"Below…was Main street, filled with wagons and people. Most of the former were drays hauling boxes of goods to and from wholesale stores, or heavily-laden drays with large hogsheads from the tobacco district. On the wharf and levee the dust raised by the wagons indicated that shipping was at its height. … The depots also presented a busy scene. Trains were coming and going at every minute, loading and unloading their human freight. Fourth avenue was lined with people on shopping expeditions, and the promenaders were out in full force."  -- A Courier-Journal reporter surveys downtown Louisville from the heights of the Columbia building, Sept. 7, 1890.


Louisville prospered in the second half of the nineteenth century. Unlike much of the South, the city was largely undamaged by the Civil War and entered a period of optimism and expansion. Architects, engineers, and construction workers were busy; the urban core rose swiftly in a boom. Elaborate commercial palaces erected near the Ohio were illustrative of the river trade at its pinnacle. Railroads multiplied, and downtown became a center of manufacturing marked by clanging factories and rumbling trains.

As the city expanded, wealthier citizens sought the tranquility of the suburbs, while the urban core gradually became less residential. For years, however, downtown remained the locus of city life. Land use shifted to primarily commercial purposes, and certain sections of downtown became known for their shopping and entertainment options. Fourth Street was the leading theater district. To the west on Walnut Street, the city’s Black residents created a thriving business district.

Tobacco Auction at Board of Trade Salesroom print, 5 June 1880

Tobacco Auction at Board of Trade Salesroom, June 5th, 1880.