daniel-boone-certificateThere are approximately 2.1 million items in The Filson’s manuscript collection. The Filson began collecting historical material soon after its founding, when few other Kentucky institutions were doing so. With many of its early members belonging to Kentucky’s oldest and most prominent families, The Filson was able to begin assembling an important collection of original letters, diaries, business records, and other primary sources. Its holdings for the late eighteenth through mid nineteenth centuries are unrivaled in Kentucky. The collection focuses on Kentucky, the Ohio Valley, and the Upper South, but is national and even international in scope, with researchers from across the nation and abroad visiting each year. Our unique holdings are an essential primary source for scholars. Highlights include the Pleasant Hill Shaker records, Lewis and Clark Expedition letters, Henry Clay letters, George Rogers Clark’s Mason letter, and the two earliest known documents written and signed by Daniel Boone. To these must be added hundreds of other collections documenting America’s economic, military, political, and social history which give The Filson Historical Society the finest collection of pioneer, antebellum, and Civil War manuscripts in Kentucky. In addition, excellent collections containing information on women’s studies, African-Americans, and Louisville journalism dating up to the present day are also available to the research community.

If you have a research question pertaining to manuscripts, please submit your query to 


Photographs and Prints

Our photograph and print collection contains approximately 100,000 items dating from the 1840s to the present documenting agriculture, commerce and industry, transportation, politics, family histories, Ohio River history, and aspects of social and cultural histories from the Ohio River Valley and abroad.

If you have a research question pertaining to our Photograph and Print Collections please contact Heather J. Potter, Curator of Photographs and Prints.

Access Tools

PastPerfect, an in-house, keyword searchable computer database which includes subject photographs, individuals, family collections, institutional collections, business collections, prints, and films.  A portion of this database is now available online; more images will be added regularly!  Please visit: 

Highlights from our collection include:

Rogers Clark Ballard Thruston Photograph Collection

Rogers Clark Ballard Thruston, 1858-1946, was a photographer, historian and long-time president of The Filson Historical Society. This collection contains over 20,000 photographs dating from 1880 to 1942 documenting Kentucky, the United States and abroad. Most notable is his Mountain Collection documenting Kentucky’s Appalachia region.





Rogers Clark Ballard Thruston Mountain Photograph Collection

Photographs taken during the Kentucky Geological Survey, 1882-1887, in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Tennessee, and Southwestern Virginia.  Thruston was hired as a geological assistant during the survey and helped survey, photograph, and document the region. This collection documents Thruston’s time during the survey; and from the 1890 through the early 20th century when Thruston continued to work and document Appalachia during his time with the Kentucky Union Land Company.  The counties he documented included: Bath, Bell, Breathitt, Breckinridge, Carter, Elliott, Floyd, Harlan, Knox, Letcher, Pike, Whitley, and Wolfe in Kentucky, and Wise and Lee in Virginia. *This collection has been fully digitized and is available online!*

Louisville Railway Company Photograph Collection

The Louisville Railway Company (later the Louisville Transit Company) was a privately-owned company which operated the trolley and interurban lines in Louisville and adjacent suburban areas. The collection contains photographs of early mule cars, electric streetcars, buses, and interurban rail cars. Also included are photographs of car barns, power houses, shops, work cars, maintenance equipment, and street scenes of tracks and cars.




Paul Gunter Photograph Collection

Paul Gunter, 1857-1936, was a Louisville photographer in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. An immigrant from Hanover, Germany, Gunter initially worked for photographer Daniel Stuber before opening his own studio. The collection illustrates Gunter’s interest in photography as an artistic medium rather than his work as a commercial photographer. Photographs taken in Cherokee Park, on Harrod’s Creek, and at Fern Grove, Indiana, focus on Gunter’s interest in the natural world and include images of wooded terrains, water courses, and landscapes. Also included are various Louisville scenes and the Gunter family.



If you have a research question pertaining to photographic collections, please contact  Heather J. Potter, Curator of Photographs and Prints.

Architectural Records

KYLV_1889_C397cRepresenting more than fifty unique architectural firms, architects, landscape architects, and/or projects, The Filson’s architectural holdings illustrate Ohio River Valley’s built environment from the mid-19th century through present day. Project types vary from residential to commercial, industrial design and landscape, as well as educational, cemetery and park design, railroad, and religious—to name only a few.
The architectural collections can be searched through various portals on our website and in-house; useful finding aids are as follows:

For a full listing of processed collections and finding aids, see the Architectural Collections page.

For collection level descriptions of drawings and records, researchers should utilize the manuscript catalog and online catalog.

Photographs and prints are best searched in PastPerfect, an in-house, keyword searchable computer database which includes subject photographs, individuals, family collections, institutional collections, business collections, collections by a particular photographer, prints, and films.  A portion of this database is now available online; more images will be added regularly!  Please visit: 

If you have a research question pertaining to architectural records, please contact Johna Picco, Associate Curator of Special Collections.

This collection continues to grow, so check back regularly for updates.

Theater Programs

The Filson Historical Society’s theater holdings offer a fascinating look at Louisville’s past via the footlights and curtain calls of the stage. From humble high school productions to the elegant venue of Macauley’s Theatre, The Filson’s collection preserves the performances of local amateurs and revered stars, such as the famed Madame Modjeska and Louisville’s own Mary Anderson.

The theater program collection encompasses over ninety boxes of loose programs and scrapbooks housed in Special Collections. A guide to the collection is available online and in the department. If you need assistance in researching the theater program collection, please consult our research tools. Queries should be directed to

The theater collection also includes many fine broadsides of coming attractions, theater records, accounts of performances in the personal papers of local residents, and photographs and prints of venues and actors. One such gem is the Heineman Theatrical Collection from the early-twentieth century. This eighty-six item collection contains photographs from various plays, and portraits of actors and actresses, many of whom appeared at Macauley’s Theatre, such as Maud Adams, George Arliss, Billie Burke, and Fay Templeton.

In addition to the materials in Special Collections, the Library also houses a series of books by John Jacob Weisert, the Louisville theater historian and German language teacher, which are invaluable to anyone researching Louisville theater history. Weisert has provided checklists of performances for Samuel Drake’s City Theatre, Macauley’s Theater, the Louisville Theatre, and Mozart Hall. The Library also maintains historical files on Louisville theaters, actors, and actresses.


Scrapbooks are an invaluable source of historical information. Filled with newspaper clippings, programs, tickets, and letters and often embelished with photos or drawings, the medium is a rich source for nineteenth and twentieth-century history.

To find scrapbooks in The Filson’s collection search both the online catalog as well as the traditional card catalog located on the third floor in the Special Collections Department. When searching the online catalog, select a ‘General Keyword’ search from the drop down menu, then type “scrapbook” plus your topic in the search bar. If you have specific questions regarding scrapbooks, contact


Contact Us!

For more information about our collections contact us by phone, letter, or e-mail.

1310 S. 3rd St.
Louisville, KY 40208
(502) 635-5083