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Site History


Areal View

Areal view of the garden site, looking west towards downtown Louisville and the Falls of the Ohio. Photo by Birds Eye Foto

The proposed site for the Waterfront Botanical Gardens lies within the boundaries of one of Louisville’s oldest city areas, known as “The Point”.   The Point was the northeastern most corner of the city of Louisville, and was, in its earliest days, part of a triangular area of land completely surrounded by water, bordered by the Ohio River, the old bed of the Beargrass Creek, and the New Beargrass Creek Cut.  An 1857 map of the city show a small grid of streets in the area,  Fulton (now River Road),  Van Buren, Irvine, Lloyd and Clinton Streets ran parallel to the Ohio River,  bisected by Adams, Wayne,  Ohio and Marion Streets.

Fulton Street during the antebellum period was lined with summer homes of prosperous French families from New Orleans, who came north during the summer months to escape the heat.  A house known as “French Garden” was located near where Ohio Street meets River Road; it was a hotel for New Orleans summer visitors.  In addition to fine homes, in its early days The Point included a wooded area that was a popular picnic spot for city residents.  Floods in Louisville in 1832 and 1845 caused serious damage to houses lying along the Ohio River, destroying many of them.  The old channel of the Beargrass Creek was enclosed during the 1850’s to create a covered sewer, and the New Cut of Beargrass Creek was dug to divert storm water from the Muddy and Center Forks of Beargrass creek into the Ohio River two miles upstream from downtown Louisville.  The area known as ”The Point” developed as a working class neighborhood, with a mixture of small factories and mills,  frame cottages and small brick homes.  From the 1850 census forward, the area was home to butchers, mill laborers, weavers, and others who worked in area businesses.  Shops along what is now Story Avenue served the residents of the area.

1937 Flood The Point

Historical picture of the Point neighborhood after the 1937 flood. Source unknown.

Surrounded by water on three sides, the homes in The Point were damaged by a series of floods that left much of the Ohio River valley under water.  In February, 1883, the Ohio crested at 66 -1/2 feet over low water, breaching the levee that protected the city, placing The Point under 30 feet of water.  A second Ohio Valley flood damaged the area in January 1884.  In 1907 the area flooded again, followed by a March 1913 flood that led the New York Times to report, “On the Point, where only tops of houses can be seen, the Ohio has done its worst.  Occasionally, one of the weather-beaten houses breaks from its moorings and is swept downstream.  The river has been full of wreckage for two days.  Stables, outhouses, and sometimes small cottages have floated past.”

The devastation to the area by the 1937 flood was so profound that the City decided to turn part of the area into a city dump for building refuse from flood damaged homes in the city.  The 300 and 400 blocks of Ohio Street, bound by Irvine and Lloyd Streets, became the Ohio Street City Dump.  An open dump, the area became home to wild pigs, who scavenged the dump for food scraps.  In 1938, the city evoked an earlier city law banning free-roaming pigs within the city limits.  During World War II, the Ohio Street Dump became a source of income for many residents of the area, who would scavenge the dump for recyclable items, selling paper, cloth and metal refuse to recyclers as part of the war effort.   In 1942, Mayor Wilson Wyatt went to Washington DC to obtain funding for participation in the newly developed federal landfill program, which the city received.

The early materials in the Ohio Street Dump were primarily building refuse from the city’s flood damaged homes.  Prior to the 1960’s, refuse transported to dumps often contained ash and sometimes hot coals from coal-burning furnaces.  The Ohio Street Dump frequently caught fire, smoldering for days on end.  While the burning caused air pollution problems at the time, it resulted in lower layers of refuse being burned away.   Rodents in dumps often made fighting fires difficult, as they would gnaw through fire hoses.  As a result, fires were allowed to burn themselves out, adding to the air pollution of the city.

From the 1940’s through the 1960’s, the Ohio Street Dump accepted refuse from communities out in the county, who paid $1.25 a ton to have their trash carted into the city for disposal.  Private dumps sprang up along River Road, and on Cabel Street, in the proximity of the Ohio Street Dump.  Individuals who did not want to pay dump fees took it upon themselves to dump appliances and even cars into Beargrass Creek.   In 1953, the Ohio Street Dump was expanded, as the demand for garbage disposal increased.  In 1956, the city raised the dumping fee to $1.75 per ton, in an effort to discourage county communities from trucking garbage into the city for disposal.   The opening of the city incinerator reduced some of the refuse volume carted to the site.  When I-71 was completed in the late 1960’s, it passed by the dump, rendering it the gateway to the city.  Preparations began for the closing the Ohio Street site.  Dirt and rock fill were added to seal the surface of the site.

In 1973, with the opening of the Edith Avenue Landfill, the Ohio Street location closed.  A multi-step closing plan, covering an eight-year timeline, began.  Stringent EPA requirements for filling and stabilizing the site began, as well has public health requirements.  The site has a cap of fill dirt of approximately 25 feet of dirt and fill material covered with grass planting.  On-going water monitoring of the water quality of Beargrass Creek above and below the site shows the area to be stable with little discernable changes in the water quality as it passes the site location.  The site was a designated Superfund site, however, as of November, 2010 it  no longer appears on the National Priorities List.


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