Drive west just a short distance from downtown, and you will encounter a revitalization at its inception stage in the Portland neighborhood. Portland begins at Tenth Street and continues all the way along the Ohio River until past the Sherman Minton Bridge, near Shawnee Golf Course. Though it is merely blocks from the western edge of downtown, it is parts unknown for many Louisvillians. We predict that all of that will change — for the better — and that more and more locals will begin exploring the neighborhood that has been here all along, waiting for locals to rediscover its intriguing past and exciting renewal. Now is that time.
Portland’s tagline is “Come for the History, Stay for the Future.” Let’s talk about their history and ways that we can all contribute to their future.
Portland was settled in the early 1800s on the banks of the Ohio River. Due to the Falls of the Ohio, it was impossible to navigate on the river past downtown Louisville headed west. Captains would have to dock their boats just west of the city and then place the boats back on the river downstream, past the falls. The ship captains and businessmen of the area developed a small town at this point, including a wharf, taverns, commercial buildings and, later, homes, churches and schools. They called it Portland. In 1830, the Louisville and Portland Canal was built, allowing ships to pass through a series of locks and dams, thereby increasing commercial business up and down the Ohio River. Louisville and Portland thrived during this heyday, with many immigrants — primarily French and Irish — settling in the Portland area and leaving traces of their heritage that still stand today.
Portland feeds off the river, and its proximity to the river has affected all aspects of this community, both positively and negatively. The Great Flood of 1937 flooded most of Portland, displacing many residents, some permanently. The construction that ensued after this flood would serve to isolate the Portland community in future years. The flood wall was constructed in 1957, and later the construction of Interstate 64 cut most of Portland off from the very river that was the reason for its birth. Portland fell victim to hard times and poverty encased the area.
The once-thriving, beautiful neighborhood has been trapped in a time capsule, where ghosts of historic mansions and businesses remain, and many structures are vacant or dilapidated.
Today’s Portland is a neighborhood with dual personalities. One side brims with creativity, hope and promise, while the other is mired in poverty and unemployment. But both personalities coexist in a geographic space that is full of potential — with land, homes, streets and all the good, solid bones of a neighborhood ripe for revitalization.
Though only a matter of blocks from downtown, crossing over Ninth Street is like entering the great unknown for many locals. That is why this street is known as the “Ninth Street Divide.” It is an invisible barrier people cross from the heart of Louisville downtown to an area in need.
Some locals believe that Portland will be like NuLu soon, beliefs that are based on the presence of local developer Gill Holland, who is responsible for the successful revitalization of NuLu. Four years ago, Gill, a self-described “impact entrepreneur, sustainable developer and community builder,” set his sights on Portland. He is buying land and has established an office at the old Dolfinger Building, now known as the Anchor Building. He has encouraged local businesses to move there, noting the expansive amounts of land, preexisting structures and low property costs.
Here’s what we know: when Portland succeeds, we all succeed. Stimulating the economy in an under-stimulated region will be an easy task with more and more local businesses moving or starting there. Portland is full of pride and nostalgia and it’s time we tap into that sense of place and support it.
WHERE TO EAT
It used to be impossible to find a restaurant in Portland that was not a national chain. But recently, some great local eateries and coffee shops have opened and have been met with great acceptance and success in Portland.
1800 Portland Ave., Louisville, KY 40203 • (502) 708-2505
Hours: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m
We reviewed The Table when it first opened and were so thoroughly impressed, not just by the great food, but by the great concept. “Everyone Has a Seat at Our Table” is painted on the side of the building, and they mean it. The concept of The Table is based on altruism and stewardship. Their mission is “To provide a restaurant that serves locally grown food with amazing taste, at an affordable price, where all can enjoy the flavor of community.” For everyone to be able to enjoy this farm-to-table concept, they have implemented a “pay what you can” policy; there are prices on the menu, but you are only expected to compensate what you can afford. You can pay more, pay less or pay back the restaurant with your service.
This is a sit-down restaurant, offering delicious meals, with most of the ingredients procured locally. The Table is only open for lunch during the week, and it is consistently packed. All waitstaff and chefs volunteer their time here, and their menu changes seasonally. This is a must-visit restaurant.
2507 Bank St., Louisville, KY 40212 • (502) 919-9074
Hours: Wednesday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Closed Sunday, Monday and Tuesday
Like The Table, Cup of Joy comes from a place of altruism and outreach. Founded by Esther Lyon as part of Haven Ministries, this is a Christian coffee shop and cafe located in an old bar, and they serve up great coffee drinks, pastries, breakfast and lunch. The menu changes daily, and all of the prices are affordable. The majority of the employees are volunteers, and the space is meant for people to convene and meet in a safe space. Like the name of the project, this is meant to be a safe haven and source of joy to all in the neighborhood.
Cup of Joy offers a changing lunch menu each day, ranging from sandwiches, soups and comfort food such as chicken and dumplings and chili.
120 S. 10th St., Louisville, KY 40202 • (502) 252-6671
Hours: Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 9 p.m., Closed Sunday and Monday
Literally located right over the Ninth Street Divide is Over the 9, Old 502 Winery and Falls City Brewery. Over the 9 is the restaurant component of this complex, where you can eat and enjoy tastings of all the wine from Old 502 and the craft beer from Falls City. It’s the best of both worlds. Over the 9 also has a loft space on its second floor that’s large enough for special events of any size.
Open for lunch and dinner, diners love the crispy pork fritter starter and the bison burger. This is a short distance from Museum Row off of Main Street, and many people enjoy walking there after touring a museum.
1512 Portland Ave., Ste. #1, Louisville, KY 40203 • (502) 530-9658
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tucked in a corner of the Tim Faulkner Gallery, McQuixote Books & Coffee just celebrated its three-year anniversary. It is definitely a bookworm and coffee lover’s establishment, with the walls covered in books and cozy seats for reading, accompanied by the rich scents of coffee. Fresh food is prepared daily, with offerings for breakfast and lunch. The most popular things on the menu, besides their delicious coffee drinks, are the bourbon blend tea (made by Elmwood Inn in Danville, Kentucky) and the Painted Bird sandwich, which has turkey, apple butter, Swiss cheese, rosemary olive oil, red onion and spinach.
Owners Trevor DeCuir and Mickey Ball wanted to make coffee and sell it at local farmers’ markets. Tim Faulkner convinced them to set up shop at his gallery space, knowing it would fill a huge need in the neighborhood. After three years there and a lot of “patience,” this coffee shop is integral to the neighborhood, with regulars coming in from all over.
WHAT TO SEE
Historic Portland is an interesting walk through Louisville’s past. It is easiest to drive through these sites, but it is also fun to experience Portland on a bike, either on a guided bike tour or on your own. Here are some definite headliners of the neighborhood.
719 N. 24th St., Louisville, KY 40212
Currently closed for renovations, this is one of the oldest known wood frame houses standing in the city of Louisville. Built by a river captain in 1819, it was eventually bought by Squire Earick, who renovated it in the Victorian fashion of the day. It should be open again to the public in 2018.
3511 Rudd Ave., Louisville, KY 40212 • (502) 749-9780
One of the first churches in the area was Notre Dame du Port, established in 1839 by Bishop Flaget. A school for girls was built next door in 1857. This church has been flooded numerous times and still stands, a cornerstone of this community.
3305 Northwestern Pkwy., Louisville, KY 40212 • (502) 574-1744
The Portland Library was founded in 1905 and is the third oldest library branch in Louisville. Andrew Carnegie donated $600,000 to the City of Louisville in 1914, and with that money four libraries were built: Main, Crescent Hill, Western branch and Portland. This Beaux Arts-style building survived the Great Flood of 1937, acting as a staging area for the Red Cross until the library itself had to be evacuated. Now it is a small, quiet force in the community, offering many reading programs for children and adults alike.
2308 Portland Ave., Louisville, KY 40212 • (502) 776-7678
This museum is a treasure trove of information, set in a beautiful building that was an old residence from 1852 with a modern addition on the front. The original house, named Beech Grove, was the “county seat” on Portland Avenue, which was the main road connecting Portland to Louisville. With so much information about the history and art of Portland and Louisville, this is a stop you will not want to miss.
The Louisville Loop goes right through Portland and is a quick bike ride to destinations like the Riverwalk, the Big Four Bridge, downtown and more. Stop for a cup of coffee or a snack, and then get back on the loop to ride around the city.
ARTS & CULTURE
Creativity abounds in Portland. You could spend a good part of the day just driving around looking at all the public art and murals in the area. The epicenter of this artistic energy is on Lytle Street, where the Louisville Visual Art building and the Tim Faulkner Gallery are located, across the street from each other. Also here in Portland is the new Design Terminal, home to Louisville Bespoke, which seeks to become a maker’s space for fashion, where local fashion designers, makers, entrepreneurs and artists all collaborate.
538 Lytle St., Louisville, KY 40203 • (502) 584-8166
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Formerly housed in the old water tower on Zorn, LVA moved to Portland in October 2015. They are located across the street from the Tim Faulkner Gallery and have created an epicenter of creativity here. LVA promotes local artists around the community at different events. In their own space, they host events, but mainly they house local artists, providing a shared space for them to work and create. They are planning on renovating their building, which was formerly an industrial warehouse, and creating a more modern accessible area. They also bring art into the community with various classes and camps around town focusing on outreach and education.
1512 Portland Ave. (Parking lot: 1568 Lytle St.), Louisville, KY 40203 • (502) 389-0347
Hours: Monday, 5 p.m. to midnight; Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, noon to 2 a.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. to midnight
One of the first local businesses to make the jump to Portland was Tim Faulkner, moving his gallery from Butchertown to an old manufacturing building on Portland Avenue in 2012. This gallery paints with a wide brush, and hosts many events throughout the year. They host art shows, live music, theater, performance art and everything in between. It is also a great venue for events and meetings. McQuixote Books & Coffee is located on the north end of this gallery.
Many businesses have their headquarters or outposts here. For example, Heine Brothers’ just recently located their corporate headquarters and roastery here in the Portland Warehouse District. Please and Thank You recently moved all their bakery operations, aptly named Hot Coffee, to Portland; this business is not open to the public.
Then there are the tried-and-true businesses that have been in Portland forever. These include Shaheen’s Department Store, which is a go-to for work and school uniforms. Located across the street is Janes Brothers Hardware, which has also been in business for over 60 years. And nearby Caufield’s Novelty store is THE place for Halloween and all other party and costume needs.
Portland’s history and roots are worth exploring, and it is just a short drive from downtown Louisville. Remember, “Come for the History, Stay for the Future”!
Want to explore more Louisville neighborhoods? Check out our articles all about Louisville here.