Archive for January, 2009

Simpsonville Slaughter Historical Marker to be Dedicated Sunday

Posted in Happenings, Kentucky History, Kentucky News, Kentucky Small Towns, Obituary, Transportation on January 20, 2009 by stateofthecommonwealth

(Marker image from 5th Regiment Cavalry, United States Colored Troops site.)

On Sunday, out in Simpsonville just east of Louisville, a new historical marker will be dedicated along U.S. 60, telling the tale of the “Simpsonville Slaughter” that occurred in 1865. We’ll admit, we’d never even heard of this terrible part of our nation’s history until we read the Courier-Journal‘s story on the dedication this morning:

A historical marker noting a Civil War massacre called the Simpsonville Slaughter will be dedicated Sunday along U.S. 60 at Webb Road, one-half mile west of Simpsonville.

On Jan. 25, 1865, while driving a herd of cattle to a slaughterhouse in Louisville, elements of the 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry were attacked near Simpsonville by Confederate guerillas.

Twenty-two soldiers were killed and at least 20 others wounded, including four of whom died later of their wounds.

The cavalry was based at Camp Nelson, and nearly all of the soldiers were former slaves.

The ceremony dedicating the marker will be at 2 p.m. on the 144th anniversary of the incident.

The ceremony, which is open to the public, will begin indoors at the Whitney M. Young Job Corps Center gymnasium; the center is just off U.S. 60.

The marker will then be unveiled at the intersection, less than a quarter-mile from the center.

The keynote speaker at the 2 p.m. service will be W. Stephen McBride, director of interpretation and archaeology at the Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park in Jessamine County. Civil War re-enactors will participate in the ceremony.

Jerry Miller, the volunteer Simpsonville Slaughter project manager with the Shelby County Historical Society, said most of the victims of the attack were buried in a mass grave near the site of the ambush and near where the marker will be erected.

Pretty interesting stuff, to be sure! There’s much more information available both at the 5th Regiment Cavalry site and at the Camp Nelson site.


LEO‘s Interview with the Mayor and Otter Creek Park

Posted in Development, Economics, Environment, Kentucky News, Louisville News, Media, Metro Parks, Ohio River, Otter Creek Park, Politics on January 15, 2009 by stateofthecommonwealth

(Photo of Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson by Frankie Steele for LEO Weekly.)

From our sister blog, Save Otter Creek Park – The Friends of Otter Creek Park Blog:

If you haven’t seen it by now, we wanted to make you aware that LEO Weekly‘s issue this week includes their extensive annual interview with Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, who has quite a bit to say about both the controversy surrounding the closing of Otter Creek Park, and our group, the Friends of Otter Creek Park. Here’s the relevant parts of the interview (you can read the entire interview here):

LEO: Another group that is getting louder by the day—

JA [Jerry Abramson]: Otter Creek.

LEO:Yes, the Friends of Otter Creek.

JA: It is very simple to explain to you why we moved in that direction. For many years, I’ve had this discussion with six governors — I’ve been mayor a long time — we have thought that this magnificent park, this very, very unique jewel of a wilderness setting and just gorgeous landscape, needed to be a state park. Because we don’t do a very good job running it, because we know how to run municipal parks — we can handle Cherokee Park, we know how to do Iroquois Park, we can handle Shawnee Park, we know how to handle Hays Kennedy Park or Long Run Park, etc. — but we don’t do very well in terms of a park that has cabins and hookups for RVs, for electricity and water.

So we have said we lose money every year; we used to lose $500,000 a year. We’ve tried to get governors to take it over. There was always a reason not to. I tried to work with the federal government, to have Fort Knox take it over; there was always a reason not to. We talked with the Meade County judge — it’s in Meade County — several judges ago, and asked him if we could serve wine. Maybe if we could serve wine and champagne, there might be an opportunity to host more events, which would help cover some of the expenses to defray the cost — because if you’re spending $500,000 out there, you could’ve spent the $500,000 at … parks within Louisville-Jefferson County. We tried to get the liquor license; the county judge made a commitment they would vote it wet, and then at the fiscal court meeting, he voted no.

… At this point in time, when you’re looking for a half a million dollars, and you’re also looking for money that you can save for these six months that will roll forward because this next budget’s going to be even tougher, we said we’re going to close it, and see if that would generate interest. [emphasis ours]

And you know what? The state parks are going out there, the state Fish & Wildlife [department is] going out there, I met with the garrison commander of Fort Knox — they’ve been out there twice. So all of a sudden, there’s a lot of energy around in terms of what can we do to ensure that the park is open as soon as possible? The county judge in Meade County is interested, he’s said, in making it an industrial park, or a residential area. Well, we’re not going to allow it to be developed into an industrial facility. We want it to be what it is: a beautiful wildlife preserve, an opportunity for folks to commune with nature. We’ve also got nonprofits that have contacted us: the Y[MCA] has a facility out there, [Boy] Scouts, saying what role can we play?

Suffice to say, we’re working on crafting a response to Mayor Abramson’s comments, to be published in LEO as soon as possible. We’re also very interested in meeting with him to discuss Otter Creek Park, anytime. However, there’s some elements of this interview that, based on just our initial impressions from reading it, we have to respond to.

According to Mayor Abramson above, closing Otter Creek Park was actually a ploy to save it! Somehow, we’re not buying this argument. Louisville has a number of private/public partnerships and quasi-governmental groups dedicated to serving citizens. Off the top of my head, I can think of the Olmstead Parks Conservancy, the Downtown Development Corporation, Greater Louisville Inc., Waterfront Development Corp., etc. If Otter Creek Park has been such a drag on the city’s budget year after year, why wasn’t any initiative taken to fix the problem before closing the Park? The savings of closing OCP reportedly only comes to $180,000 per year — why was there no effort to try to find that money from sources other than Louisville Metro’s budget?

Which goes on to the second problem of finding a group — whether governmental or otherwise — to run the Park now: how does closing the Park complicate the problems it already has? What hidden costs might be added as a result of the closing? Certainly while closing Otter Creek Park to visitors has kick-started our group’s activism on behalf of the Park, it has also hurt interest in OCP by both local residents and visitors from elsewhere. Sure, it’s winter, and that’s the slowest season for outdoor recreation, but closing the Park entirely has to have had a “chilling effect” (pardon the pun). Additionally, since the Park isn’t being maintained, what start-up costs will a potential buyer/operator have to contend with? Wouldn’t the Park be more attractive if it was still open and being maintained?

The Mayor goes on to discuss Friends of Otter Creek Park within the context of “citizen enragement”:

LEO: I was at a community meeting [last] week in the southwestern part of the city. It’s been my experience at some of these meetings, including some where you’ve been there, that they start off on issues — and this one was about Otter Creek Park — and they get derailed into criticism of you, conspiracy theories about you and your administration. It seems to me this is the only part of the city where this happens with such regularity and drama.

JA: Citizen engagement is great. The fact that there are individuals pulling together to set up a Friends of Otter Creek, to look at options, to work with me ultimately on how we can keep it open. I think citizen engagement is great.

What troubles me are those that are involved in citizen enragement, and I’m afraid that in the area you’re referencing, there are two or three individuals who take much more pride in involving themselves in citizen enragement rather than citizen engagement.

… Citizen enragement, with sometimes not sharing the facts, framing the issues in a way that enrage rather than involve — unfortunately there have been a couple of folks out there in that area that have done that more than once, on more than one issue. And so it is what it is: We work with the folks who want to work with us.

I can’t speak for anyone else involved in Friends of Otter Creek Park in terms of their feelings towards Mayor Abramson. Given that our group consists of a large, diverse group of individuals from all over the surrounding region — including people who don’t live in Louisville Metro — it’s fair to say that there is probably not one, monolithic point of view given Louisville’s Mayor.

Speaking for the group, however, I will say that Friends of Otter Creek Park is ready to work with Mayor Abramson or any other government official, organization, charity, or group willing and interested in reopening Otter Creek Park. Period.

That said, our meetings are open to the public, and we value what everyone in the community has to say — otherwise we wouldn’t bother with public comment periods at our meetings. As far as I’m concerned, Friends of Otter Creek Park is about finding a solution to the problem through democratic and transparent means. The citizens of Louisville Metro and Jefferson County don’t deserve any less than that.

Got Any Endtables Memorabilia?

Posted in Louisville Music History, Louisville News, Media, Music, State of StateoftheCommonwealth on January 7, 2009 by stateofthecommonwealth

(Above, the cover of the Endtables 7″, from the excellent Last Days of Man on Earth blog.)

Wow, here is a cool instance of, y’know, someone actually reading State of the Commonwealth. Thanks to our post back in early September about Joan Osborne name-checking the Endtables in the New York Times, we’ve been contacted by Stephen Driesler, who confirms the rumored Endtables discography that we’ve been hearing about (and expressing enthusiasm for) elsewhere. Other aspects of the discography we can confirm is that it will be released by the excellent Drag City record label of Chicago, Illinois, and that it will include all six known Endtables studio recordings plus an undetermined amount of bonus material (as such, neither the tracklist nor the release date have been finalized).

As regards any reissue project of this nature, there is a good chance that there are a lot of undiscovered materials that might be usable, perhaps just lying around in your basement or archives. Steve is asking us to help spread the word, in order to see if there’s anybody out there in Louisville or beyond who has any Endtables memorabilia, photographs, stories or ephemera they’d like to share for the project. And anything of interest related to the Endtables is fair game. So if you do have something you’d like to share, or know anyone else who does, please contact Steve through his email address: Be sure to get it to Steve by January 25th!

Choice Cuts: Saveur on Louisville Bar Food Classics

Posted in Choice Cuts, Drink, Food, Media on January 6, 2009 by stateofthecommonwealth

(Hot Brown by James Baigrie for Saveur.)

For part four in our irregular series called Choice Cuts (excerpts from longer pieces either by or about Kentuckians), we’re highlighting a fantastic article in the January/February issue of Saveur about classic bar food from Louisville establishments (thanks to Louisville HotBytes forum contributor John Ribar for the tip). In this issue’s Dinner and Drinks column, Beth Kracklauer samples great bar food — from old standbys such as Mazzoni’s rolled oysters (Mazzoni’s has closed but you can still get their oysters at Flabby’s) to new favorites such as the Bristol Bar and Grille’s green chile wontons — and discusses a fair amount of Louisville history and culture in the process (links to recipes are included):

When I was growing up, my family made regular trips to Louisville, Kentucky, for two reasons: visiting my grandmother and eating fried chicken livers. Grandma was what’s known in those parts as a firecracker; she loved a good manhattan and a lively debate, and she would take us around to local neighborhood joints that served up both, along with an array of bar snacks, including the crunchiest fried chicken livers I’ve ever tasted. So, it seemed appropriate that my father and I should pay homage to his mother’s memory on a recent return to Louisville with a tour of some of the city’s most venerable tippling establishments.

Louisville is a drinking town. A social town. The local bourbon industry is one factor; the julep-fueled Kentucky Derby season is another. This is the home of the old-fashioned, that glorious concoction of bourbon, bitters, and orange, and of majestic hotels, like the Seelbach and the Brown, both of which boast grand old bars. But one cannot live on booze alone, and so Louisville’s bars have become great places to eat; they’re where the genial tavern culture of the Midwest meets the fried-food mother lode of the South. The union constitutes one of the country’s best bar-snacking traditions, of which livers are just the beginning.

Some of the bar snacks we sampled are unique to Louisville. Take the rolled oyster, a fist-size cluster of mollusks cloaked in cracker meal and deep-fried; the specialty was invented in the 1880s by the tavern owner Phillip Mazzoni and is served to this day in bars throughout the city. In the late 1970s, the Bristol Bar & Grille began providing its own incentive for ordering another round: green chile wontons, fried parcels filled with jalapeño-spiked melted cheese and served with a cooling guacamole dip. Then there’s the hot brown, an open-face turkey-and-bacon sandwich smothered in mornay sauce. It was created in 1923 as a late-night snack for guests at the Brown Hotel, and the best place to order one is still the bar in the hotel’s elegant lobby.

“There’s a real loyalty to place,” says Amy Evans, an oral historian with the Southern Foodways Alliance, who visited Louisville last year to research its vibrant bar scene. “Folks there tend to be monogamous with their drinking.” My father and I realized almost immediately how true that is. In the historically German neighborhood of Schnitzelburg, which is home to many of the city’s oldest bars, we stopped in at Flabby’s, a cozy, 57-year-old tavern where the bartender knew every patron but us. The crunchy fried chicken livers, piled high in a plastic basket, were amazing. So was the smoky white bean soup around the corner at Check’s Café, where we also tried a sandwich of fried, thick-cut baloney and a Bluegrass Brewing Co. bourbon-barrel stout. And in the nearby Highlands neighborhood, at the friendly half liquor store, half grocery called Morris’ Deli, we made a detour into the walk-in beer cooler before settling at the counter for a succulent shredded lamb and pork sandwich.

Dad and I were gratified to discover that some of Louisville’s most acclaimed chefs are upholding the city’s bar snack traditions. At Lilly’s Bistro, Kathy Cary featured an entire menu of “Kentucky Tapas”. At Jack’s Lounge, Dean Corbett’s fried calamari with caponata complemented bartender Joy Perrine’s infused-bourbon cocktails. We even sampled house-made bison bresaola from the bar menu at Michael Paley’s Proof on Main. Truth be told, were Grandma here today, she might raise an eyebrow at the practice of serving such exotic offerings as bagna cauda at the bar. But after a few bites (and a cocktail, of course), I think she’d recognize their fresh flavors as her kind of food.

Our only point of contention is that, when at Check’s, we always go for their chili! And we’ve never had the fried chicken livers at Flabby’s, but their fried chicken (weekend special on Fridays and Saturdays), chicken wings (Tuesday’s special) and schnitzel sandwich are amazing. We’re lucky, we live right down the street!

Short Friends of Otter Creek Park Interview on 84 WHAS

Posted in Development, Economics, Environment, Happenings, Kentucky News, Kentucky Small Towns, Labor, Louisville News, Media, Metro Parks, Ohio River, Otter Creek Park, Politics on January 5, 2009 by stateofthecommonwealth

(Otter Creek Park sign from

From our sister blog, Save Otter Creek Park:

84 WHAS aired a short story on Friends of Otter Creek Park this morning. You can read the story here, and listen to it here. There’s a short clip of audio in the piece from when I was interviewed by Suzanne Duvall of 84 WHAS last Friday. Obviously they couldn’t use everything, but the short bit where I point out that Otter Creek Park is one of the things that makes Louisville “unique” was nice.

Both WHAS-11 and WDRB-41 (clicking on the WDRB link will open Windows Media Player) mention the meeting tonight in news stories as well. Links courtesy the Valley Report.

And as the story points out, please don’t forget tonight’s meeting at the Southwest Government Center, 219 Dixie Hwy #106 in Southwest Louisville at 7 PM!

UPDATE: The agenda for tonight’s meeting has been posted here:

C-J: Otter Creek Park Likely To Be Padlocked Through June

Posted in Development, Economics, Environment, Kentucky News, Kentucky Small Towns, Louisville News, Media, Metro Parks, Ohio River, Otter Creek Park, Politics on January 2, 2009 by stateofthecommonwealth

(2001 photo of the Otter Creek Park Conference Center by Michael Clevenger for the Courier-Journal.)

Amidst the flurry of news reports about Otter Creek Park‘s closing this past week, the Courier-Journal reported on Wednesday that Metro Parks anticipates that OCP will be closed through the month of June:

Otter Creek Park appears certain to close for an indefinite period on Friday, despite efforts to keep it open.

A group called Friends of Otter Creek Park is discussing strategies for keeping the Meade County park operating, and the city of Louisville remains open to turning it over to either the state or a private vendor.

But for the immediate future, “there are not a lot of reasons to be optimistic,” said Chris Poynter, Mayor Jerry Abramson’s spokesman, adding that hopes for reopening the park soon may be overly optimistic.

“Money is the whole thing,” said Metro Parks Director Mike Heitz.

The city acquired the 2,600-acre park about 25 miles southwest of downtown Louisville in 1947 as a gift from the federal government for its support of Fort Knox during World War II.

Covenants require the property be used for public recreation.

Poynter said the city will save about $180,000 by closing the park for the rest of the fiscal year, through June.

That’s just a fraction of the $20 million needed to make up for revenue lost to flagging job- and business-profit taxes taken by the recession. But, Poynter said, “We had to make tough (budget) decisions, and we think it is best to focus our limited resources on parks within the city.”

Most of the park’s staff of eight has been assigned to other city parks; one full-time and one part-time worker will remain at Otter Creek for maintenance and security, including trying to prevent poaching, said Metro Parks spokesman Andrew Crocker.

The story also reported on Friends of Otter Creek Park’s efforts:

The Friends of Otter Creek group has met twice and will meet again at 7 p.m. Monday at the Southwest Government Center on Dixie Highway.

Several Web sites devoted to the effort have popped up, including a Facebook page, where more than 5,000 people have signed on.

Patsy Bowman, one of the Friends organizers, said ideas for keeping the park open include charging admission, raising user fees and, perhaps, shutting it down from November to April.

The supporters plan soon to present their ideas to Abramson, she said, adding, “I do believe we have a shot.”

Metro Parks officials have said they couldn’t charge admission without losing immunity in lawsuits filed by anyone injured at the park.

Not to open a can of worms with this post, but it seems dubious that the City would be exposing itself to major liability by charging an entrance fee. This is the one sticking point that is always brought up, but so far has yet to be explained in any detail to be credible. Certainly, many parks and wildlife areas all over the country charge entrance fees.

Additionally, measures by the State and other entities were discussed as well:

State Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, said he has talked to numerous state officials about ways to keep the park open, but “it’s just too early” to pinpoint a direction.

“We have some things hopefully turning,” he said. “I’d love to see the park up and running by May.”

Jay Blanton, spokesman for Gov. Steve Beshear, said yesterday that the state administration is willing to talk about ways to preserve Otter Creek, though he said he knows of “no active proposal out there right now that would prevent the closure of the park in the immediate future.”

He said the state, facing its own $456 million revenue shortfall, “certainly has no options involving any kind of assistance for Otter Creek from the general fund.”

Even so, Heitz said his assistants intend to meet with Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources officials next month. They have expressed interest in designating Otter Creek as a wildlife-management area. Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Jon Gassett has said one condition for the state taking over Otter Creek would be that Metro Parks’ ban on hunting and fishing in the park be lifted.

Heitz said Metro Parks has had inquiries from several private vendors and developers interested in running the park. He said the city is considering advertising for competitive proposals for running the park from a developer, who might want to add such amenities as a golf course, restaurant or hotel to generate revenue.

Abramson met Dec. 18 with Col. Rick Schwartz, garrison commander at Fort Knox. The Army officers “indicated they would love to keep it open … but that they had no funding,” Poynter said.

Fort Knox spokesman Ryan Brus said the post already operates the 65-acre Camp Carlson, which includes a 25-acre lake, lodge and campsites open to soldiers, their families and guests. Taking on Otter Creek would duplicate some of those facilities, he said.

Poynter said Meade County officials also “have indicated they don’t have the wherewithal to run such a large park.”

But County Judge-Executive Harry Craycroft, who described the park’s closing as “a crying shame,” said Meade officials are supporting Greer’s efforts to involve the state.

Unfortunately, State and Federal options seem unlikely. Private enterprises interested in running the Park aren’t discussed in any detail, either. Clearly if a major portion of the park would be developed as a result of a private entity taking control, that might be damaging to the wildlife in and around the park, and could definitely be terrible.

In Wednesday’s issue of the C-J, there also appeared this story about David Jones’s 21st Century Parks project: Metro Council Panel Backs Park Management Deal. And in today’s paper there’s this glowing report about Waterfront Park: Waterfront Park Nears Completion of Its Green Revival After 10 Years.

Why can’t there be the same sort of cooperation between public and private enterprise to keep Otter Creek Park open, if that’s what needs to be done? If the budget problems that threatened OCP loomed on the horizon, why didn’t Louisville Metro make as much effort as possible to keep OCP from closing? These questions, and many more, need to be answered.