get the pass stamped at each of the six landmarks; then bring it to the Visitor’s Center to redeem a free gift.
Melissa Hines — marketing manager for Actors Theatre, one of the city’s National Historic Landmarks — told Insider that representatives from all eight sites first met a year and a half ago to discuss a collaboration, which she called a “small but mighty grassroots effort.”
“We all still operate independently as we always have, but now we have a shared title,” she said.
Hines also praised the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau for its involvement.
Future efforts from the group may involve creating suggested itineraries and day trips including other historical sites. “We hope to grow,” she added.
National Landmark status is conferred only if a historic place is considered “nationally significant,” according to the National Parks website. “Nationally significant properties help us understand the history of the nation and illustrate the nationwide impact of events or persons associated with the property, its architectural type or style, or information potential.”
There are currently just upwards of 2,400 National Historic Landmark sites nationwide.
Carol Ely, executive director of Locust Grove, another local Historic Landmark, said around 60 percent of visitors who tour the 18th century farm are from out of town (that drops to 25 percent when taking into account school groups and special programming) and that most of them are visiting because they “make it a habit of touring historical places and history museums.” Ely called them “savvy visitors.”
Ely suggested anecdotally that these same visitors gravitate toward other historic properties in Louisville including the Derby Museum, the Slugger Museum and the Science Center. “Of course, bourbon tourism is big, so they might plan a distillery tour,” she said.
Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau marketing manager Christa Ritchie would add Old Louisville to that list. “It’s home to the largest collection of restored Victorian homes in the country,” she said. “It’s also the third largest Historic Preservation District in the U.S. Built as a suburb in the 1870s, this neighborhood consists of nearly 48 city blocks of Victorian-era home”
According to a 2016 Visitor Profile Study, Louisville’s historical attributes are noted as a factor for enticing visitors to the city. “Heritage tourism is one of the most authentic ways to experience a city and its most unique offerings,” Ritchie said. “And, with such a rich history, Louisville uses this asset to attract those seeking the most authentic experiences.”
The city’s eight National Historic Landmarks are Actors Theatre, the Belle of Louisville, Churchill Downs’ Twin Spires, Life-Saving Station #10 (on the banks of the Ohio), Locust Grove, Louisville Water Company Pumping Station No.1 and Water Tower, the U.S. Marine Hospital and Zachary Taylor’s Boyhood Home. The latter two are closed to the public.
Below is more information on Louisville’s National Historic Landmarks.
Actors Theatre: The original home of Actors Theatre was an open loft — the former Egyptian Tea Room — above the Taylor Trunk Company on Fourth Street. The company moved to the Old Bank of Louisville property, which was built in 1837, in 1973.
Belle of Louisville: The Belle is the only American steamboat to make it to 100 years old. She was built in Pittsburgh in 1914 and named Idlewild.
Churchill Downs’ Twin Spires: Churchill Downs originally opened in 1875 and held the first Kentucky Derby that year. Louisville already had a long history of horse racing by the time the track was built. The iconic Twin Spires were part of the original structure.
Lifesaving Station No. 10: This lifesaving station is also known as the Mayor Andrew Broaddus and is located at Fourth Street. Her historic purpose was to protect people from the dangerous Falls of the Ohio.
Locust Grove: Locust Grove is a 55-acre farm that was once occupied by the Croghan family and served as a gathering place for the Lewis and Clark expedition. The family also hosted several presidents and other notable visitors.
Louisville Water Company Pumping Station No. 1 and Water Tower: Louisville’s is the oldest ornamental water tower in the world. The greek temple style ornamentation disguises the mechanics of the pump.
U.S. Marine Hospital: The Marine Hospital lies empty and is closed to the public because without needed restoration, it is too structurally compromised to be safe for public use. Any number of proposals to rehab the property over the past years have fallen though.
Zachary Taylor’s Boyhood Home: This home, known as “Springfield,” is now a private home and is not open to the public. The 12th president lived there from 1790 to 1808 and held his marriage there in 1810.