A Brief History
Adapted from the Encyclopedia of Louisville
The Butchertown neighborhood is located just east of the downtown area, bordered by the Ohio River to the north, Interstate 65 to the west, Main Street to the south, and Mellwood Avenue and Beargrass Creek to the east. Butchertown’s history can be traced to the year 1796 when Henry Fait established one of Jefferson County’s first gristmills in the area.
In 1802 Col. Frederick Geiger purchased 2000 acres extending from Beargrass Creek to the Ohio River, and was given a license by the Kentucky Legislature to operate a ferry between his property and Jeffersonville in the Northwest Territory. Geiger built brick buildings on the Ohio River for the operation of the ferry service near present day Towhead Island, a house (Linden Hill) near the southern boundary of his 2000 acres at Beargrass Creek, and two mills. In September of 1811, “Col. Geiger, under a call from Governor Harrison, at once raised a company who encamped on his land in an apple orchard on the left bank of Beargrass Creek...” These were the Kentucky Riflemen who fought under Geiger’s command at the Battle of Tippecanoe. In 1815 Col. Geiger conscripted the limestone bridgeacross Beargrass Creek extending Frankfort Avenuein front of his house. Col. Geiger “accumulated a fortune, and died August 28, 1832, leaving manydecendents.” (*The Battle of Tippecanoe,” Captain Alfred Pirtle, Filson Club Quarterly, 1900)
It was not until 1827 that Butchertown began taking on its urban character. In that year, Louisville annexed parts of the area. Shortly thereafter, the first wave of German immigrants arrived and many became butchers. Butchering animals had been banned from the city core early on, but this did not present a problem because the city’s eastern reaches were more practical for the task. The land sat astride a major turnpike from the east (now Frankfort and Story Avenues), and Beargrass Creek was useful for dumping animal wastes. To accommodate the growing industry, the Bourbon Stock Yards was established in 1834. Other related businesses such as tanneries, cooperages, soap makers, agricultural supply dealers, and blacksmiths soon sprang up. Breweries and distilleries were built to satisfy German thirsts.
The neighborhood’s present street system took shape on April 16, 1841, when city surveyor John Tunstall platted the area. Most of the present street names date from that time. For years, local historians have heldthat street names such as Washington, Adams, Franklin, and Webster were chosen out of patriotic fervor, but that is not quite so. Two early Butchertown landowners, George Buchanan (for whom Buchanan St. is named) and Isaac Stewart, were Whigs. When it came time to name streets on their land, Federalist or Whig names were chosen. Except for Calhoun (named for a renegade southern Democrat), no Democratic names were picked.
For most of the nineteenth century, Butchertown remained a thriving, petit bourgeois neighborhood, with a continental flavor still hinted at today. Other Louisvillians often professed shock at the Sunday gatherings at Woodland Garden, beer drinking and bowling took place without regard for the Sabbath.
The Butchertown culture began to fade as large meatpacking plants moved into the area toward the end of the nineteenth century. The next few decades witnessed even more dramatic changes. In 1931, the city’s new zoning laws designated the entire neighborhood industrial. After the devastating flood of 1937, many homes were pulled down. Housing stock deteriorated as homeowners moved to the suburbs in the 1950s. The 1960s saw an interstate highway built through the area. Through it all, St. Joseph Catholic Church and its impressive spires have been a center of much activity.
Faced with even further encroachment by industry, a few remaining homeowners finally banded together in the mid-1960s to fight for neighborhood preservation. Their first success came in 1966 when they persuaded the city to switch the neighborhood’s zoning to partial residential. A new corporation, Butchertown, Inc., began buying dilapidated structures to renovate for resale. The result was a more stabilized community that was quieter, yet energetic. Butchertown’s remarkable preservation movement was inspired by the revitalization efforts of Old Louisville, and its success led to further renewal in other areas. See Courie -Journal Dec. 9, 1973; George Yater, Two Hundred Years at the Falls of the Ohio (Louisville 1979). David Williams