Celebrating Archives Month with a New Building

It is fitting that The Filson’s $12 million Campus Expansion Project will reach its completion during the month of October, which coincides with #ArchivesMonth!  It’s an exciting (and stressful!) time at The Filson.  The construction crews are installing the finishing touches on the new Owsley Brown II History Center, while the staff plan exhibits and programs for our Grand Opening on October 29th.  Amid the chaos of last-minute preparations, I want to be mindful of the value that the public has placed on our mission.  The engagement of our community is evident every time I see the modern red brick edifice that has slowly and painstakingly risen alongside the other buildings on our campus.

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Bill of lading detailing a shipment of goods on the steamboat Wisconsin. The Wisconsin primarily traversed the Ohio River between Madison, Indiana and Cincinnati. [Schenck-Danner steamboat collection]

Thanks to the support of our members and donors, The Filson will be able to continue to preserve the history of our region.  As I consider the theme for Archives Month this October –Transportation and Industry in Kentucky – I realize how many collections at The Filson explore this topic.  Our materials provide insight into industrial development and technological change in the Ohio Valley region over the past few centuries.

The movement of goods and people, for instance, has changed dramatically over time.  In the 1800s, steamboats transported products on America’s waterways, hauling passengers and cargo upstream as well as down.  A recent acquisition that I’ve been working with—the Schenck-Danner steamboat collection—documents river trade during the mid 1800s.  The collection centers around Ulysses P. Schenck of Vevay, Indiana, who operated multiple steamboats on the Ohio River during the 1840s and 1850s.

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Drawing detailing the train shed roof for a passenger depot. The L&N collection features drawings of a variety of structures including combination stations, passenger stations, freight depots, offices, telegraph stations, and watchmen houses. [Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company architectural plans]

Railroads also facilitated the shipment of goods to market, especially in communities lacking immediate access to waterways.  One such railway, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Company, was chartered by the state of Kentucky in 1850 and came to be of strategic importance during the Civil War.  The Filson holds a collection of 217 of the L&N’s architectural plans.  As railroads such as the L&N expanded, steamboats were gradually supplanted.

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May 1929 image of the Jeffersonville cantilever, looking upstream, shows the incomplete bridge extending over the river. [Louisville Municipal Bridge Construction albums]

Bridges were also constructed, first to provide passage for trains, and later to facilitate the movement of automobiles.  Louisville has witnessed the construction of several bridges over the past century.  The Filson holds photographic albums relating to the 1928 construction of the Louisville Municipal Bridge, now officially named the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge, but known colloquially as the Second Street Bridge.  The albums contain landscape images of the bridges under construction as well as intimate images of construction workers and their work sites.

The Filson welcomes everyone to visit to view these and other historical documents in our collection.  Or consider joining us for our public Grand Opening on October 29th.  A special exhibit will include images from the Filson’s collection, including photographs of transportation and industry in the state.

Jana Meyer

Jana Meyer is an Associate Curator of Collections. She received a degree in History from the University of Louisville and a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Kentucky. Jana specializes in arranging and describing the Filson’s manuscript collections. In her free time, she enjoys playing board games and hiking with her husband and three-legged dog, Rascal.

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