The Filson Historical Society Digital Projects

Browse Exhibits (37 total)

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    Olde England on the Ohio: Louisville's Tudor Revival

    Revivals in art, architecture, and design are movements that draw inspiration from the past. Tudor Revival is a style that became a nationwide phenomenon and remains beloved in cities and communities across the country.

    When it burst onto the American landscape in the early twentieth century, Tudor Revival was immediately the subject of debate. Emerging at a time of heated discourse about immigration, race, and class, Tudor Revival was seen by many as an antidote to modern America's changing social fabric. Critics, academics, and tastemakers worked to define the style's limits and meaning. It was parsed into increasingly narrow subgenres, each with its own rigid rules that remain with us today.

    ''Olde England on the Ohio'' challenges this narrowing of Tudor Revival's scope and definition. Using Louisville as a microcosm, this exhibit suggests Tudor Revival was an expansive movement that went far beyond architecture and design. While elites looked to restrict Tudor's access and importance to a select few, everyday Americans freely drew from a wide spectrum of Tudor influences to create fun, fanciful, and beautiful worlds for themselves. This exhibit reconsiders Tudor Revival as a broad cultural moment decided from the ground up, not the top down.

    "Olde England on the Ohio: Louisville's Tudor Revival" was featured in the Filson Historical Society's Bingham Gallery from November 4, 2022 to March 3, 2023. It was guest curated by Daniel Gifford, Ph.D. and was made possible through the generous support of Stock Yards Bank and Trust.

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    Paul Günter: Studio Portraiture to Art Photography

    In conjunction with the 2021 Louisville Photo Biennial, the Filson is proud to present this virtual exhibit, Paul Günter: Studio Portraiture to Art Photography.

    Immigrating from Hanover, Germany in 1886, Paul Günter (1857-1936) settled in Louisville, KY, establishing himself as a commercial and art photographer. Coming from a family of photographers, one can assume that Günter immigrated to the United States in hopes of opening his own photographic studioShortly after arriving to Louisville, Günter is listed as an artist with Stuber and Bro. a prominent photographic studio located at 616 East Chestnut street. By 1891, he is listed as the successor to Daniel Stuber’s studio, another notable German photographer. Günter’s work documents three major aspects of his career and lifeStudio photographyworkhe created to make a living, Family photography—snap shots of intimate views of his family and friends, and Art photography—where he focused on capturing the natural world, architecture, and people, including several unique views of the African American community.

    Like other prominent Louisville photographers of the time, Paul Günter’s work undoubtedly is represented in the personal collections of countless Louisville families and in the photograph collections of many historical institutions. What makes this collection so significant is that it is Günter’s personal collection, and more completely documents and preserves the legacy of his work. The photographs reveal more than Günter’s skill as a commercial photographer. In them is seen his favorite subject material as well as his interest in and experimentation with evolving photographic techniques, such as lighting and focus. This exhibit provides insight into the life and legacy of Paul Günter through the photographs he left behind.


    Progressive Women of Old Louisville Online Tour

    In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum, Filson Historical Society, and the Woman's Club of Louisville came together to create a walking tour to share the history of some of the progressive women who lived, worked, and entertained in the Old Louisville neighborhood. We are sharing a version of this walking tour online in the hopes that you can walk this tour on your own, or learn more about these women from a distance.

    To learn more about our organizations, please visit:

    Conrad-Caldwell House Museum: 

    The Woman's Club of Louisville:

    The Filson Historical Society:

    ; ;


    Shantyboat: Life on the Ohio

    “A shantyboat is a scow with a small house on it. Nearly always a homemade job, it is put together with odd scraps of material and pieces of driftwood and wreckage. Yet it is more than a floating homestead: it is an ark which the river bears toward a warmer climate, better fishing grounds, and more plentiful and easier work on shore. At one place after another the hopeful boatman lays over for a spell, until disillusioned, he lets his craft be caught up by the river’s current, to be carried like the driftwood, farther downstream. At last he beaches out for good, somewhere in the south, where his children pass for natives.” 

    Harlan Hubbard defined a shantyboat and a shantyboater’s life in this quote from his landmark book on his own river experience, Shantyboat: A River Way of Life. Shantyboaters’ experiences varied from those who floated downriver as Hubbard describes, to those who lived in beached boats with gardens and livestock, squatting on privately or publicly owned lands. Floating and permanent shantyboaters faced dangers on the water and from floods. While some made their livelihood on the river through fishing and transportation, others worked on land in saw mills, coal yards, in other local factories and as domestics in private homes and hotels. Through their living quarters and work, shantyboaters made up one part of Louisville’s community on the river, which also included those there for recreation, transportation, and entertainment. Shantyboats coexisted with showboats, steamboats, and barges, sailboats, rowboats, and towboats, both in Louisville and in other cities up and down the Ohio River.

    This digital exhibit pairs the research of Dr. Mark Wetherington, former Director of the Filson Historical Society, with resources from the Filson’s collections. Denigrated as “squatty little half-house, half-boat,” shantyboats provided dwelling places for as many as 50,000 people along American rivers during the Great Depression. From the 1850s until the 1950s, Louisville had a thriving shantyboat community by the outlet of Beargrass Creek along River Road near Butchertown, at an area called “The Point.” In this exhibit, you'll learn about the people and customs of the river and the "underground economy” that thrived on fishing, basket making and harvesting mussel shells for buttons. "Shantyboat Life on the Ohio" is a glimpse into an Ohio River way of life. 


    Shrouded in Jet and Crepe: A Look into Mourning Attire and Ribbons at the Filson Historical Society

    For women in the Victorian era, death and mourning were part of life. High infant mortality rates, poor sanitation, and social and political unrest left many shrouded in grief, both emotionally and physically. Mourning etiquette in Europe and America, particularly in the nineteenth century, entailed a theatrical display of one’s personal grief. While all members of society took part in these rituals, they are best understood by examining the clothing and accessories of women as they progressed through the different stages of mourning. Though the exhibit does include a few items worn by men, it focuses primarily on material culture affiliated with women. The Filson Historical Society's collection includes a wide variety of mourning garments, jewelry, and clothing accessories, as well as memorial ribbons, portraits, and posthumous portraits.

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    Sincerely Yours from the White House

    Letters from U.S. Presidents

    The Filson Historical Society's collections include correspondence from United States presidents spanning the last two and a half centuries.

    Some of these letters represent matters of state, while others simply reveal a president's personal interests and details of everyday life. Some are official documents bearing the weight of presidential seals and signatures, others simple notes of appreciation or reminders of appointments. All add to our understanding of who these men were and how they contributed or reacted to the eras in which they lived during their time both inside and outside the White House.

    This exhibit shares many of the letters from the Filson's Presidents' Papers collection.

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    The 1890 Tornado

    This year marks the 130th anniversary of one of the most devastating natural disasters in Louisville's history. On March 27, 1890, a massive tornado tore across downtown Louisville, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. The storm hit at 8:30 p.m. and lasted only about five minutes, but it nonetheless leveled homes and businesses, destroying warehouses, churches, and the railroad station. One hundred people were killed and at least 55 were injured.

    The tornado's path was so localized in the West End of the city that many Louisville residents were unaware of the disaster until they read the next morning's Courier-Journal headline: “Louisville visited by the storm demon.” 

    This exhibit shares images of the tornado's aftermath from the Filson's photograph and print collections. Prominently, it includes W. Stuber & Brothers' "Tornado Views," a series of photos that show 28 views of Louisville immediately following the disaster.

  • The Binghams of Louisville

    The Binghams were one of the most influential Louisville families of the 20th century. The family-built fortunes, reputations and, sadly, lost loved ones in the last century, inspiring headlines, gossip, and numerous books, a few written by Bingham descendants.

    The patriarch, George “Barry” Bingham, Sr. was born in Louisville, Kentucky on February 10, 1906, the son of Judge Robert Worth Bingham and Eleanor Miller Bingham. Barry’s father was a successful attorney and was active in civic affairs and politics. In 1918, Judge Bingham purchased The Courier-Journal and Louisville Times from the Haldeman family. These two major Louisville newspapers established what became the Bingham media legacy. His successor to the media company was his son Barry, Sr.

    This extensive photograph collection documents the family and social lives of George “Barry” Bingham, Sr. (1906-1988), his wife Mary Caperton (1904-1995,) and their five children: Robert Worth (1932-1966), George “Barry,” Jr. (1933-2006), Sarah known as “Sallie” (1937- ), Jonathan Worth (1942-1964), and Eleanor (1946- ).

    Full exhibit coming January 2024!

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    The Evolution of Camp Zachary Taylor

    This exhibit shares images and documents from the Filson’s collection that illustrate the changing ownership and landscape of the Camp Zachary Taylor area and illuminate the history of Louisville’s World War I cantonment.

    In 1917, the Louisville Board of Trade purchased close to three thousand acres of farmland and open fields several miles south of the city of Louisville, Kentucky. The U.S. Government transformed this acreage into an active military camp with around two thousand buildings, training over 125,000 American soldiers for participation in World War I, with even more men passing through during demobilization in 1919.

    In 1921, after only four years, the Government auctioned off some of the land, buildings, and equipment at a loss of nearly six million dollars. The subdivided land would eventually become a working-class neighborhood, still known as “Camp Taylor.” In 1941, the US Public Building Administration constructed the Fincastle Heights Defense Housing Project on a portion of the original Army camp still owned by the government. Some of the homes in the neighborhood today are still located on the concrete pads once used as bathrooms and showers for the World War I barracks.

  • The Incomparable Helen Humes: The Life and Career of Louisville's Legendary Jazz and Blues Singer

    On June 23, 1909, in Louisville, Kentucky, a rising star was born: the mysterious, elegant, and multi-talented Helen Humes.

    Humes was raised loving music, and starting at age 17, she began a wildly successful career singing jazz and blues. She worked with many noteable musicians and groups, including the Count Basie Orchestra and Norman Granz. She spent the 1960s and 70s traveling the world showcasing her wonderful voice, but she also never forgot her roots in Louisville.

    This exhibit showcases items from the Filson’s manuscript and photograph collections that illuminate Humes's incomparable life.


    The Kentucky Derby: "Run for the Roses"

    The Kentucky Derby is a one-and-one-quarter-mile stake race for three-year-old Thoroughbred colts, geldings, and fillies.  The Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks are the oldest continuously contested American sporting events and the only Thoroughbred stakes races run annually at the same site since it began in 1875. Not only will one see horses, hats, seersucker, and bow ties, the Derby has evolved into an entire month of celebrations throughout Louisville known as The Kentucky Derby Festival. The Festival began in 1956 with the Pegasus Parade, produced for a mere $640. The premise of the early festival was to create a celebration allowing the entire community to participate in the excitement around the Kentucky Derby.  Despite being postponed in 2020, the Festival is still going strong, starting off with a bang at Thunder Over Louisville, and moving into some classics including the Balloon Fest, Pegasus Parade, and the Great Steamboat Race.  Here are a few items from our collections that represent the most exciting two minutes in sports history, and the fanfare surrounding it!


    The Kentucky State Fair, 1816-2015

    The Kentucky State Fair is one of the oldest fairs celebrated in the United States. Its beginning can be traced back to 1816 when Colonel Lewis Sanders of Fayette County, Kentucky (no known relation to Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame) organized the first fair in the Commonwealth. The fair became official in 1902 after being mandated by the Kentucky General Assembly the previous year. It was held at the famed Churchill Downs initially, then rotated throughout various communities until finding a permanent home in Louisville's West End at the newly created Kentucky State Fairgrounds on September 14, 1908. In 1956 the fair was moved to the Kentucky State Fairgrounds and Exposition Center where it remains today. The modern fair is an eleven day event, visited by over 600,000 fairgoers, spread over 520 acres with 1.2 million square feet of indoor exhibition space for amusements, livestock, home and field-work exhibitions. Most notable of these is the World's Championship Horse Show where 2000 elite saddlebreds compete for more than one million dollars' worth of premiums and awards. The following are a few images from The Filson collection that showcase this Kentucky heritage event.

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    The Path to the Polls: Presidential Elections in Kentucky

    Since Kentucky became a state in 1792, its citizens have rallied around presidential candidates, run for president themselves, and fought continuously for the basic right to participate in the selection of their Commander-in-Chief.

    This exhibit uses items in the Filson's collections to share hightlight from over two centuries of presidential campaigns in Kentucky.

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    Violins of Hope in the Ohio Valley

    In October 2019, the Filson Historical Society joined with 30 community partners and venues to host a two-week visit in Louisville from the Violins of Hope. Created by Israeli father and son violin makers Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein, Violins of Hope  restores violins orphaned or confiscated from Jews throughout Europe during World War II and the Shoah (the Hebrew term for the Holocaust, meaning "catastrophe"). The instruments now travel the world, played and displayed in concerts, exhibits, and programs fostering education, and shared humanity through music appreciation. Now, in June 2022, the Filson is proud to host a new chapter of the story: free public screenings of a new documentary on the Violins of Hope  in Louisville.  

    Connecting the history of Kentucky and the Ohio Valley with the history of the Violins of Hope is challenging for one simple reason: while American Jews in this region have experienced antisemitism and exclusion, never have we experienced nearly the degree of dispossession and agony of Jews and other minority groups in Nazi Europe. Instead, our Violins of Hope stories offer a counternarrative to the grief and loss inherent in their European counterparts. These stories enable us to appreciate how classical music has brought comfort and cohesion to our communities.

    Two stories from the Filson’s collections (one organizational and one personal) illuminate how in the same historical moment, Jewish musicians could be simultaneously suffering in one part of the world and thriving in another.



    Why Filson?

    Where did the name "Filson" originate for our organization? What were the early goals and activities? How did this private club evolve into Kentucky’s privately supported historical society - the Filson Historical Society?

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    Women at Work: Venturing into the Public Sphere

    Women have been working side by side with each other and with men – fathers, brothers, partners, husbands, sons – throughout human existence. The theme “women at work” should therefore cover millennia. Being not so ambitious, this exhibit seeks to illuminate women's professional roles in only a snippet of American history: the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    During this time, women of the Ohio Valley region – mostly upper-class whites – stepped outside their homes to seek new roles as professionals and advocates in business, art, education, and the club movement. They were predecessors, colleagues, compatriots, and sometimes opponents of their sisters agitating for women’s rights and women’s suffrage. Nevertheless, they all ventured into the public sphere, redefining the roles women were expected to play. Whether working to affect social change, realize their creative potential, or simply provide for their families, these pioneers changed what it meant to be a woman at work.

    To view a recording of the virtual opening of this exhibit, please see:

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    Women's Suffrage: The Movement in Louisville

    Only 100 years ago, in 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting women the right to vote in the United States.

    The fight for ratification was long and difficult for suffragists across the country, but it wasn't just a battle of national organizations and well-known leaders. Suffrage was gained through the hard work of women from every community and every walk of life. Suffragists were not all wealthy or influential, but they were all determined to make their voices heard. The long-term results of their struggle are clear a century later: their efforts led to a breakdown of barriers that once barred women from realizing their potential as politicians, professionals, leaders, and human beings. 

    This exhibit shares items from the Filson's collections that document the suffrage movement in Louisville.