In my ongoing series about places within driving distance of central Indiana, we visit Louisville, Ky., about 113 miles from Indianapolis.
Louisville (locals say “LOO uh vul)” is on the south bank of the Ohio River, where rapids of the Falls of the Ohio once presented the only barrier to river travel between Pittsburgh and the Gulf of Mexico. In 1778, during the American Revolution, Col. George Rogers Clark established a settlement on Corn Island, just east of the falls. Two years later, the Virginia General Assembly granted a charter for a town around Corn Island, named “Louisville” in honor of French King Louis XVI, whose troops were supporting the Americans against the British. The town grew rapidly as a portage site, where ships were unloaded and their contents carried beyond the rapids. Louisville also became an important port for Ohio River travel. By 1840, Louisville, incorporated as a city in 1828, had a population on 21,000, about five times the size of Chicago at the time.
Today, Louisville, with a population of 633,000, is the largest city in Kentucky. It is home to Churchill Downs, a horseracing complex that opened in 1875 with the first Kentucky Derby, which is now the nation’s longest continually held annual sporting event. The nonprofit Kentucky Derby Museum provides information about the history of the Derby and offers behind-the-scene tours of the famous racetrack. Downtown Louisville is home to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, featuring the world’s largest baseball bat. A few blocks away is a 30-foot-tall gold-painted foam replica of Michelangelo’s “David,” twice the size of the original. The downtown area also includes the Bourbon District, where several distilleries offer tours and tasting rooms. Waterfront Park offers a wonderful view of the Ohio River. The nearby six-story Muhammed Ali Center, established in 2005, honors Louisville native Ali’s life and principles.