Market Street is one of four major corridors inextricably intertwined with the history and development of Louisville; the earliest map of the city identifies Water, Main, Market and Jefferson Streets. In this section of the map you can clearly see the 800 block of Market between Shelby and Campbell. In 1804 the first Market house was established at Fourth and Market. The first brick house built in Louisville was constructed on the south side of Market between 5th and 6th Streets. During the 1820s the street was the scene of impromptu horse racing.
During the early part of the 19th century Market Street was the common address for retailers and service industries supporting Louisville’s development as a center for regional commerce. The thoroughfare was the heart of the development of the city as a livestock market with herds of livestock in constant travel along Market between the Bourbon Stockyards and the river. During mid-century, the increased traffic along Market necessitated widening the street to accommodate the great variety of traveling merchants and products.
Three block long sections of Market, between Floyd and Preston, Campbell and Shelby and Sixteenth and Seventeenth Streets were widened and several market houses were established here. In 1892 the Methodist Episcopal Church at 216 S. Shelby housed the Shelby Street Market (This is now the site of the Flea off Market). As part of this development a small park was established on Market Street between Shelby and Campbell. Named Kenton Place the park ran the length of the block and was enclosed with a fence to separate visitors from the streetcars that bypassed on the north side.
However, by 1905 the park had been removed and the trolley traveled the center of the streetin 1940s
The adjacent neighborhoods of Butchertown and Phoenix Hill and the Bourbon Stockyards at the east end of Market insured that Market Street was a vital artery of commerce. The 1852 City Directory noted “the entire extent of this street is given up to retail grocers, provisions dealers, and clothiers”; almost everything purchased in Louisville, either was produced or sold on Market Street. During the last half of the 19th through the early 20th century, at the beginning of the era of the great department store, three major Louisville retailers, Levy Brothers, Bacon’s, and Loevenhart’s open for business on Market Street.
The historic integrity of feeling and association of the area today is supported by an eclectic mix of retail shops, restaurants and businesses. The diversity of this neighborhood is evidenced by the historic fabric that exists today along this corridor. This fabric is rich in historic design, materials and details; brick, limestone, cast iron. This is not limited to above ground structures. Recent archaeological investigations in downtown Louisville have revealed that a wealth of cultural historic resources are intact and these sites could have potential significance for their data content.
During the nineteenth century Market Street was an important center of commerce and industry. Like many other urban historic business districts during the 1960s and 1970s it experienced a decline when competition from new commercial shopping areas began to be developed in the suburbs. However, Market has learned to reinvent itself and has become a unique destination. This strength is evident by the establishment of the East Downtown Businessman’s Association (now the East Market District Association) whose goal is to work together toward the revitalization of their commercial district.
In 2007, Preservation Kentucky commissioned a study to analyze the economic impact of historic preservation in the Commonwealth. In that study completed by Dr. John Gilderbloom of the University of Louisville, the importance of historic, walkable, approachable downtowns appears through such varied topics as job creation, environmental benefits, and heritage tourism.
In terms of job creation, noted economists agree that historic preservation creates 43 jobs for every $1 million invested — new construction cannot come close to that figure. Downtown revitalization in Kentucky created an estimated 4720 jobs in 2006 alone. Reports for across the state confirm that 1,923 permanent jobs were created in Main Street districts in 2006.
From the study, “In Louisville alone, $76 million was spent on private rehabilitation projects on Main Street in 2006.”
These projects support Louisville’s historic revitalization but more importantly they help retain the city’s unique Sense of Place.
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