Finding Your Way Home: Archivist Explores the History of 205 S. Peterson Avenue

This past March I attended Steve Wiser’s lecture titled “Historic Homes of Frankfort Avenue” at the Peterson Dumesnil home. As a resident of the Clifton neighborhood I was excited to learn more about the homes located on—and around— a street I travel daily. As expected, Wiser’s talk was interesting and full of wonderful images and information (if you have yet to attend one of his lectures, I recommend you do!).

Walking home at the end of the event, my fiancé and I stopped to admire one of the residences mentioned in Wiser’s lecture—205 S. Peterson Avenue. As we paused and chatted out front, the owners of said home (who had also attended the lecture) began talking with us. Before long we were invited into their home for a tour. As we were guided around, the couple inquired about my line of work and when I told them that I worked at The Filson, they asked if I couldn’t conduct a bit of research about their home, which of course I was happy to oblige. Read on to find out what I discovered.

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Wedding photograph of Lilian M. Stitzel and Frank B. Russell; 17 August 1895. [SB R963_004]

With great regularity we have researchers visit us with queries about their home. Often it's in hopes that we have pictures of their home or information on previous residents; typically these researchers come equipped with a street address and house number. Unfortunately, in this scenario those clues are not the most useful pieces of information. If not an address, what is useful you ask? Names and dates. If you can provide a surname of someone who lived in the house, as well as a span of dates when they lived there, we are in a much better position to assist.

Supplied with the surname ‘Russell’ along with an address,  I was in a good position to get started. Typically one of my first stops in residential and genealogical research is the Louisville Free Public Library’s newspaper database, specifically the records from the Courier-Journal Historical (1830-1922). From that database I gathered information on the home and its owners, Frank B. and Lilian (Stitzel) Russell.

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Joyce Russell on a tricycle, 1911. [SB R963_009]

With names in hand I visited Ancestry.com (The Filson has a subscription for both staff and researcher use) and learned more about the family and its extensions. I am going to pause for a moment to out myself and my glaring mistake: I didn’t look at our own card catalog first—or even second (yikes!). Had I done so I would have realized that we have, in our own stacks, two manuscript collections from the Russell Family:

  • Frank B. Russell Scrapbook, 1870-1911 (Mss. SB R963)
  • Frank B. Russell Papers, 1849-1958 (Mss. A R963)

Since the discovery of these collections was rather exciting, I didn’t let myself linger too long on my sophomoric mistake (but hey, I’ve worked here less than a year, so I suppose a “2nd year mistake” is permissible—at least the first time around…)

Full of photographs and mementos documenting the lives of the Russell family during the early 20th century, the scrapbook was a particularly great find.

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Below the Falls of the Niagara, September 1911. Pictured: Frank Russell (FBR), Tox, Lilian, Joyce, Hobart, Kent, JBH, N, Le. [SB R963_011]

Captured within are images of the couple’s travel, including but not limited to: Coney Island, 1899; Cuba, 1905; and duck hunting in Florida, 1904. Family life is also depicted through images of children playing in the yard, family posed with their vehicles as well as horses, and the family’s domestic staff.

Telegraphs relay congratulations of the couple’s 1895 nuptials, which is documented through a photograph as well as the formal invitation. Clues of the Russell’s roots in Clay City, KY are evidenced through photographs and correspondence within the scrapbook as well the Russell Papers (Mss. A R963), which mainly document Frank’s interest and involvement in the Kentucky iron industry.

This scrapbook is just one of the many held here at The Filson and is a prime example of the sort of candid insight that can be gleaned from their contents.

Interested in seeing more images of the Russell Family? Stay tuned for an upcoming gallery featuring the family, their home, and travels. In the meantime, be sure to check out our current image gallery collection.

Image: [SB R963_014] Five images of Hobart Russell in various poses. 

Johna Ebling

Johna Ebling is an Associate Curator of Collections and Exhibits Manager. She studied Journalism and English at Ball State University and earned her master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When she isn’t orchestrating an exhibit or engaging in public outreach, Johna is working with the Filson’s architectural holdings. When away from The Filson, Johna enjoys reading, cooking and spending time with her Chihuahua, husband and friends.

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