The history of Louisville spans
hundreds of years, and has been influenced by the area's
unique geography and location. The first settlement
was made in the vicinity of modern-day Louisville in
1778 by Col. George Rogers Clark. Today, Col. Clark
is now recognized as the founder of Louisville, and
several landmarks are named after him.
View of Main Street, Louisville, in 1846.Two years later,
in 1780, the Virginia General Assembly and then-Governor
Thomas Jefferson approved the town charter of Louisville.
The city was named in honor of King Louis XVI of France,
whose soldiers at the time were aiding Americans in
the Revolutionary War. In 1803, explorers Meriwether
Lewis and William Clark organized their expedition across
America at the Falls of the Ohio in Louisville.
View of Main Street, Louisville,
The city achieved its early growth
from the fact that boats had to be unloaded and moved
downriver before reaching the falls. By 1828, the population
had swelled to 7,000 and Louisville became an incorporated
city. The city grew rapidly in its formative years.
Louisville had one of the largest slave trades in the
United States before the Civil War and much of the city's
initial growth is attributed to that trade. Louisville
was the turning point for many enslaved blacks since
Kentucky was a neutral state and crossing the Ohio River
would lead to freedom in the North.
During the Civil War Louisville was a major stronghold
of Union forces, which kept Kentucky firmly in the Union.
It was the center of planning, supplies, recruiting
and transportation for numerous campaigns. By the end
of the war, Louisville itself had not been attacked
even once, even though surrounded by various battles.
The Unionists most whose leaders owned slaves
felt betrayed by the abolitionist position of
the Republican Party. After 1865 returning Confederate
veterans largely took control of the city, leading to
the jibe that it joined the Confederacy after the war
In late January and February of 1937, a month of heavy
rain throughout the Ohio River Valley prompted what
became remembered as the "Great Flood of '37".
The flood submerged about 70% of the city and forced
the evacuation of 175,000 residents, and also lead to
fundamental changes in where residents bought houses.
Today, the city is protected by numerous flood walls.
View of Downtown Louisville
with Hospital Curve in the foreground.
Similar to many other older American
cities, Louisville began to decline as an important
city in the 1960s and 1970s. Highways that had been
built in the 1950s facilitated a flight to the suburbs,
and the downtown area began to decline economically.
In 1974 a major (F4) tornado hit Louisville as part
of the Super Outbreak of tornadoes that struck 13 states.
It covered 21 miles (34 km) and destroyed several hundred
homes in the Louisville area but was only responsible
for two deaths.
From 1974 to 1988, Jefferson County had a net loss of
over 50,000 people. Since 1989 the county has gained
population every year, and is currently growing annually
between 800 to 1700. Louisville has also made efforts
to revitalize its downtown and the city in general,
including significant downtown infrastructure improvements
such as the conversion of the waterfront into Waterfront
Park and the development of luxury condominiums and
entertainment areas like Fourth Street Live!. Louisville's
metro area is outgrowing Lexington's by a significant
margin (about 4,100 a year, or 41,000 per census), and
is growing nearly as fast as Cincinnati's metro area.