Portland seemed like a good starting point for our tour of neighborhoods because it was the original landing point for the first settlers of Louisville. In order to get past the un-navigable falls of the Ohio, travelers would have to carry much of their cargo on land. From this necessity arose the birth of our city. The Portland Museum is also apparently the only neighborhood museum in Louisville!
We entered the museum and our kids went right to the gift shop area. “Look with your eyes,” I reminded, as they touched everything they could reach, including a very cool bird, which balanced on its beak, a nod to John James Audubon who painted representations of birds native to our region in the early-1800s. (We later got to hear a large sculpture of Audubon talk to us inside the museum.)
We moved through the museum, hearing from the robotic mannequin Mary Millicent Miller (the first female licensed steamboat captain!), and seeing dioramas of the falls of the Ohio, the building of the Portland Canal, and the streets of early Portland. I was impressed by the many ethnicities of early settlers represented within the museum. We learned about the Portland Irish, heard stories about French and German immigrants, and saw depictions of slaves who gave years of their lives to build the Portland Canal. The Portland Museum celebrates Louisville’s diversity from its very first years.
From the Portland Museum we headed to the McAlpine Locks and Dam on the Portland Canal. It was cold and rainy, but we got out of the car in order to watch a huge barge filled with coal moving out of the locks going up river. As the tugboat passed us, the operator waved and sounded his horn. It made us all jump!
Standing there in front of the locks, it was difficult to reconcile the enormity of the task facing the workers back in the 1820s with the little diorama we had seen at the museum. It took 2,500 people 3 years to create the Portland Canal…and when it was complete, it wasn’t really large enough to handle the capacity of steamboats of the time. Hmm…does that sound like it could be relevant to Louisville’s current transportation planning?
I guess the lesson that resonated most with me from our first excursion is that even in its beginning days, Louisville was about diversity and transportation – we began in PORTland. A stopping place for people from all over the world in the midst of a journey. Many of them stayed here because they could see the potential and envision a better life.
Louisville continues to be welcoming to people of all cultures – our family has been involved with Kentucky Refugee Ministries since 2001 and we’ve seen the blessings that can be gained through celebrating diversity. With forward thinking and intelligent planning, Louisville can be a 21st century city where people want to visit and then decide to stay.