Change is the Only Constant: The Story of One House in West Louisville

Historic communities are, by their very existence, full of contrast – even if that diversity goes unseen by the modern viewer. I imagine there are many people who see West Louisville as a single neighborhood, unified only by economic disparity, fear of violence, and boarded-up buildings with openings left expressionless by sheets of plywood. This is not a story of that West Louisville. Yes, plywood is involved, but it plays a secondary role.

From the Atlas of the City of Louisville, Ky. and Environs, 1884, University of Louisville Digital Collections. Walnut Street is now Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

It requires no great stretch of the imagination to say that the Ohio River shaped Louisville. The area of the Falls City known as West (or Western) Louisville extends west from Ninth Street, cradled in the curve of the river – a watershed that created and ravaged numerous communities over the generations. Three early towns are located in West Louisville: Shippingport, Portland, and Parkland. Every major ethnic group and economic class has called West Louisville home.

In 1900, an Irish immigrant named Mark Loftus lived in the camelback shotgun that now has the address of 2326 West Muhammad Ali Boulevard, but in earlier records was known as 2318 Walnut Street.

It first appears on the 1905 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, but was likely built in the last quarter of the 19th century. The 1884 Atlas (the first image) does show scattered development in that section of Walnut Street.

A section from the 1905 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map.

Since Hurricane Katrina, Louisville has the largest collection of historic shotguns in the United States. The camelback shotgun is one variation on the shotgun type; the rear room (usually the kitchen) has a second story added above. The camelback is not always a full two stories; one-and-one-half story examples are also common.

A view of the recessed side porch linking the front of the house to the rear, two-story section. (Access was also possible through the house).

Between 1840 and 1860, Louisville’s population burgeoned, with Irish and German nationals settling in the city. The Irish immigrants were fleeing from the Great Famine of 1845-1852 (in which the potato blight played a large role), and clustered in Louisville’s West End. By 1850, some 7,537 German immigrants and 3, 105 Irish immigrants called Louisville home.

A detail of one of the hoodmolds and the cornice.

Mark Loftus immigrated from Ireland in 1846 with his family – he was just a baby in his mother’s arms. In the 1880 Census, he is listed as shoemaker, and he and his wife Annie had seven children – the youngest, Edward, was just three years old.

In the 1900 census, only three children remained at home, and all were working – as dressmakers, paperhangers, and as a “decorator.” Like many of his neighbors, Mark Loftus owned his own home, outright, with no mortgage.

The frame camelback shotgun may not have been overly large, but it had enough room for the family. The facade was stylish – with elongated windows in the Italianate style, with bracketed hoodmolds at the top of each window, and brackets and dentils accenting the hoodmold above the front door.

The front door to the Loftus family home.

Six years later, Annie Loftus was a widow. And by 1907, the Loftus family apparently left Walnut Street and Louisville. The baby of the family, Edward, was living in Los Angeles, California in 1920, with his family, which included two of his sisters, Annie and Ella.

The Loftus family illustrates an important trend found in most urban centers – the demographic shift. As Irish families moved out of Louisville, or into different parts of the city, African American families, helped by a lawsuit in 1917 that declared restrictive real estate ordinances unconstitutional (Buchanan-Whaley case, which challenged a city ordinance barring blacks from buying houses in predominantly “white” blocks of Louisville), moved into West Walnut and West Chestnut Streets.

Like the history of the neighborhood, the building stock is diverse – in all sizes, styles, and types.

Neighborhoods change over time. Change is making its mark now, in the form of both boarded-up windows and doors on houses (plywood’s role), the demolition of buildings, and the efforts to better link West Louisville to the rest of the the city. Barriers to that can be found in the rail lines and highways that cut off the many neighborhoods west of Ninth Street from the rest of the city.

It’s interesting that such a wide, flat, and fertile river valley, which developed in a variety of ways – tobacco warehouses from the late-19th century, truck farms, streetcar suburbs – has been boiled down to just “West Louisville.” When I wander through West Louisville, I am not blind to what transportation corridors, Urban Renewal, and neglect have wrought in the area.

But I also see, street by street, amazingly rich layers of history, with houses that are homes, not just examples of period style or building – and families that work hard to make life better for their children. West Louisville has never been homogeneous, and perhaps that is what makes it so hard for people to understand its challenges and its significance and viability.



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  1. Susan Dworkin says:

    Thank you for another fascinating article!

    1. Janie-Rice Brother says:

      Thank you for reading!

  2. Eileen Starr says:

    Nice article with photos Janie-Rice! Enjoyed reading it!

    1. Janie-Rice Brother says:

      Thank you!

  3. W. White says:

    Is this post the product of research done for a restoration project or for a Section 106 Review of how our tax dollars are going to demolish something worth preserving? I hope the former; I too often see the latter.

    This is a nice shotgun, larger and with finer detailing than most. The fact that it has not been vinylated helps in that regard.

    1. Janie-Rice Brother says:

      Neither. Very rarely does any of the work I conduct in my “day job” cross over into my blog. I saw this camelback shotgun and it intrigued me, so I investigated a bit of its story. (Everything you read on this blog is something that I saw and liked, and wrote in my free time.) I highly doubt the house will be restored; it seems that demolition and infill redevelopment is the current mood of the neighborhood.

      Louisville has a wide range of shotguns – from the very high style to the middling, to the small, simple, unadorned examples. It’s a great city for exploring how one house type crossed economic lines to appeal to a diverse mix of residents. My hope is that telling stories like this will allow people to see the layered history of a community and its buildings, and perhaps start to slowly shift their opinions of each.

      Thanks for reading!

      1. W. White says:

        Different working methods for different people. When I was consulting full time, I usually only had time to write about what I was working on, either as part of my consulting or my work as chair of my local historic preservation commission. Although I would occasionally write things in other forums, they almost always had to do with whatever I was working on.

        I hope that this house and the rest of the neighborhood are preserved. I did a Google Street View of the area and see what you mean about demolition and cheap, substandard (in my opinion) infill. What many policymakers and other people simply do not grasp is that it often just takes a one or two houses on a block to be restored for a positive domino effect to occur, leading to more houses being restored. Rarely do you see just one or two houses on a block restored with the others vacant or deteriorating; that type of effort spreads. That can be encouraged with local historic district designation and other beneficial policies (I have somewhat soured on the use of tax credits as the restoration guidelines are often too lax and they cannot be used for single-family, owner-occupied homes, like this shotgun). If restoration efforts do not spread through an area, it is usually do to very severe, endemic socioeconomic challenges that add up to more than just being in a “bad” neighborhood.

  4. Amy Johnson Ishmael says:

    Thank you so much for your article. My Great Grandparents(German and Irish of course 😉 ) raised 5 children in down town Louisville during the early 20th century in a shotgun house. I have always loved the city for it’s rich architecture and heritage no matter how small or grand the structure is.

    1. Janie-Rice Brother says:

      I am glad you enjoyed it – and thank you so much for reading!

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