Exploring Louisville’s South End

I’m always fascinated by how much the built environment has changed over time.  Businesses and residences that once were integral parts of the landscape have long since been demolished, many leaving little trace of their existence beyond what was captured by a camera lens.  Other structures survive but only as shells of their former selves – rundown eyesores, sagging and dilapidated, targets for forces bent on their demolition or restoration.  My neighborhood in Louisville’s south end harbors one such building – a towering structure at the corner of New Cut Road and Kenwood Drive, its white paint peeling and surrounded by yards of chain-link fencing.  Curious to know more about its history, I soon discovered the integral role this building played in the social life of Louisville’s south side for over a century.

stc3

Louisville’s network of streetcars carried the city’s residents south to Senning’s Park. [STC-3]

The city of Louisville was expanding south in the waning years of the nineteenth century.  Sensing opportunity, local entrepreneurs Frederick and Minnie Senning shifted their business operations to the south side.  In 1902 the couple purchased two and a half acres of land at the intersection of New Cut Road and Kenwood Drive, just one block from the streetcar loop that terminated at the entrance to Iroquois Park.  Known as “Senning’s Park,” the locale soon became a community gathering place, drawing people for dancing, dining, and picnics as well as for political rallies and conventions.

jacob's park zoo

An undated broadside lists the attractions of the zoo near Jacob’s Park. Viewing the animals was not the only entertainment to be had. After the closure of Senning’s Park in 1940, the city did not have another zoo until the Louisville Zoo opened in 1969. [Mss. C J Jacob’s Park Zoo]

 William Senning opened Louisville’s first zoo on the park’s grounds in 1920.  His exotic menagerie included lions, tigers, bears, monkeys, and alligators.  In the wintertime the Sennings stowed the alligators in the basement of the main building to keep them warm.  The zoo suffered financial difficulty during the Great Depression, but the family managed to keep the park going until Fredrick Senning’s death in 1939.

In 1940 B. A. Watson purchased the property.  Watson closed the zoo and remodeled the building, renaming it Colonial Gardens Restaurant and Grill.  Over the course of the next several decades, Colonial Gardens went through a number of iterations.  It was a restaurant and bar.  It was a place local teens gathered for music and dancing.  It hosted big band entertainment: first rock-and-roll and later country music.

Conversing with a neighbor recently, I discovered that Colonial Gardens had been her favorite place to dance when she was young.  More significantly, it also happened to be the place where she met her husband.  He was a talented musician – one of the best bass players in the city – and she met him when he performed at Colonial Gardens.  Those musical strains are a faded memory now.  The last business operating in Colonial Gardens closed its doors in 2003 and the property was abandoned by its owners.

ColonialGardensFullView

Colonial Gardens, 2008. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Area residents wonder what the future holds for Colonial Gardens.  The question was hotly debated several years ago when developers expressed interest in demolishing the building to make way for new construction.  Instead, the city of Louisville stepped in to acquire and restore the property.  However, the pace of such projects can be frustrating.  The renovation of Iroquois Park’s northern overlook comes to mind.  A project long since slated for completion, the overlook has been under construction for over two years now.  Similarly, Colonial Gardens has been in limbo for almost a decade now, with no visible signs of progress towards restoration.  One can only hope that a building that so long was a community gathering place can soon be repurposed to enjoy new life.

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.

9 comments on “Exploring Louisville’s South End

  1. Stefanie Buzan

    Can you please site your sources for your research for this article? I am always interested in finding out more about the fascinating history of this property. Thanks much. Stefanie Buzan

    Reply
    1. Jana Meyer

      Hi Stefanie,
      I got my information for this post from your book “A view from the Top” as well as the Encyclopedia of Louisville. The images are all from our collections at the Filson (with the exception of the recent photograph of Colonial Gardens). I did come across references to a few other sources that I was unable to consult at the time:
      Jill Herman, “Senning’s Park”, unpublished student paper, Univ. of Louisville Archives and Records Center, 1985
      Courier-Journal, 5 March 1939
      Sentinel News, Shelbyville, Ky., 18 May 1988

      Reply
  2. SSmall

    From August 1901-August 1902 my great-grandfather, William Fleischer, operated Kenwood Park that very much sounds like it was at the same location as Sennings Park, at the end of the “3rd Street Park Car” trolley line. Kenwood Park had a “first class” restaurant and offered fine wines and cigars. Outside there were shade trees and swings and playground equipment for children. The park behind the restaurant could be rented for private parties. [My info comes from 1901-1902 Louisville Courier-Journal articles about and advertisements for Kenwood Park.] Could there be any possibility that Kenwood Park was the same property, the precursor to Senning’s Park?

    Reply
    1. Jana Meyer

      Hello Sally, thanks for commenting. This is a very interesting question. I think it’s possible that this Kenwood Park operated by William Fleischer could be a precursor to Senning’s Park, but I haven’t been able to confirm it with certainty. Adding to the confusion is the fact that “Kenwood Park” often seems to be used to refer to residential development in the area. (In 1890, the Kenwood Park Residential Company purchased 125 acres in the area, including Cox’s Knob.) There is a 1913 atlas of the city, in which Kenwood Park appears (referring to the residential community); this same atlas also shows the lot owned by Senning at the end of the streetcar line. Would you mind citing the dates of the articles you found in the Courier-Journal?

      Reply
      1. SSmall

        Thanks for the reply Jana!
        All following citations are for the Louisville Courier-Journal, unless otherwise noted.
        Sat., Aug 10, 1901, page 4 – “William Fleischer purchased Charles Schuck’s rights in Kenwood Park. In future he will have the entire control of the resort.”
        Friday, Aug. 23, 1901, page 3 – advertisement for grand opening of Fleischer’s venture
        Sat., Aug. 24, 1901, page 3 – short article about Charles Schuck and William Fleischer and their business changes.
        Friday, Aug. 8, 1902, page 8 – notice of William Fleischer’s bankruptcy. I found no further mention of him operating Kenwood Park after that so I assume he sold his interest in it to cover his debts.

        The Kentucky Irish American newspaper had weekly advertisements for Kenwood Park from Sat. Aug. 24, 1901 through at least July 1902 (usually page 2 or 3). The May 31, 1902 edition also had an article describing Fleischer’s updates and the amenities at Kenwood Park on page 3.

        I, too, have been trying to find out more, but am hampered by being limited to internet research. If Kenwood Park is indeed the same property that became Senning’s, it clearly had been developed, with a restaurant building at least, prior to William Fleischer operating it. I am not clear if Flesicher owned the property or just operated the business there. As the property was outside the city limits at that time, neither Fleischer nor Kenwood Park appears in the 1901/1902 city directories that I’ve been able to view online and I have not found a map of the area for the appropriate years online.

        Thanks again for your interest and sharing your knowledge!

        Reply
        1. Jana Meyer

          Hi Sally, thanks for sharing those articles. Your research has been very thorough so far. I checked a few maps in our collection from the ca. 1900 time period, but unfortunately did not come across any showing Kenwood Park. Have you considered doing a deed search on the property? Either the Louisville Metro Archive or the Jefferson County Clerk’s office could help in tracing ownership of the property.
          Jana

          Reply
          1. SSmall

            Hi Jana, Yes, I figured my next step was to trace the deed. Thanks for the info on who to contact to help with that!
            Sally

          2. Jana Meyer

            Ok, good luck! Let us know what you find.

  3. SSmall

    Hi again Jana,
    The Louisville Deed Room was not able to help, at least not over the phone, as looking up property records that far back is more than they do for phone inquires. So, finding out for sure whether William Fleischer and his Kenwood Park resort was indeed the precursor to Senning’s Park will have to wait until I can get down to Louisville to do the research myself. I will let you know then, even if it does take a while before I can get to it. Thanks again!

    Reply

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