“Take me back to Louisville,
Take me 'neath that southern sky,
Long to hear the whippoorwill
Comin' home, Louisville,
By the railroad track.
For the choo-choo train to take me back.
I'm so happy I could cry!
Here I come, Louisville.”
“Louisville K-Y” - Ella Fitzgerald
My father-in-law, who has spent a fair amount of time in Kentucky, calls The Derby City Lull-ville. I had no idea if that was a personally quirky pronunciation or if that was a secret “in-the-know” pronunciation with the locals.
Based on a brief two-day excursion to a city we’ve been informed we should visit a number of times, I suspect that it’s his special quirk.
Still, we’re determined to figure out that fact and more for certain on a future trip, because we found that two days was not nearly enough to see everything in this city of roughly 620,000 people.
Things We Did: We’ve been on a historic house touring kick of late, and Louisville (founded in 1792) definitely has its share of old, historic homes. Located in the Old Louisville neighborhood, the Conrad-Caldwell House (also known as Conrad’s Castle) is by no means the oldest structure in what is the largest city in Kentucky, but it certainly is one of the more beautiful structures we have visited during our travels.
Styled in the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style, this three story mansion was built on the old site of the city’s Southern Exposition, which drew visitors from all parts for five years in the mid-1880s. When the Exposition buildings were torn down, the house was one of the first constructed in their wake and became an attraction in its own right (a private guard, whom the Conrad family had hired to keep dibs on the property during this time, secretly charged a nickel to take people into the house on a private tour of sorts.
This early touring opportunity turned out to be unknowingly prophetic, in that the Caldwell Family, who bought the house from their friends the Conrads when the latter moved to new digs, ended up enamored with the house so much that they led house tours on occasion. The Caldwell family has remained invested in the house even to this day, donating much of the memorabilia, furniture and other media that visitors like us can view on a guided tour for a modest fee ($12 for adults, and a few bucks less for seniors, members of the military, and children.)
Suffice it to say, the memorabilia, combined with some gorgeous architecture, design elements, and handcrafted interior work (performed mainly through immigrant German craftsmen), made the Conrad Castle an absolute treat to visit.
Conrad-Caldwell House Museum (Conrad’s Castle) | 1402 St James Ct, Louisville, KY 40208 | Phone: (502) 636-5023 | Website: https://conrad-caldwell.org/ | IG: conradcaldwellhouse
Surprisingly, the Caldwell family legacy (what eventually developed into the Caldwell Tank Company) proved important in creating one of the most unique landmarks in downtown: the Giant Bat structure that guards the front of another destination of ours, the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. The signature bat in front of the museum is actually a water tank, which was the only way the bat structure could pass muster with zoning codes and city officials.
Inside, the museum and corresponding factory tour (a roughly 45-minute excursion, again for a fairly modest price ($16 or less)) was a perfect match for the Baseball Hall of Fame visit we made earlier this year. The museum portion itself is relatively compact (a special baseball memorabilia auction on the day of our visit upped the number of things to view), but the real treat is a super-close up view on how baseball bats are created, including what differentiates professional bats from your average everyday bat you can find at your local retail store, and the pros and cons of the different woods used in baseball bats.
The Louisville Slugger Museum’s exterior presence actually extends beyond the signature giant bat – plaques in the shape of the home plate you see on baseball fields dot sidewalks for several blocks from the museum itself, detailing various MLB All-Stars and their favorite pieces of lumber from the company. The museum is a must if you’re a fan of baseball, or just a fan of factory tours that get you really close to the manufacturing process.
Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory | 800 W Main St, Louisville, KY 40202 | Phone: (877) 775-8443 | Website: sluggermuseum.com | IG: sluggernation
Louisville is also known as “The River City” – just across the Ohio River on the Indiana side is the Falls of the Ohio, home of exposed Devonian era fossil beds that attract over 150,000 visitors daily and where Meriwether Lewis met William Clark at the cabin of Clark’s brother, George Rogers Clark, to start their exploration of the newly purchased Louisiana Territory at behest of the U.S. government.
On this cold and blustery day, these exposed fossil beds weren’t the most comfortable place to be. Still, we found plenty of fossils even on the upper levels of the rock shelves, and could only imagine what the place might have looked like prior to when modern shipping structures were installed, or what the area as a whole might have looked like during the great flood of 1997 (the water level reached up to just below the foundation of the park’s Interpretive Center, which was opened two years prior.)
Falls of the Ohio State Park | 201 W Riverside Dr, Clarksville, IN 47129 | Phone: (812) 280-9970 | Website: fallsoftheohio.org | IG: fallsoftheohiostatepark
Other Points of Interest: Louisville’s favorite son is undoubtedly Muhammad “The Greatest” Ali, former heavyweight boxing champion of the world who created an even greater legacy after he retired, transforming his activism in his younger days into something which made him ambassador for the world at large. We had intended on visiting the Muhammad Ali Center (which, along with the Louisville Slugger Museum, is one of several museums located in Downtown Louisville’s so-called “Museum Row”) on our trip, but their annual Humanitarian Awards were being held on the planned visit day. We may have been TKO’d on this trip, but we’re ready for a rematch on the next trip in.
We did get to pay homage to the champ on a brief trip into Cave Hill Cemetery, located east of downtown and home of some of Louisville’s most prominent citizens. We also managed to drop by the grave of a man who had his own unique legacy in Colonel Harland Sanders, founder of fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Pretty much all of Main Street in Downtown is known as the Bourbon District, with helpful signs either pointing you to the several tasting rooms/factories within downtown (if you do plan on a tasting or tour, you probably should book in advance by at least a week or two) or detailing the current/past distilleries that resided in the area. Public art is plentiful in this stretch, from the bike racks to a number of murals to a rather audacious mock up of the David statue. Also, you can find some public art works along the waterfront; the Belvedere Riverfront Plaza contains a sculptures of George Rogers Clark (who, along with building his cabin at the Falls of the Ohio, led several military campaigns both during and just after the Revolutionary War) and York, an African-American slave belonging to the Clark family who played a vital role in making the Lewis-Clark Expedition a success.
If you’re looking for some vinyl, Matt Anthony’s Record Shop, located in the Highlands neighborhood of the city, is a pretty good place to hang out and flick the discs during a rainy day. The store reminded me a bit of a smaller Columbus’s Spoonful Records, but with the same varied selection of new and used records and prices that were more than fair, in my opinion.
Lastly, we stayed downtown at Marriott Residence Inn during our stay. We have historically appreciated the comfort of the hotel chain’s beds in general, but the mattress we had was more catered to those who prefer a firmer mattress. Also, hotel parking is a touch on the spendy side for the area, but the garage design allows for easy return should you want to venture in your car for the day. Overall, it was a pleasant stay, and would be a good location if you’re geared toward exploring the NuLu Neighborhood (located east of downtown on the other side of the freeway) more.