Browse Exhibits (34 total)

A History of Steamboating in the Ohio Valley

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The successful transit of the steamboat New Orleans down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans in the fall and early winter of 1811 signaled a new era in American history—the age of the steamboat.


The changes that steam-propelled river craft brought to America’s interior waterways were as seismic as the tremors experienced by the New Orleans during the New Madrid earthquake. Virtually every part of society felt those changes in some way. The advent of steamboats on western waters impacted transportation, industry, business, communication, and culture.

Ohio Valley residents quickly embraced its advantages and accepted and bore its dangers. The steamboat era was off and paddling and did not flag until the coming of the railroad and automobile combined to bring about its demise. The letters, diaries, business records, books, maps, photographs, prints, paintings, and artifacts in The Filson’s collection provide a record of the steamboat era in the Ohio Valley, from the famous voyage of the New Orleans to the period’s final years, when the few remaining paddle wheelers were used for entertainment and leisure travel. 


This exhibit has been adapted from the article "The Engine is Working Away Like Mad": Documenting the Steamboat Era in the Filson's Collection, by Filson Curator of Collections Jim Holmberg, published in Ohio Valley History, Vol. 11 No. 3, Fall 2011

All Dolled Up: The Handmade Paper Dolls of Carrie Douglas Dudley Ewen

This unique collection of hand-drawn and painted paper dolls was created by Kentucky artist Carrie Douglas Dudley Ewen.

Life and Career

Ewen was born in Flemingsburg, Kentucky on March 31, 1894 to Charles Lee Dudley and Lula Kenner Dudley. Her artistic abilities surfaced at a young age, as she spent much of her time drawing and crafting paper dolls. She was encouraged in these pursuits by her mother who was an avid painter, and whose works are also part of the Filson’s museum collection. Ewen left Kentucky to study at the Art Institute of Chicago, and lived in New York, Chicago, Italy, and California before returning to Kentucky in 1963. Ewen was a pioneer for women artists in the commercial world, and worked under the name “Doug Ewen” for much of her career. Niece Lu Ann Weinstein reflects on Ewen, saying, “Aunt Doug [was] making money long before women were supposed to be so uppity.”

Ewen is known for her commercial work illustrating children’s books and cookbooks, as well as her work designing holiday cards for Henri Fayette, NuArt, and Chrysons card companies. However, her artistic flourish was not relegated to her business. In her spare time, she created a number of oil paintings of family members and friends, and experimented in a variety of media.

Work in Paper Dolls

Though Ewen was a well known professional artist, it is believed that she had no intention of profiting from these beautiful dolls. Instead she gave them as birthday and holiday gifts to the children in her family, who cherished them throughout their lives.

After reading a publication on her aunt, Lu Ann Weinstein wrote to the Filson, asking “Did you see the marvelous paper dolls that Doug created? They are as playful and cute as my aunt was. If you run across the one in color with an entire wardrobe, that is me! She sent it to me when I was ill to cheer me up and to let me know she was thinking of me.”

These dolls and their many detailed accessories indeed display the skill and spirit of the artist. Each doll in the collection is named with a note on its back.

Before the Wrecking Ball: Views of “Lost” Louisville


The history of Louisville, like so many cities, is one of expansion and change. Over time the landscape of the city changes. Buildings come and go; residential areas shift farther from downtown as businesses increase; once fashionable areas fall into decay; and the old makes way for the new. In short, to put a twist on an old saying - what was here yesterday is often gone today.

The urban renewal programs of the mid-20th century leveled entire city blocks deemed substandard and not worth preserving. It also displaced viable and often vibrant communities (this is particularly true for African American areas of Louisville, especially the old Walnut Street business district) in the name of “progress.” Granted, some areas had declined to the point that demolition was a reasonable solution and modern and much more useful buildings were built. But the frequent “scorched earth” approach of urban renewal all too often destroyed structures that today might be considered gems of 19th century architecture. The preservation movements that often battled this practice enjoyed some successes, but the wrecking ball often left gaping holes in the city’s landscape; holes that fifty and more years later sometimes remain as vacant lots.  

Projects to document this urban “renewal” and what was being razed have provided important visual documentation of these lost buildings and streetscapes. Professionally and sometimes personally photographed, they record the visual history of the city and its neighborhoods that the wrecking ball permanently changed. Anyone with a camera could walk the streets snapping photos of buildings destined for destruction. Louisville was no exception. Agencies involved with urban renewal efforts documented their work. While the photos can be quite plentiful there inevitably are views missingThus, photos snapped by individuals can help fill those possible gaps.  

The images in this exhibit are from a collection of photos from the Filson's collection that in part document areas of Louisville razed by urban renewal. They focus on the area on the western side of downtown near the primary African American business district along Walnut Street (now Muhammad Ali Blvd.).The photographer is unidentified but apparently lived at 734 Dixie Highway. The listed owner at that residence during the time these photos are dated (1946-1959) was Gertrude Simmons. She was a senior citizen and it is doubtful that she was the photographer. It is likely that we’ll never know who took the photos, but because they did, these images of a “lost” Louisville were preserved.  

See the entire photo collection on Past Perfect Online:

Breaking the Mold: Sculptor Enid Yandell


October 2019 marks the 150th birthday of Louisville-born and nationally-renowned sculptor Enid Yandell (1869-1934), known for the figure of Pan on Hogan’s Fountain and the Daniel Boone statue, both in Cherokee Park. In this celebratory exhibit, the Filson examines how Enid broke the mold that society and the art establishment imposed on women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by pursuing a career as a sculptor. The materials in this exhibit come from the Filson Historical Society's Special Collections and represent a sampling of Enid's life as a sculptor and activist.

Bricks and Mortar, Soul and Heart: The Evolution of Louisville's Young Men's Hebrew Association and Jewish Community Center 1890-2022

On its 50th Anniversary, celebrated in 1940, the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) of Louisville dedicated ceremonies to its former president, Benjamin S. Washer. During his tenure (1911-1920), Washer led a successful campaign to build an expanded new YMHA facility. Reflecting on this triumph, community leader Louis Cohen wrote “The community’s gift of money was translated into stone and steel, lumber and plaster, bricks and mortar…but something more than money, energy, and material things that go to equip and erect a building were needed, and that was soul and heart.” 

Indeed, community centers are physical spaces, but they are also social and emotional places. More than mere structures, they offer grounds for gathering, learning, growth, and connection. This exhibit provides glimpses into one of the oldest continuously operating community centers in the state of Kentucky, tracing its evolution from the late nineteenth century up through the present day.  

Butchertown: A Notable Louisville Neighborhood

Originally Louisville's meatpacking district, butcher shops dominated the area in the 1800s. Today, the neighborhood is home to a number of restaurants, bars, a distillery, and more, along with unique shotgun style houses. 

The Notable Neighborhoods Series from the Filson Historical Society is designed to connect people with history in a meaningful way and to highlight resources available at the Filson.  This small gallery features maps, photographs, and other historic material from the Filson's special collections.

Cecelia Larrison: A Story of Self-Liberation from Slavery

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Cecelia Larrison is one of many people who liberated themselves from slavery long before the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1846, at age 15, while on a trip to Niagara Falls with her enslavers, the Thruston family of Louisville, Kentucky, Cecelia slipped away and crossed the border into Canada. 

Throughout her years as a free woman, Cecelia faced many joys and hardships. The details of her life, like those of many formerly enslaved people, could have been lost to history. But fortunately, we have significant documentation of Cecelia’s movements and struggles, much of it coming from an unlikely source: a woman who was once her enslaver, her childhood playmate, and perhaps even her friend.  

After her liberation, Cecelia started a nearly decade-long correspondence with her former "mistress," Frances "Fanny" Thruston. This online exhibit uses some of these letters to tell the story of Cecelia’s life after slavery. 


To learn more about Cecelia and Fanny and how their lives were entwined, read Cecelia and Fanny: The Remarkable Friendship Between an Escaped Slave and Her former Mistress by Brad Asher.

Celebration Menu Collection


This is an exhibit of menus from across Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee from various celebrations including; Christmas, Thanksgiving, Weddings, and even appreciation dinners. These menus show us what foods were popular over the years and what traditions were common depending on location and hierarchy. 

Continuity of Care: Transforming Jewish Hospital for Modern Louisville, 1945-1980

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Jewish Hospital opened in 1905 as a charitable institution with a joint mission of patient care and education. Funded entirely by Louisville’s Jewish community, it provided culturally sensitive treatment to new Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, as well as training and practice opportunities for aspiring Jewish doctors facing professional restrictions. Forty years later at the end of World War II, Jewish Hospital made a major leap: leaving its original Kentucky and Floyd Street location for a state-of-the-art new facility in the heart of Louisville.  

OUR GOAL IS A NEW JEWISH HOSPITAL,” wrote Jewish Hospital Board President Milton Trost in 1945.  “It is our only expression of providing the city of Louisville with an institution dedicated to service for all religions and citizens. The expanded and thoroughly modernized Jewish Hospital opened on Chestnut Street and Brooks in the winter of 1955. By 1980 it had become a nationally renowned multi-specialty medical center. These decades were full of challenges and growth as the hospital worked to uphold its original mission amid major social, economic, and medical changes.

Evolving Inspiration: The Art and Design of Julius Friedman

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Innovator. Experimenter. Prolific. Lively. Artist and graphic designer Julius Friedman (1943-2017) was Louisville’s beloved and renowned image maker and cultural advocate. Throughout his fifty-year career, Friedman embraced a vast range of media and methods to delight viewers with his visual artistry. As a designer he crafted iconic advertisements for clients in both the corporate and not-for-profit sectors and produced dozens of book publications. As an artist, he experimented extensively, constantly pushing the photographic medium and exploring book arts, sculpture, dance, and video. An enthusiastic collaborator and dedicated member of Louisville’s arts community, Julius Friedman is widely and deeply missed.

In 2018, the artist’s sister and longtime manager, Carol Abrams, generously donated works from his estate to the Filson’s collection. From September 26th, 2019 through February 28th, 2020, the Filson mounted an original exhibit based on this collection in the Nash Gallery called Evolving Inspiration: The Art and Design of Julius Friedman. We present here highlights from the exhibition and a digital tour through the phases of Julius Friedman’s rich and multi-faceted career.