By Jordan Sangmeister
Frequently I hear members of our community curious about the history of their old home. The Filson is a fantastic resource for doing such research. With so many historic homes and buildings in Louisville I embarked on a crash course to writing a how-to guide for all home history hunters.
My first step was choosing what property to research. Currently 422 West Oak is home to The Rudyard Kipling and I know that the history of the building would be appreciated by its patrons and owners. There wasn’t much information on the building provided, however I knew that it had been a private residence. My goal was to get a complete listing of previous residents and find historic photographs of the building.
At The Filson we have the ability to search City Directories dating back to 1830 on Microfilm. The City Directories are generally divided into three sections. The first is a listing of resident names and their occupation, the second section is a listing of addresses and their residents, and the third section is business listings.
Since I didn’t know what year the building had been built I began my search with the year 1910. In 1910 many addresses in Louisville were changed to their current numbers. I was excited to find the address and the current resident was Reverend William W. Landrum. In order to find out more information on Reverend Landrum I found his name in the first section of the same City Directory and discovered that he worked at Broadway Baptist Church.
Now came the tricky part, in order to find any previous information on 422 West Oak I would have to figure out what the address had previously been. I copied down all addresses and resident names from the 400-block of West Oak before removing the 1910 City Directory from the microfilm reader. I loaded the 1909 City Directory hoping to find the Reverend Landrum’s name as a resident on the 400-block. Unfortunately he was not listed, however there was one address that simply stated Vacant. After cross-referencing the list of 1909 and 1910 residents I discovered what each house number had been changed to. 422 West Oak had previously been 414 West Oak which was the vacant property.
Once my research had overcome the hurdle of finding the original house number things sped up a bit. I worked back in time loading each year’s City Directory and checking the listed resident. If a different resident was listed I would look up their occupation and any other information that was provided in the first section of the directory.
My research into the past took me to 1882. Since my research concluded, I have learned that is when a large addition doubling the size of the home was added. After researching that far into the past, I decided that my chances of finding photographs of the building would be more likely if I went back and researched 1910 to the present day.
This time I was researching into the present and it was amazing to watch how fast the directories grew and even turned into double rolls of microfilm. I continued to take the information from each year of residents and their occupation. The hunt concluded once I finally found the current owners listed in the City Directory in 1985.
To satisfy my goal, I wanted to find historic photographs of the building. Using The Filson’s Photo Database I plugged in all residents names and their businesses. I was amazed at how easy it was to find several of the past residents photographs! One large collection in particular, the Bodley Family Collection, was very helpful. The Bodley Family lived at 422 West Oak from 1917-1941 and they loved to take photographs of their garden. With the help of Special Collections, I was able to sort through these photographs and dive into the history of the home.
Although my research is not complete yet, I hope that this how-to guide can help those looking for home history at The Filson. The staff is open to answer any question and show you how to use the tools that we have here.