Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Stories of Old Houses in Old Louisville

I made it my goal when I moved back to Louisville, to live in the historic section of town. I've always been fascinated by old victorian houses. One of my favorite destinations is Savannah, Georgia, home of the largest preserved Victorian Districts in the United States. Here's a pic of the Mercer House I took in 2005.

I finally got an apartment in one of the old Victorian Houses near historic Belgravia Walking Court. I love it. Occasionally you see the random ruffian making his way from the bad parts of town...but mostly the houses are owned by retired persons. Some are fully restored and others have been divided into multi-family apartments.

It came to my attention that one of the Security Guards in the museum used to own a antique business, which opened the door for him to restore some of the more beautiful older houses here. He was telling me that he was the person who restored the "Columbine" bed and breakfast here in town. This, coincidentally, is one of my favorite Old Louisville buildings. I have never stayed there, but the exterior is beautiful and the interior is other worldly.

Mike, the guard, loves to tell me about the days when he was younger and more able-bodied. When he talks about the houses he has restored (especially the Columbine) he tears up. It always so awesome to me to find someone who really loves what they do.

He told me about how he came to the restoration of the Columbine reluctantly. Apparently at one time, it was a wreck, as were most of the houses downtown. They sold cheaply, and were often occupied by drug dealers or occasionally squatting vagabonds. The city of Louisville became dedicated to the preservation of these homes, and investors flocked to purchases homes to restore and rent.

The Columbine was at one point a school for young girls at the turn of the century. It was fitting that it was purchased by a retired teacher and his wife ( a former nurse). They shopped around for someone to repair the Oak stairwells and eventually came across Mike. At first he was reluctant to do the woodwork (which had been painted over and was in disrepair), but he quickly changed his mind when he entered the building, because as he so nicely put it "I couldn't say no because I realized what it could be...truly marvelous."

And this is the part that is too technical for most of us to understand: the stripping of paint, inch by inch, The scrubbing, the plastic sheets on the floor. But what appeals to me most is the human aspect of his story. Mike was a young man, doing what he loved. And the he talked about the retired nurse, and how she made the best cup of coffee for him in the morning and how they would sit over the plastic covered table and talk.

It took about a year to finish everything. And a few months later the man's wife passed away. Heartbroken, he sold the Columbine. Mike said that "She was a gentle old soul and a damn good cook. I mean, Lord have Mercy." I think that's what I love most about historic homes, not the decor or the work that goes into the restoration, but the stories of the people who were there. Think of all those girls who roamed the halls, or the little lady who fixed coffee for the people restoring the house that her husband bought to please her. The people are the best parts of old houses.

Ye've got t' sing an' dance fer years, ye've got t' romp an' play,
An' learn t' love the things ye have by usin' 'em each day;
Even the roses 'round the porch must blossom year by year
Afore they 'come a part o' ye, suggestin' someone dear
Who used t' love 'em long ago, an' trained 'em jes t' run
The way they do, so's they would get the early mornin' sun;
Ye've got t' love each brick an' stone from cellar up t' dome:
It takes a heap o' livin' in a house t' make it home.
Edgar A Guest


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  2. I had fun choosing this particular painting online that now hangs in my downtown office, from, who sells canvas prints of art masterpieces. While the original is treasured in some art museum in England, my print, of this painting by Edward Burne-Jones is very much appreciated by my staff and clients. The print quality is really excellent.