Representing Portland Now, I conducted the Jane Jacobs Walk through the historic loop of Portland on Saturday, October 22nd. Jane Jacobs was a Twentieth Century urban planner involved in the planning of green areas and public spaces in New York City during the early part of the Twentieth Century. A group of students in the Urban Planning Program from the University of Louisville take a walk named after Ms. Jacobs through selected neighborhoods in Louisville each semester. This semester Danielle Story chose Portland for the walk.
A group of about 30 people comprised of students, neighborhood residents and other interested people from surrounding neighborhoods met Brenda at the Portland Library to begin the walk. The library, built with funds donated by Andrew Carnegie in 1912, was the first stop. From there, the group toured the blocks from 33rd St. to 36th St. along Northwestern Parkway and Rudd Ave to view the oldest house in Portland, the Squire Earick House, as well as examples of mansions built by steamboat captains and engineers and wealthy grocers. The group also saw smaller shotgun houses and Tudor style homes with Spanish influence built on the four acres of land purchased from the Sisters of Loretto during the Civil War period. The Sisters had operated the Mt. St. Benedict Academy until architect Peter Mock developed the land with houses for the influx of German and Irish immigrants who immigrated to work on the Portland Canal and other bridges along the Ohio River.
Other points of interest along Rudd Ave. included the store on the corner, an example of a typical commercial enterprise that included living quarters for the owner and family, and the Church of the Good Shepherd, formerly the Notre Dame du Port or the Church of Our Lady. At the corner of 35th and Rudd the students saw the high water mark from the ’37 Flood on a utility pole in front of the Portland Wharf. The Flood’s devastation was such that many of the businesses that had flourished in the area were forced to close their doors leading to a decline in the fortunes of the neighborhood.
The Portland Cemetery was the next to the last stop on the walk. The Portland Cemetery is the only cemetery maintained by Metro Parks as part of an agreement when Portland was incorporated into the city of Louisville. The cemetery reflects the segregation of ethnic groups even in death. Portland Elementary, the last stop, is one of the three oldest elementary schools in Jefferson County and is still standing because keeping the school was another condition of the incorporation into Louisville. The original school still stands but is inside a wrap around building done in 1969.Although not a stop on the walk, one of the residents pointed out the property that was the subject of a Supreme Court Decision in 1917 that declared restrictions on sales to African-Americans illegal. Discrimination still existed, however, and prohibited integration until the late 50’s and 60’s Civil Rights Movement. Integration led to the white flight which, in addition to the ’37 Flood further decreased the property values in the neighborhood. After the walk, the group drove to McQuioxte’s and the Tim Faulkner Gallery to see the revitalization of businesses along Portland Ave. They were also encouraged to drive by the Portland Museum, Shaheen’s and Ace Hardware, two of the oldest surviving businesses in the Neighborhood. The walk proved successful in demonstrating the origins of the neighborhood, its decline and exciting renewal that is building on the pride of the historic past integrated with 21st Century Progress/