Beyond Bourbon and Bluegrass in Louisville

Louisville, KY is a unique and multifaceted destination and home to many iconic structures and institutions.

Among them is the Speed Art Museum. “Spanning more than 6,000 years of human creativity, culture, and experiences” the museum is awe-inspiring, and you could spend several hours here exploring the extensive special art collections including European and American, African, Contemporary, photography, ancient cultures, and the Kentucky Collection, among others.

The Conrad Caldwell House Museum, known in the 1890s as Conrad’s Castle, is a stunning Richardsonian Romanesque castle built in 1895 during what is known as Louisville’s Gilded Age, the city today boasting the distinction as the largest concentration of Victorian homes in the country.

No visit to Louisville would be complete without a visit to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. For staunch baseball fans this is a must, yet it is equally as captivating for those who have only a passing, or even no interest at all. The tour (which traverses right through the factory assembly line), interactive exhibits and memorabilia here take visitors on a journey beginning with the timber fields where the wood is gathered to build these iconic bats that have played a significant role in the sport of baseball for generations, until today.

A wonderful place to learn more about the city and state’s incredible equestrian history is at Churchill Downs, an incredible one-of-a-kind destination where history and sport racing combine. Recognized by some as one of the most hallowed shrines in American Sports, a visit here starts at the Kentucky Derby Museum with the film, The Greatest Race, an 18-minute thrill ride that takes the over 230,000 museum visitors a year on a heart-pounding journey through this world-renown race in a truly unique, open theater setting via one of the world’s only 360°, 4K high resolution screens.

This aptly sets the pace (no pun intended) for exploring the museum’s interactive exhibits that delve into every area of not only horse racing but breeding history going back to the 1800s, on two expansive floors.

One of those most interesting parts of the story here, which ties into Louisville’s wealth of African American history, is that people of color held numerous positions of prominence in horse racing back in the day, from hot walkers to groomers, exercise riders, trainers, and jockeys. In fact, once thoroughbred owners stopped riding their own horses and began using jockeys, slaves were assigned that role - some even earning their freedom by riding in races.

In the first Derby in 1875, 14 of the 15 jockeys were African Americans, and of the first 28 Derbies, 15 were won by African American jockeys like William Walker, James “Soup” Perkins, Willie Simms and Jimmy Winkfield—the last African American Derby winner—in 1901 and 1902.

In addition to the museum, visitors can visit the Churchill Downs resident thoroughbred and pony stable area and exhibit areas to learn more about the race as well as the Hall of Fame jockeys who made history here.

All of the permanent and traveling exhibits and features at both entities are fascinating, making a visit here yet another “Louisville must.”

The Greatest - Muhammed Ali

Louisville’s most famous native son, Muhammad Ali, not only made a significant impact on the city and state, but the world. And nowhere is this more evident than at the Muhammad Ali Center.

Dedicated to the life and legacy of this global sports icon, philanthropist and humanitarian, the center is a multicultural destination that “captures the inspiration derived from the story of Muhammad Ali’s incredible life and the Six Core Principles that fueled his journey.”

To say that the center, which at every turn focuses on Ali’s Core Principles of Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Giving, Respect, and Spirituality, is an understatement. You could literally spend hours here delving into each of the artifacts, dramatic multimedia presentations, historical videos, interactive exhibits and much more, each divided into different time periods of Ali’s life and their intersection with American and world history of that time. What makes the Center even more meaningful and significant is that it was not created after his death, rather Muhammad Ali was its co-founder, with his wife, Lonnie, which lends a different flavor and flair to the experience.

All who visit the Center’s three levels of award-winning exhibits and galleries, of all ages, races, nationalities, political and religious perspectives and more, are simply awed by Ali’s messages of love, integrity, personal growth, commitment, standing up for your rights and beliefs, and respect for others. Its no surprise that Ali was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005, and it will be a long time before the world experiences, if ever, such a dynamic spirit and individual.

In addition to paying homage to this great world citizen here, you can also visit his beautiful gravesite located at Cave Hill Cemetery. This rural, garden-style cemetery is one of the largest and most beautiful in the country. Here you will find numerous botanical gardens, lakes and ponds, a cave (which is now off limits to visitors), miles of meandering pathways and spectacular headstones and markers of the dearly departed.

Ali’s gravesite, which he is said to have personally selected, is located on a beautiful hillside overlooking one of the cemetery lakes, the surrounding area peppered with verdant shrubbery, multi-hued flowers and downy grasses.

Other famous people who have made the cemetery their final resting place include city founder George Rogers Clark, distinguished political, business and educational leader James Guthrie, creator of the Confederate uniform and flag Nicola Marshall, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., who established the Louisville Jockey Club, and Colonel Harlan Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken Fame (there is also a Harland Sanders Café and Museum in nearby Corbin, KY), just to name a few.

The cemetery also offers public and private tours and special programming and events throughout the year.

There’s so much to see, do, and enjoy in Louisville that we’ve barely scratched the surface! Keep reading about these other exciting aspects of Bourbon City.

* Fall in Love with Louisville

* African American Culture in Louisville

* The Seelbach Hilton Louisville


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