Category Archives: Louisville History

River Walk-Louisville Ky

The Great Flood of 1937


Rising waters, soaring spirits
An excellent account of the 1937 flood

For generations of Louisvillians, the 1937 flood was much more than a historical event. It was a watershed. And hundreds, maybe thousands, grew up on the stories of good humor, courage and endurance that marked the months of January and February 1937.

Rick Bell, who is overseeing the restoration of the Marine Hospital in Portland, has pulled all of these emotions, as well as many, many facts together, quite remarkably, in his new book, The Great Flood of 1937. For those who care about our city, and its history, this is an indispensable book.

(It is also the third significant contribution to local history in recent months by Butler Books of Louisville, which published Louisville Then and Now and Brandeis at 150 in 2006.)

In a comprehensive, yet breezy text, with an outstanding collection of photographs, Bell recreates the weeks of seemingly endless sacrifice. Remember, the flood came at one of the lowest points of the Great Depression. Louisville and other cities already were suffering; the rains of January 1937 only made matters much worse.

Those who lived through the flood, those whose families survived to tell the stories and those for whom it was merely a historical event will welcome The Great Flood of 1937.

(From the Courier-Journal)

George Rogers Clark


George Rogers Clark born on November 19, 1752 and later was a soldier from Virginia during the American Revolutionary War. He was the leader of the Kentucky militia throughout much of the war, Clark is best-known for his capture of Kaskaskia and Vincennes which greatly weakened British hold in the Northwest Territory and the British soon ceded.

Clark’s achievements came when he was young and before his 30th birthday. Clark had financed the majority of his military campaigns with borrowed funds. Because of record keeping during the war he was unable to claim any of the promises that he was given for his military service. He did however claim thousands of acres of land but he lacked the ability to make money from it.

He grew bitter with age and began to also struggle with alcoholism. He settled in a cabin overlooking the Ohio River in Indiana.

George Rogers Clark suffered a severe stroke in 1809 and fell into an open fireplace. He suffered a burn on one of his legs that later had to be amputated. He was forced to move to Locust Grove so his sister and her husband could take care of him. Clark was the older brother brother of William Clark who was one of the leaders of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

In 1818 he suffered another stoke which proved to be fatal. He was originally buried at Locust Grove but later was reburied at Cave Hill Cemetery in 1889.

Cave Hill Cemetery


Given out at a celebration at George Rogers Clark Park in Indiana.

A Tour of George Rogers Clark Park in Clarksville Indiana

Louisville and Portland Canal

In 1830 the Louisville and Portland Canal opened for business. Until then the only way down the Ohio River was through the Falls of the Ohio. These were a series of rapids that had to navigated by experienced river men. During the course of the rapids the river dropped 26 feet and was a very dangerous trip.



Many boat that carried goods had to unloaded at the 4th Street Wharf in downtown Louisville and taken to the Portland Wharf that was pass the Falls of the Ohio. This took time and as time changed a new way to navigate the river was needed.

The canal had to be dug through rock and cost more than first estimated. It was plagued with finical difficulties all the way through the project until Congress had to invest money for it to be finished. When finished the canal was only 50 feet wide.

Finical difficulties continued for many years after the canal was built and the government ended up owning the canal. In 1960 the Louisville and Portland Canal became the McAlpine Locks and Dam. Since there has been many improvements to the canal has been made. The canal is taken care of by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

To read more about the exciting things happening at McAlpine Locks and Dam today visit:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The changing views of the canal





Shippingport, Kentucky


Shippingport, Kentucky was given to John Campbell in 1785 for his service in the French and Indian War. At that time it became known as Campbell Town. It was sold in 1803 and renamed Shippingport.

The population grew from 98 to over 500 and at one time challenged the 4th Street Wharf in downtown Louisville. At that time a warehouse and mill was built on Shippingport and soon began to export their goods. Elm Tree Garden became a popular spot for horse-racing and was well known. In 1817 a six-story flour mill built because how successful Shippingport had become.

In 1825 the building of the Louisville and Portland Canal and made Shippingport into an island. It soon became known as Shippingport Island and is locally known by that name today.

Over the years the Louisville and Portland Canal was gradually widened to keep up with the steamboats and later barges that carried products from one end of the country to another. A hydroelectric plant was also built on the island as time changed. Slowly residents and businesses began to close and leave.

The area was devastated by the flood of 1937 when most of Louisville was under water. It forced the island to evacuate until the river returned to it’s banks. Many people never returned because their homes were completely destroyed.

In 1958 the government acquired the property by eminent domain to widen the canal. They evicted many families that had lived there for over a 100 years.


Kentucky and Indiana Railroad Bridge

Construction on the bridge began in August 1910 and was completed in November 1912.It cost over $2 million dollars. It was one of the heaviest and largest plain truss bridges on earth.


(In this vintage postcard you can see the K&I Bridge)

It was primarily designed to carry railroad traffic and is is 70 feet wide

It has wagon ways on each side. These were paved with heavy creosoted wood blocks and were intended primarily to accommodate horse and wagon traffic…which used the bridge on a toll basis. Cars and trucks replayed horse drawn vehicles.



The creosote paving blocks remained until 1952 they were replaced by steel grid work.

February 1979- a section of the roadbed broke under the weight of an overloaded gravel truck. Traffic has been closed since to any cars or trucks.


Big Four Bridge Fire

Information on The Big Four Bridge Registered & Protected

Vintage Postcard Views of Louisville KY Registered & Protected

Vintage Postcard Views of the Ohio River Registered & Protected

The River Captain






Author Unknown

As for legends along our waterways
Here is one that still persists
The Ohio has a riverman
Long dead who can’t resist
watching as the boats go by
up and down the river

“Beneath the knobs in Indiana
Where the sunset splendors wane
Stares a captain through the porthole
Of his grave say rivermen
Watching as the boats go by
Up and down the river”

Through sunshine, rain, and snowstorm
‘Tis said he’s standing there
Staring through the porthole
Of his grave and taking care
Watching as the boats go by
Up and down the river

Sixty years he plowed the waters
Having died long long ago
Buried standing at Beeler’s landing
Above the water far below
Watching as the boats go by
Up and down the river
Down from Pittsburgh to New Orleans
Every captain, every hand
They watch they know he’s watching
Watching as the boats go by
Up and down the river

Offshore buoys guiding
Boat and barges passing ‘tween
A treacherous stretch of shallows
Here ’tis said he can be seen
Watching as the boats go by
Up and down the river

As the boat and barge
com ’round the bend
The boatmen hear him Yell
“Woooh, you’ll turn ’em up on ends
Move out where the currents swell
Watching as the boats go by
Up and down the river

Every time you hear the whistle
Of a boat sound o’er the wave
You can know the pilot’s answering
The Captain standing in his grave
Watching as the boats go by
Up and down the river

Mr. Hulme was the first superintendent of the canal (what is now the McAlpine Locks and Damn) and Frank McHarry took the tonnage. Upon the death of Mr. Hulme, Frank McHarry was appointed superintendent. In the beginning the receipts of the tonnage were turned into the treasury once a year. A settlement was made every six months and then it was demanded every Monday morning.

McHarry refused to the added pressure and work that this added. He resigned and became very bitter.

He made a request that he would be buried in the Indiana knobs overlooking the Ohio River where his ghost would roam. He had a vault carved in solid stone on a hillside with a porthole in the top. Rumor has it that he was buried standing up to look out of the porthole onto the boats that would pass.

He was to have put a curse on all the boats that passed his burial site.

He was later moved to Cave Hill Cemetery. Superstition has it that on dark nights you are able to see a silver trail in the sky as his ghost returns to visit his vault. Sulphrous fumes also are said to fill the air as his ghost travels back to Cave Hill Cemetery before dawn. Registered & Protected

Fontaine Ferry Amusement Park

Fontaine Ferry Park



. Aaron Fontaine bought the site where the amusement park would stand from William Lytle in 1814. At that time the property was called Carter’s ferry which later was named Fontaine Ferry. Here stood a house that faced the Ohio River and a landing for boats.It was located at 230 Southwestern Parkway, Louisville KY.

In the 1880’s a resort was built on the Fontaine estate. The Fontaine Hotel and Restaurant opened and was a great success. Not long after the owners began to build an amusement park.

The grand opening was in May of 1905. It had four roller coasters, ferris wheel, games as well as a bicycle track where many major races were held. It was so successful that it soon became one of the most famous parks in the country.


As time passed other attractions were added like a swimming pool and a dance hall. In 1960 to keep up with the changing times the park unveiled it’s newest attraction which was the Turnpike. It was a concrete road that was a half mile long, which you drove miniature sports cars.

Over the years some of the most memorable attractions have been Gypsy Village, Hilarity Hall, Scenic Railway, Velvet Racer, Wheel of Joy, Sugar Bowl, and the Comet.



Stone craving and glass ornament made by Al Nelson especially for one of my history exhibits.



Fontaine Ferry Postal StudioFontaine Ferry Postal Studio


After operating for more than 80 years Fontaine Ferry closed. It was bought and named Ghost Town on the River and later Glen Park but the magic didn’t seem to remain after Fontaine Ferry closed.



Fontaine Estates replaced what was know as the “Dude” Ranch- the street is called Fontaine Landing


In 1976 a fire destroyed most of the building. I was a young child at the time and remember my father and I went to see what had happen. We parked down the street and walked up to where the front entrance was. We stood across the street watching while flames seemed to grow higher in the air as the fire fighters tried to put it out. Even at that time I could see how sad that my dad was to see this great piece of history go up in flames. He still has many fond memories of this old park.

Not long after the fire the city bought the land and it became part of Shawnee Park.


Aaron Fontaine   Design A Roller Coaster Kentucky Life Memories of Fontaine Ferry

If you have fond memories of Fontaine Ferry please leave a comment. Registered & Protected

“Big”Jim Porter- The Kentucky Giant

“Big” Jim Porter

The Kentucky Giant

This to my knowledge is the only image of Jim Porter . The image has been used for various promotional items- it is actually a drawing that he posed for during his life time.

7 Feet 8 Inches Tall

An Inch Shorter Than He Claimed

Jim was very small and sickly as a child. He became a jockey at the age of fourteen at Elm Tree Garden, a racetrack on Shippingport.

At age seventeen something began to happen to him that would change his life forever.

He started growing and growing for three years until he reached 7 feet 8 inches.

He grew so fast that locals would take bets on how much he would grow in a week. Every Saturday night he would allow himself to be weighed and measured.

Around 1830 “Big” was added to his name and he became known as “Big” Jim Porter- The Kentucky Giant.

He worked as a hackney or coach driver carrying passengers and goods from Louisville to the Portland Wharf.

In 1836 Jim toured for one year with midgets performing Gulliver’s Travels. When asked how tall he was he would respond 6 feet 21 inches.

April 6, 1842 Charles Dickens stayed briefly in Louisville. He visited Jim and wrote in his book “American Notes”- ‘When he had shown himself and talked awhile, he withdrew his pocket instrument and went bobbing down the cabin, among men of six feet high and upwards, like a lighthouse walking along lamp-post.”

P.T. Barnum contacted Jim after reading what Charles Dickens had written and asked him to join his famous circus. Porter turned down the offer.

He opened a tavern near the Portland Canal in 1836. He prospered early and was able to build an eighteen room house which had ten foot doors and furniture made to suit his large build.

A manufacturer of Springfield Mass. Presented him with an eight foot rifle and a five foot sword. He nicknamed his riffle “The Little Riffle” to the amusement of many. He also had a four and a half foot cane made that resembled a spiral bedpost. He enjoyed very much showing these items to children and visitors.


Charles Dickens was one he showed his riffle to with amusement. His entry of this encounter is also recorded in his book “American Notes”- “He brought his fun with him as a curiosity. Christened “The Little Rifle”, and displayed outside a shop window, it would make a fortune of any retain business in Holborn.”

April 24, 1859 James D. Porter died quietly in his sleep. It is believed his suffered from heart problems.

Jim’s enormous size not only caused problems in life but also in death. A special nine foot casket had to be made.

The remains were placed in a vault in Cave Hill Cemetery. Visitors from all over would come to the cemetery just to look through the ornamental opening in the door to see Jim’s huge casket beside an ordinary size to show the contrast.

The vault was nestled into the hillside and fell into ruin. Many dilapidated hillside vaults in this section of the cemetery were torn down before 1900. There is a marker that simply states he was 7 feet, 8 Inches tall- an inch shorter than he claimed.


Jim Porter’s Hand- From his middle finger to his wrist measured an amazing 13 inches. One story is told about a little girl sitting on the palm of his hand while he walked across the street.


This picture shows just how big a nine foot coffin would be!


This view made from a picture found in the cornerstone of the Old Masonic Temple (shows North side of Main Street from 3rd Street about 1850) showing two-horse tandem drays then used for hauling hogsheads of tobacco etc. In the foreground is shown the omnibus driven from Louisville to Portland by Jim Porter, the famous Kentucky giant. the building where steps are shown is the Bank of Kentucky. This was probably one of the first photographers taken in Louisville, KY.

Online Quiz About Jim Porter


We also have this information in booklet form and would be glad to send you a copy- leave a comment with your details.

More Information on Acromegaly/Gigantism

Acromegaly/ Gigantism is a very rare disease. Gigantism occurs in youths while the bones are still growing while Acromegaly occurs in adults. It is due to a high exposure of Growth Hormone that is secreted by the Pituitary Gland over a long period of time.

Acromegaly/Gigantism is usually caused by a benign tumor on the Pituitary Gland however it might be caused by other disorders.

The major problem of the treatment is that by the time the patient has symptoms the tumor is in a very aggressive phase. Some of the symptoms might include headaches and visual changes.

Early symptoms may include the following:

Excessive growth during childhood

Prominent jaw

Large hands/feet with thick fingers and toes

Increased perspiration


After the disease has progressed other symptoms and noticeable changes to the body take place:

Coarsening of the features in the face

Widely spaced teeth

Increased ring and shoe sizes

Hands become enlarged, moist and soft

General thickening of the skin

Increased sweating and oiliness

Cardiovascular disease


Upper airway obstruction

Diabetes mellitus


Weight gain

Heat intolerance

Increased sleep requirements

Patients usually die from one of the following causes:

Death rates are higher when Diabetes Mellitus or Hypertension is associated.

Treatment includes surgical therapy, radiation therapy, and medication therapy.

Other Giants

Sandy Allen of Indiana reached 6 feet 3 inches by the time she was 10 years old. At age 16 she 7 feet 1 inch. Her final height was 7 feet 7 inches.

The Giant David fought in the Bible was suppose to be 9 feet 9 inches tall.

Vaino Myllyrinne was from Finland (1901-1963) and the tallest soldier measuring 8 feet 3 inches.

Aurangzeb Kahn joined Barnum & Bailey Circus and Sterling & Reid Circus measuring 8 feet tall.

Feng-Jun Wang measured 8 feet ½ inches.
Captain Bates and his wife

In Kentucky in the 1800’s was Captain Bates and his wife, Anne Hannen Swan. They both measured 7 feet 4 inches. In 1871 Captain Bates allowed himself to be placed on exhibit in London.

Henry Blacker lived in the 1800’s in Cuckfield, Sussex. He was known as the British Giant and stood 7 feet 4 inches.

Chang measured 8 feet 2 inches. He was placed on exhibit in London from 1865-1866 and once again in 1880.

Robert Wadlow was born in Alton, Illinois in 1918. He was simply known as the Alton Giant measuring 8 feet 11.1 inches. His shoe size was 18½ inches long and his hands measured 12 ¾ inches from his wrist to the tip of the middle finger. He wore a size 25 ring.
He died in 1940 at the age of 22 from an infected blister on his right ankle. A special coffin measuring 10 feet 9 inches had to be made.

Tallest Famous Folks

Robert Wadlow

Ukrainian Gulliver: a huge man in a tiny village Registered & Protected

1937 Flood Stories

Catherine Warer, interviewed by neighbor Georgia M. Denk- 2400 Block of Slevin Avenue

On Sunday, the police came to the house and made us leave. They took us to the tobacco factory at 24th and Main Street. People with dogs had to go to the fifth floor.

There was no heat, no place to wash up, and no way to flush the toilets. The smell got really bad. We slept on the floor and there were people everywhere. We had brought blankets, so we did have something to lie on and cover up with.

They brought food in skiffs, prepackaged, and coffee in washtubs. Sometimes Father Arnold from St. Cecelia’s would come to visit, and Father Hermes from St. Anthony’s (Church) took in people.

Sanitary conditions at the factory got so bad they started moving people out to the country in cattle cars, I think.

Mama was worried they’d ship us out, so Friday we left and came home the back way.

Mrs. F.L. (Theresa Cissell) Spalding, Rudd Avenue, Age 11

The firemen came knocking on our door in the middle of the night telling us we had to get out right away. My father worked for the W.T. Adams Broom Co. He borrowed a truck from them the next day and managed to get most of our possessions out of the house and took them to a house on Maple Street. Before we could get to this house the water starting coming up there and eventually got to the ceiling. We lost everything except for the clothes on our backs.

They took my mother to the old St. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital at 11th and Hill Streets, where she gave birth to my youngest brother on January 26, 1937.

St Cecilia

St Cecilia is located at 25th and Slevin Streets. During the 1937 flood the basement and the parish hall had about 2 1/2 feet of water standing in it. they were able to take in and care for 300 refugees. They gave Typhoid shots and medical care to many.

Jim Fulks Sr.

Jim Fulks Sr. decided to stay at this house at 1111 S. 28th Street. This remained above the flood crest. A neighbor, whose first name was Bob, was salvaging things from the water that flowed down the street, pulling out tanks of chemicals and oil drums. One day he showed Fulks his salvaged treasures, all the while looking at the dirty water for more.

Suddenly the neighbor stopped talking, Fulks turned and the two men stared into the water.

There among the boards and car tops was something that terrified them. Fulks remembered “the nude body of a woman floating face down in the slow-moving flood.”

They ran to the neighbor’s skiff and pushed it into the water. “I took the oars and started rowing toward the corpse while Bob reached out from the bow, seeking to get a handful of the woman’s hair. When he finally succeeded I quickly turned the skiff toward the shore and rowed with all my might.”

His heard was pounding, he felt weak and nauseated, and his arms numb from rowing. the boat nudged the ground and Fulks jumped out, grabbed the woman’s feet and pulled her ashore. Suddenly Bob was at his side. They turned the corpse over and looked into the staring eyes.

They two men looked at each other and began to laugh. “Our corpse,” said Fulks “was mannequin from the window of the nearby clothing store.”

Fontaine Ferry Amusement Park

Fifty people marooned in the Fontaine Ferry Park dance hall spent the flood playing the piano music while the kids scampered around the dance floor. A house brought from far upriver had come to rest against the roller coaster.

St. Ann’s Convent

The convent was located on Portland Avenue. It was used to house the Sisters of the Charity of Nazareth who taught in the Portland area. most had already left going to St. Joseph Infirmary or to the Motherhouse but eight nuns remained until forced to evacuate.

A boat made a dangerous journey up Bank Street rescued them. After the nuns were on the boat they continued down Bank Street and turning into 19th Street where the boat struck a light post and in half. Sisters and oarmens both went into the ice-cold water which was up to 10 feet deep.

They were rescued shortly and taken to the Convent of the Good Shepherd at 8th and Madison.

Not one of the Sisters became ill from the icy waters.

Kroger Store

The flood was over! As manager of the Kroger Store at 34th and Broadway, (which) had been covered with water, Jim Fulks was shocked to see that every shelf in the store had been overturned, and thousands of cans were in a jumble on the floor without a label on a single one. He had received instructions to load all the cans on trucks so they could be sent to a store in Jeffersonville. Ind.

When he arrived there he was told to sort all the label-missing cans by six. They would be offered to the customers at three for 25 cents and three for 10 cents. He suggested to his manager that he could open a can and if they found a real bargain they could buy them for themselves.

When he opened up one of the cans he asked his manager if he liked corned beef hash. He told him to put 48 cans aside for him and his family.

Six months later he was stocking shelves at another store when he saw the code on the can he had in his hand. It was the same as what was on the corned beef hash cans he gave to his manager. You can imagine how he felt when he realized he was holding a can of Dog Food.

(Research from the Courier Journal and other sources) Registered & Protected