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Butchertown

Butchertown

Armour of Louisville, Kentucky is located in an interesting area of the city known as Butchertown.  Butchertown is where the meat packing industry first began in Louisville, and where it still thrives.  Armour of Louisville would like to share those beginnings.

Linden Hill is the oldest house in Butchertown, dating back to approximately 1815.  It was built by Colonel Frederick Geiger as a country house out on Frankfort Pike, (now Main Street).  Much of Butchertown was once Geiger’s farmland.

Frankfort Pike and Beargrass Creek built Butchertown, It took booth, plus the Ohio River.  Over the Pike came great droves of cattle and hogs, staple products of the bluegrass (today’s Thoroughbred Horse country).  Bound for market in the South, they were driven to Louisville, where the river provided easy transportation to the cotton states.  Although some of the animals were shipped live, it was more practical to butcher them in Louisville.  The pork was then salted, the beef pickled and packed in barrels for shipment.

The packing business began early in Louisville.  Louisville’s first city directory, published in 1832, shows twelve (12) butchers served the city’s tables and the packing business as well.  Two (2) butchers were already located up on the east end of Main Street, (near what is now Bourbon Stock Yard).  The location was probably chosen to get the first choice of the animals coming in Frankfort Pike.   Beargrass Creek was also there to provide the water necessary for butchering process and serving as a handy drain.

Louisville’s butcher business was eventually to be dominated by the Germans.  The Germans began arriving in the U.S. by the thousands after the failure of the 1848 Revolution in their homeland.  The two most prominent butchers in Louisville, as early as the 1830’s, were two Germans: Fredrick Bremaker and Peter Kliessendorf.

Louisville developed into the pantry of the Cotton Kingdom that lay South.  The droves of cattle and hogs became immense.  Sometimes as many as 50,000 hogs arrived at once to meet the demand for Salt Pork.  Special inns sprang up in Louisville offering accommodations for the drovers, and pens where the stock could be kept until sold.  The first was the Bourbon House built in 1834.  The Bourbon House was built on Frankfort Pike, (now the corner of Story and Cabel Street).  It was the beginning of the Bourbon Stock Yard, which opened it its present location in 1869.

Skilled German butchers were attracted to Louisville as the butchering and pork-packing business grew.  They settled along Frankfort Pike, (the area that is Story Avenue today).  Their homes were built facing the streets, their slaughtering sheds in the rear, along the Creek.  It was these independent “Boss Butchers” who caused the area to be tagged “Butchertown”.  They supplied Louisville’s hoem tables, hotels and steamboats with Salt and Fresh Pork.

There were nearly 200 butchers in Louisville at the end of the Civil War.  The 200 Butchers employed approximately 250 journeymen butchers and apprentices.  About 80% of the butchers were in Butchertown.  The meat packing business, though it suffered with the opening of the western grazing lands and the rise of the Chicago Packers, was still important.  The “Boss Butchers” where growing affluent and continued to build big brick houses in Butchertown.  In 1869, the Germans organized the Metzer Verein, (Butcher’s Society), at Ehrmann’s Halle, still standing at 1653 Story Avenue.  The Butcher’s Society sponsored gala annual balls, parades and picnics, and Butchertown continued to grow.

The 40 year period after the Civil War was Butchertown’s economic high water mark.  In addition to the butchers, the packing houses, tanners, coopers and soap makers, other enterprises began moving in.  A woolen mill opened in 1864 at Storey and Frankfort Avenues.  (The site where this mill stood is now where the Oktoberfest is held).  A furniture factory opened in 1870 at Washington and Webster Streets.  (Today it is Bakery Square).  Two breweries opened in the late 1860’s.

Those were the years when beer flowed freely at tree shaded Woodland Garden, which occupied the whole block between Wenzel and Johnson, Main and Market Streets.  Famed Courier-Journal Editor, Henry Watterson, had fond memories of Woodland Garden in the late 1860’s:  “…..good music, good beer, good Sausage, good cheese and a pretzel.”

It was in the late 1860’s that a young Western Union telegrapher, Thomas A. Edison, boarded in a house at 729 East Washington.  His Louisville stay was cut short when he was fired because one of his innumerable experiments ruined his boss’s office rug.

Today’s Butchertown is showing its age, but slowly being renewed and face-lifted in a way that saves the buildings and keeps the old-time look.  The old time butchers are gone, but Butchertown remains proud and solid.

posted by T.K. Broecker in major family news and have Comments Off on Butchertown