“An eclectic blend of people who have lived here for over 30 years, millennials, and business owners.” This is how Andy Cornelious, former president and current treasurer of the neighborhood association, described Butchertown.
Once home to Thomas Edison, nowadays the neighborhood caterers to residents young and old, hip and traditional. Butchertown edges east of downtown for about two miles, and provides convenience for residents while also preserving a small neighborhood charm.
For many outsiders, though, it’s easy to drive past Butchertown on I-65 or I-71 without a second thought to the neighborhood or its rich history.
The neighborhood is one of Louisville’s oldest, with a history that traces all the way back to 1796. Butchertown is actually older than Old Louisville by about 50 years. In 1827 parts of the area were annexed from the city of Louisville, fueling the neighborhood’s growth.
Butchers flocked to the area because they were unable to operate within the city’s limits, yet still needed proximity to the merchants downtown. The industry quickly grew and prompted the establishment of the Bourbon Stock Yards in 1834. The yard was conveniently located on a hill above Beargrass Creek which was employed for dumping the animal wastes after butchering in the yard.
Originally, Beargrass Creek ran through Butchertown to downtown where it met the Ohio river at 4th St. Growing complaints about animal carcasses, rancid smell, and sanitation problems led the city to reroute Beargrass Creek to let out miles to the east in Butchertown.
Industries such as tanneries, soap manufactures, and blacksmiths soon joined the neighborhood. The middle class grew and the neighborhood became dense and lively. But like much of Louisville, 1937 proved to be the year that would change the face of Butchertown forever.
The historic flood of 1937 put much of Butchertown under water. At the north edge of the neighborhood, right on Beargrass Creek and the Ohio River, The Point suffered the most devastation, ultimately taking it off the map.
Butchertown-Point had been home to hundreds of families, many of whom were said to have come from New Orleans, giving the area a French flare. The streets bustled with shops, churches, and schools, though the area shows little evidence of it now. The flood destroyed the homes and buildings, and forced residents to evacuate. Many families did not have insurance that covered the damage caused by the flood and the government was slow to respond with aid. The area quickly became abandoned and forgotten about. The city even turned parts of it into a dump, which was in use until 1973.
With its most vibrant streets lost and industrial rezoning by the city, Butchertown began to fade. Industries, such as large meatpackers, took over the neighborhood in the 1950s and homeowners moved to the suburbs.
It wasn’t until 1966 that the neighborhood’s zoning was returned to partially residential and revitalization really started.
Today, Butchertown is beginning to reflect its original community again. Young professionals as well as families are moving to the neighborhood, integrating with the residents who have lived in Butchertown for generations.
The neighborhood is seeing a resurgence of owner-occupied homes, which has led to a growth in historical architecture restoration.
“Homeowners are taking the bones and restoring houses to their original character,” said Andy Cornelius, currently the treasurer of the neighborhood association.
Andy and his wife originally moved to Butchertown because of it’s proximity to where they worked.
Now, years later, Andy continues to see people moving to Butchertown for its location, but then choosing to stay for its community, charm, and history.
“What makes this neighborhood unique is its proximity to downtown and its history that can’t be recreated. No one can recreate these old houses built from bricks crafted from the Ohio River clay. That’s authenticity only Butchertown can offer,” said Andy.
Mixed with the history are also budding retail shops, restaurants, and modern architecture, making Butchertown the best of both worlds.
A new, upscale apartment complex is in the works. The complex will have over 200 apartments as well as space for shops and restaurants. The complex will sit on Main St. between Clay and Hancock. Initial plans show that the developers will showcase the historical facades that occupy the block.
Businesses have also taken part in the revival of Butchertown.
Bobby Benjamin is the owner and executive chef of Butchertown Grocery, located on East Washington St. The contemporary restaurant is established in what used to be a family-owned grocery named Gunkel’s. When Benjamin revitalized the grocery, he preserved the character of the building and the heart of the community.
Down the street, Butchertown Market is also making strides towards restoring the vibrance and culture of the neighborhood. Built in 1880, over the past 136 years it has been home to a leather tannery, soap factory, paint company, seed company, and now retail shops and offices. Current tenants include Cellar Door Chocolates, Work the Metal, and Moss Hill.
For nature-lovers, bike enthusiasts, and history buffs Butchertown offers a unique opportunity you can’t find anywhere else in the city. The Butchertown Greenway is a pedestrian and cyclist path that begins at the Beargrass Creek pump station and connects to the eastern edge of the Waterfront trail.
The greenway itself is not abnormal, Louisville has a system of trails designed to one day encircle Louisville and connect the city’s major parks, historical monuments, and civic attractions.
What is extraordinary is that the Butchertown Greenway trails are remains of the streets of The Point that were abandoned nearly 80 years ago. Though there are no traces of the homes, shops, and schools that once filled the area, visitors to the trails can still appreciate the community that used to be there as they walk along its concrete skeleton.
One of the original Butchertown Greenway plans from 1996 proposed the greenway beginning on East Main St. near the remnants of the Bourbon Stock Yard and continue north along Beargrass Creek to River Rd. These plans included an extensive network of trails, public facilities, and educational centers.
Unfortunately, Butchertown never saw these plans come completely into fruition.
This could be about to change, though, as Butchertown has exciting things in store for the near future.
Waterfront Botanical Gardens, a project headed by Botanica, is currently in the works. The botanical gardens, which would be located on a 22-acre site at Frankfort Avenue and River Road, would make use of the Butchertown Greenway, connecting Butchertown to the Waterfront. Features would include a visitor center, greenhouse style conservatory, Beargrass Creek overlook, exterior gardens, and children’s garden.
The botanical gardens would boost community involvement and tourism not only in Butchertown, but in the city as a whole. The botanical gardens would reconnect the Waterfront to Butchertown and encourage growth eastward.
(My description of the gardens does not to do it justice and I highly recommend you take a look at the master design plans.)
In addition, the attraction would encourage further restoration of Beargrass Creek. Since Butchertown’s inception the creek has acted as a dump for animal waste, manufacturing and housing debris, and sewage.
Over the last two decades, environmental organizations have been working to combat the pollution and find a solution to revive this urban watershed. Making the creek cleaner and greener would invite wildlife back into the ecosystem and beautify the Butchertown neighborhood.
Waterfront Botanical Gardens could be open as soon as 2019 if everything goes as planned. Until then, the public is encouraged to visit the Founders’ Garden located at the historic Heigold Facade at the northern entrance to Frankfort Avenue and next to the future site of the botanical gardens.