Thanks to everyone who joined us for the Society of Urban Perambulators walk through Schnitzelburg and Meriwether on Saturday, March 19th, particularly with the misty and overcast weather. Special thanks to Jeff Underhill and his team for being our amazing field guides throughout the tour and to Ian Luijk of Monnik Beer Company for hosting our end-of-tour gathering and telling us the inspiring history of the brewery.
The tour began at Underhill Associates offices located at the historic Germantown Mill Lofts site, the largest of three massive cotton mills in the area. During the tour we heard that the railroad line running through the area provided the access the mills needed to cotton shipments, leading to why they were concentrated in this area.
Germantown Mill Lofts has 189 residential units as well as three commerical space on its large campus. The renovations of the mill and auxillary buildings worked to retain much of the character and history of the space while incorporating new amenities for tenants like a gym in the old boiler room, courtyard pool and patio, outdoor dog run and more. Many of the pieces of the boilers and other industrial equipment can be found sprinkled around the site like installations of mid-century modern art pieces.
The history of the mill is depicted throughout the development with large historic photographic prints in common areas depicting the mills former life. Rather than cover up all the utilities and mechanical systems, which would have also hidden much of the impressive details of the historic building, Underhill Associates chose to leave the guts of the building exposed to celebrate the old world historic industrial character.
The 165 foot tall chimney that was part of the original boiler room had to be painstakingly rebuilt due to deterioration over the years. The chimney can be seen far from the lofts and serves as a point tower in an otherwise low rise neighborhood.
On the backside of the Germantown Mill Lofts property you can find three cabooses that were shipped to become individual 900 sq/ft residential units. The rail cars not only provide a unique residential experience, but they also serve as a visual screen on the edge of the development, turning what was a fairly unappealing view of an active rail line and industrial buildings into a featured vista. Apparently when trains pass by, the cabooses gently rock to the vibrations. This provides a great example of coming up with creative solutions to site related issues.
An unassuming brick warehouse on Shelby Street across from Germantown Mill Lofts turns out to be an indication of the areas historic streetcar past as it was the Louisville Railway Companies Shelby Streetcar Bar. It is so unfortunate that Louisville, as well as most cities across the country, tore out their extensive streetcar systems in the 1940s and 50s, however buildings like these and literally the layout and design of our inner-ring neighborhoods (often known as "streetcar suburbs") are historic reminders of a much more walkable era in our city's history.
As we walked our way down Shelby Street towards the Swiss Village development, Jeff provided some historical background on the area and buildings along the way including the Red Cross Hospital whose historic marker reads "In 1899, because black physicians were barred from treating patients at public or church hospitals, Drs. W.T. Merchant, Ellis D. Whedbee and R.B. Scott founded Red Cross Hospital at Sixth & Walnut Street. In 1905, it moved to 1436 S. Shelby St. and offered training programs for black nurses and physicians." The hospital can be seen in the upper left corner of the photo above.
Another interesting detail about the area is that the neighborhood of Schnitzelburg once had a large streetcar loop that went down Shelby Street, down Burnett Avenue, along Texas Avenue, and returned down Goss Avenue before heading back downtown and other locations. It makes more sense knowing this as to how the seemingly orphaned commercial node in the middle of a residential neighborhood at Burnett Ave and Hickory St came to be (where Monnik Beer Company, Check's Cafe and Derby City Chop Shop are located).
We made our way to Swiss Village at the former site of Swiss Hall on Lynn Street between the major corridors of Shelby and Preston Street in the Meriwether neighborhood. At one time there was a concentration of Swiss immigrants in this area that formed the Swiss Society in 1850. According to some great materials Jeff and his team put together, the property was purchased in 1925 and Swiss Hall was constructed at a cost of $35,000 in 1926 with a dedication on August 1st. Some of the activities that could be found at Swiss Hall were picnics, boxing and wrestling matches, as well as an indoor bowling alley.
Underhill Associates are currenlty completing a completely reenvisioned use for the space. They are converting the original Swiss Hall into 18 residential units surrounded by a new interior street system with 23 single family homes, bringing much needed residential to a growing neighborhood. The new building footprints are designed to fit on similar sized lots of the surrounding homes, while bringing more, much needed gentle density. It would likely have been cheaper and easier to just demolish the hall and build a large multi-unit residential building, but this model illustrates an alternative approach to bringing more housing and still respecting the character and scale of the area on this 2.6 acre lot.
While making our way to Monnik Beer Company, we came across a concept design for the interesting intersection of Texas and Delor Avenues by Nick Seivers. Though the wet weather makes it hard to see the idea you can find out more about his idea here, and many more at nicholasseivers.com.
Tucked away in the middle of the Schnitzelburg neighborhood is Emerson Park and the Emerson Park Community Garden. From visits to other cities like Philadelphia and Boston, as well as a few other examples in Louisville, these community garden spaces in residential neighborhoods bring the neighborhood residents together and create active spaces for community cohesion.
Just around the corner from Emerson Park is Monnik Beer Company at the corner of Burnett Avenue and Hickory Street.
Aerial footage of the new Monnik outdoor street seating