A Peek into the History and Culture of Louisville’s Neighborhoods: Germantown and the Highlands
Germantown is a small town located within the city limits of Louisville/Jefferson County in the state of Kentucky. The small town was officially founded by Whitfield Craig in 1784. Originally settled by mostly German immigrants, this area began as mostly small farms and butcher shops. It is small community that registered a modest 154 inhabitants as of the 2011 census. The biggest event in the area is the annual Germantown Fair that takes place between late July and early August. This annual event includes agricultural exhibits, youth exhibits, the youth market livestock auction, Demolition Derby, and several other popular attractions. The Germantown Fair has been held every year since its inception in 1854, and is known by locals as “Old Reliable.”
The Germantown area is comprised mostly of small "shotgun" houses that get their name from their small size and the way that the rooms are arranged. The rooms are arranged one behind the other, and if a person were to fire a shotgun through the front door, the shot would simply travel straight through and out the back door. These houses sometimes sit only a few feet apart, which made for a tight knit community. Many of the homes in this community today are being renovated and remodeled to reflect the younger demographic moving in. Many of these ‘shotgun’ homes are being used by families practicing urban homesteading. It is not uncommon to find thriving gardens, bee hives, and the occasional backyard chicken in the Germantown neighborhood.
The Highlands is an area of Louisville that is adjacent to Germantown, however it stands in stark contrast to Germantown. There are many different nightclubs, unique businesses, upscale dining, and fast food restaurants. Many local eclectic business and artists showcase their goods in this part of Louisville/Jefferson County. What was once a wealthy residential neighborhood along Bardstown Road, is now teeming with activity, from restaurants, retailers, tattoo and piercing shops, art galleries, and more. There are several city parks located within the Highlands area, such as Tyler Park, Seneca Park, and the most popular Cherokee Triangle. The Highlands was the last area to be urbanized in the city of Louisville. The 60 foot incline above the flood plain at Beargrass Creek, was inspiration for the name of this particular neighborhood. During the Civil War, this incline was impassable by soldiers. There was no urban building done in the area until very close to the beginning of the Civil War era.
Here are a few fun facts about this historic area of Louisville.
• The Douglas Loop was the end of the line for the first trolley in Jefferson County, KY.
• Colonel Harlan Sanders, the original father of Kentucky Fried Chicken, is a real person that is now interred in the historic Cave Hill Cemetery
• Bowman Field was built in 1919, it and is still the longest general aviation airport in the United States that is still continuous operating.
• The Baxter Avenue Morgue was opened in 1901, and it remains as one of the most popular haunted attractions in the area. In 1932, the founder of the morgue, Victor Vanderdark mysteriously disappeared and was never found. Two years later, his son Warren and Warren’s wife and daughter disappeared just as mysteriously and none of the three were ever heard from again.
• The Highlands motto is ‘Keep Louisville Weird,’ referring to the plethora of artisans, musicians, and eclectic retailers throughout the area.
• Louisville’s most famous Derby party is hosted at the home of the original Doublemint Twins; Cyb and Patricia Barnstable, at their home adjacent to the Cherokee Triangle.
One of the most infamous events in Kentucky history took place in Louisville outside of the Germantown and Highlands neighborhoods, but included the Germans that resided in those areas and surrounding ones. This day is known today as Bloody Monday, and it took place on Election Day on August 6, 1855. Native mobs used force to stop Catholic German and Irish immigrants from voting in the election. Armbruster's Brewery was burned to the ground. Protestors brought cannons into the St. Martin of Tours Church. The homes and businesses belonging to immigrants were looted, searched for arms, and burned. All of Quinn's Row was ablaze. There were at least 22 people that were reported dead and there were many more injuries reported in the event.
Today the Highlands area continues to flourish and is known for its antique shops and upscale club scene. The area is as eclectic as its inhabitants are. There is a rich theater and arts area, as well eateries for everyone’s taste and budget that brings visitors from all the neighboring areas. Germantown is flourishing as well, with small ‘pocket bars’ sprinkled throughout the neighborhood. Louisville’s Top Bar is located right in the Germantown community. Serving local brews, while welcoming four legged friends on the comfortable patio, Germantown’s NachBar is drawing in more patrons from just the neighborhood.