2022 AIA Architecture Award

Owsley Brown II History Center at the Filson Historical Society

The 2022 Architecture Award program celebrates the best contemporary architecture and highlights the many ways buildings and spaces can improve lives. The nine-member jury selects submissions that demonstrate design achievement, including a sense of place, purpose, history, and environmental sustainability. The Filson’s Owsley Brown II History Center designed by de Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop is a recipient of this award.

COVID-19 Pandemic

Remembrance and Care, Amaiya Crawford, Kentucky COVID-19 Poster Project, The Filson Historical Society

As the COVID-19 Pandemic began to spread throughout the U.S. in the spring of 2020, the Filson closed its doors to the public from March 16, 2020, to August 31, 2021. Throughout this historic time, the Filson has been collecting stories and documenting life during the pandemic, continuing Reuben Durrett’s tradition from all those years ago. In the fall of 2020, the Filson initiated the Kentucky COVID-19 Poster Project. This effort commissioned seven local artists to create posters that reflected their experience throughout the pandemic and the racial justice movements of 2020. This project leverages the power of words and images to document, interpret, and find inspiration in a challenging historical moment. The posters were sold online between November 24, 2020, and December 30, 2020. All proceeds of the poster sales were donated to the Artists Relief Trust. See the poster project here.

Renovation and Expansion

Filson staff member, Laura Kerr Wiley showing off the Filson Expansion Project, 2014, The Filson Historical Society

Plans for expansion of the 3rd Street campus began in 2002 with the purchase of the Bank One building located at 4th and Ormsby, a 60,000 sq ft building with two parking lots. The Filson’s major expansion began in the 2010s with renovations to the Ferguson Mansion and carriage house, and the construction of the Owsley Brown II History Center, creating space for exhibition galleries, expanded library and special collections reading rooms, programming and event rental venues. The renovated and expanded campus opened in 2016.

Ohio Valley History Journal Published

Ohio Valley History, Volume 1, Number 1, 2001, Front Cover

Ohio Valley History is a quarterly, peer-reviewed journal of the history and culture of the Ohio Valley and the Upper South collaboratively edited and published by The Filson Historical Society, Cincinnati Museum Center, and the University of Cincinnati. This publication is the successor to the Filson Club History Quarterly.

Name Change

The Front of the Ferguson Mansion, Home of the Filson Historical Society, 2021

The library, archival, and museum collections continued to grow, as did programming and staff, throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The Filson broadened its research and collections scope to include the Ohio Valley region and changed its name from “Club” to “Historical Society.”

Second Home Purchased

The Ferguson Mansion, the Filson’s second dedicated home, as it appeared in 1912, Filson Historical Society

The Filson Club continued at its Breckinridge Street location for more than fifty years. As time passed, the administration and board began to look for a new location that could accommodate a growing collection and staff, along with additional programming space. As with the Breckinridge location, funds were raised from members and the community – this time to the tune of $3.3 million. The purchase was finalized in 1984, the centennial of the Filson’s existence, and then began the renovation and additions to the Filson’s new home, the Ferguson Mansion in Old Louisville. Building renovations and the addition of 6 levels of temperature controlled/secure stacks were completed throughout 1985, and in summer 1986 the Filson’s collections and staff moved into the new location, which encompassed the mansion for offices and library/archival storage, as well as a carriage house for Museum storage and display. The addition of the stacks and general adaptive re-use of the Ferguson Mansion from funeral home to historical society garnered the architecture firm of Grossman, Chapman, Klarer, as well as the Filson, an award and recognition for this project.

1937 Flood

Big Four Bridge at Shelby Street (C & O Trestles) during the 1937 flood, Turah Thurman Crull, Filson Historical Society

In a 1984 publication of the Filson Club History Quarterly, the staff author remembers the flood: “The Filson Club faced a watery crisis during the great January flood of 1937. As the waters rose, a plumber was called in on January 23 to cut off the water, drain the heating system, and disconnect the gas and electricity. The staff left a key with their next-door neighbor, Mr. Joe Pryor Neff. That evening, when he saw the waters lapping at the door, Mr. Neff, his mother, and a young nephew crossed to the Club on a bridge of planks and hurriedly moved everything they could to higher levels. The Neffs were rescued by boat on Monday; they got back to their home on Friday. As soon as possible, Mr. Neff fired up the furnace to start drying out the building.”

The Annual Garden Party

The Filson Club staff standing outside, (left to right) Otto Arthur Rothert, Secretary of the Filson, and Editor and Manager of the Filson Club History Quarterly; Margaret Schafer, Clerk; Ludie J. Kinkead, Curator and Librarian; Evelyn Dale, Curator and Librarian; Katherine Healy, Clerk; and Rogers Clark Ballard Thruston, President of the Filson, 1932, Filson Historical Society

After the Filson moved into the Breckinridge Street location, an annual Garden Party was established, which was held in the flourishing garden that surrounded the Club. The garden was named “The Friendship Garden” and was tended to by Margaret Schafer and Ludie Kinkead. The parties continued throughout the Filson’s residence on Breckinridge Street. In a publication from 1958, the author comments, “For many members the garden party was the Club’s event of the year.”

First Home Secured

The Filson Club’s first permanent home at 118 West Breckinridge Street, Filson Historical Society

Thruston, and other Filson members, recognized the need for a stand-alone building. A drive for funds was successfully conducted in 1926, and a property was purchased, remodeled, and fireproofed. In June 1929, the Filson’s materials, along with Mr. Thruston’s personal collection which he gifted in full, were transferred to the Club’s new home at 118 West Breckinridge Street. The Louisville Herald Post noted: “It’s handsome building is an outward symbol of the appreciation in which it is held.” Architect E. T. Hutchings renovated two townhouses into one Georgian-style building, housing the Filson’s archives, library, museum, and offices.

Filson Club History Quarterly Published

Caricature of Otto Rothert by Wyncie King, ca. 1920, Filson Historical Society

Published between 1926 and 2002, The Filson Club History Quarterly offered scholarly articles related to the history of Kentucky and the surrounding area as well as genealogy, news and comments geared toward the Filson membership. The journal was started by Filson’s secretary, Otto Rothert. Learn more here.