When my penpal Bobz and I recently met in person (an unforgettable and totally wonderful experience that I shared with you here), we spent some happy companionable hours going through all my old letters and postcards and assorted things I had sent him over the 25 years that we had been penpals.
I was so touched that he had kept them all – as an inveterate hoarder (sorry, honey ;-)), I thought I might have been the only one with boxes of old letters in my cupboard! Occasionally reading extracts out aloud to each other, we recalled some of the events that had shaped our lives. And, glancing at the familiar addresses on the envelopes, we realised that he had moved around the US a fair bit during the time that I had known him.
One of the cities he had lived in a number of years ago was Louisville – which is where we happened to be meeting Richard after his flight from Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the end of our first week in the US.
During that first week, Richard was staying in the small town of Socorro, just south of Albuquerque, with some colleagues from work, whereas I had been invited to spend some time with Bobz and his family near the town of Hazard in eastern Kentucky, an area that is part of the Eastern Kentucky coal fields region.
Louisville would also be the starting point of our little American Roadtrip. So, when we finally reached this beautiful town just south of the border with Indiana, Bobz was looking forward to showing us the house where he had lived for a couple of years. We entered the address, which I remembered so clearly from the letters I had written to Bobz, into the Garmin navigator – I honestly never thought that I would do that!
And fairly soon we – Richard, Bobz, Dana, Daniel and yours truly – found ourselves parked in front of Bobz’s old apartment in a truly enchanting neighbourhood that is known as Old Louisville.
Contrary to what that name implies, Old Louisville is actually not the original town centre; it was only established, as a suburb, about 100 years after the founding of Louisville in 1778, and this particular suburb only came to be called ‘Old Louisville’ in the 1950s.
It is “the largest preservation district featuring almost entirely Victorian architecture … and unique in that a majority of its structures are made of brick, and the neighborhood contains the highest concentration of residential homes with stained glass windows in the U.S.” (Wikipedia)
The area also features about eleven pedestrian-only streets, known as ‘courts’, “where houses face each other across a grass median with sidewalks”. These had been built from 1891 to the 1920s, and they are mainly found off 4th Street. As a result of the unique architecture of this area, with its streets lined by mature magnolia and oak trees, and its old but elegant Victorian mansions, with the largest collection of residential stained glass and art glass windows in the US, it has been declared a National Preservation District. Originally home to the wealthier citizens of the town, the area declined in the early and mid-20th century; it has since been revitalised, and now has a population of primarily students and young professionals.
The friendly people in the visitor’s centre also offer historical walking tours – both guided and self-guided; these are available on the internet at the above link. These tours will teach you more about the magnificent architectural styles that make this neighbourhood so special and unique.
If you like ghostly encounters and spine-tingling hauntings, this is apparently the place to come, according to a book by David Dominé titled “Ghosts of Old Louisville: True Stories of Hauntings in America’s Largest Victorian Neighborhood”. Shiver…. If reading about it makes you even more eager to experience it all for yourself, you can join one of the regular ghost tours.
We did not have time to join a guided tour on the day we visited, however, but Bobz was very happy to show us around his old neighbourhood. After walking up and down the street where he had lived a number of years ago, and posing for a group photograph in front of his old house, we strolled down to the Central Park.
This is a lovely green area with shady old trees and well-maintained walking paths, in the middle of historic Louisville. Every year in June/July, the 1,000 seat open-air theatre in Central Park hosts the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, which attracts up to 15,000 visitors. The theatre is named after C. Douglas Ramey, the creator of this amazing festival.
The building next to the amphitheatre houses an Information Centre, so we went inside to find out a bit more about Old Louisville. Although they weren’t strictly speaking open, I believe, the ladies working inside this extraordinary space with its tall ceilings and large arched windows, were most kind and helpful. They even gave us a brochure that explained about the various architectural styles and that set out the routes for the different walking tours. It was such a pity that we did not have time to explore this area further.
All too soon, the time had come to bid farewell to our dear friends. They had welcomed me so warmly into their house and their lives, and despite their busy schedules, they had given so generously of their time, showing me around their neighbouring towns and places of work, and introducing me to their friends and colleagues.
As a result, I was desperately sad to say goodbye, as I did not know whether we would see each other again on this trip, or whether I would ever have another opportunity to fly to the US and see them again. Those last few hours we spent together were tinged with a bittersweet feeling of joy mingled with the sadness of imminent goodbyes. But in the end, we could not delay the inevitable any further, and so, after some final hugs and with tears in our eyes and lumps in our throats, we drove our separate ways.