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Louisville: Grits and a Touch of History

Updated: Jan 14, 2019

If you think of Louisville, you probably think of race horses and bourbon. The town is on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and home to Churchill Downs. But what struck me on a recent visit to the city is something else: history. Many of the homeowners and businesses have preserved 19th and early 20th century facades, giving each place a connection to history that many other cities lack.

Louisville boasts the country’s largest contiguous collection of Victorian houses, according to the Old Louisville Neighborhood Council. There are some 45 blocks to explore in old Louisville filled with historic homes. The city blossomed economically in the 19th century, with easy access to the Ohio river, and many of the people who made their money on Whiskey Row in Louisville in the 19th century built homes on Millionaire’s Row.

Some are well preserved and open up to the public during warm-weather tours of the neighborhood. Others of the grand mansions have been turned into apartments.

The wealthy can leave behind the most interesting of homes. Get a taste of that at The Conrad-Caldwell House Museum, a more than 10,000-square-foot house built by a guy in 1895 for his retirement. With an elaborate staircase, parquet floors, and stained glass, the Richardsonian Romanesque-style house has two docents descended from one of the original homeowners, but the house is only accessible during regularly scheduled tours. Don't criticize the elaborate stone fireplace mantel on the second floor. One of the homeowners accidentally got the family crest wrong on the mantel, but once it had been completed, was a little too heavy and expensive to move.

The staircase in The Conrad-Caldwell House Museum.

Old Louisville also has quaint Central Park, where you can see free Kentucky Shakespeare and other performances. Inspired by the beauty of the houses, you may want your own Victorian. They occasionally go on sale, like this $700,000 home known as the "Pink Palace" with a gigantic turret.

The Pink Palace.

While you’re touring the city’s history, possibly with a stop at the Filson Historical Society, you can stay overnight at The Brown Hotel in downtown Louisville. It was built in 1923 and the Georgian-Revival style building still maintains an astonishing medallion ceiling in the lobby. The hotel plays up its signature dish quite a bit, the “Haute Brown,” a sandwich on Texas toast topped with roasted turkey, Mornay sauce, tomatoes, bacon and parsley, which the hotel upgraded in 2016 and sold for $90 “while supplies last.”

The lobby of The Brown Hotel.

But if you’re looking for a Southern breakfast with spice, you might try Harvest, a local favorite with a rotating menu based on ingredients sourced from farms within a 100-mile radius. On a recent brunch, dishes included grits with burgoo, a sort of meat and vegetable stew popular during the Kentucky Derby, fried chicken and grits, and a harvest salad with buttermilk dressing and a side of pickled beets.

*I never make money by linking to sites or mentioning organizations in these blog posts.

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