A Window into America's Past
Old Louisville and Literature

Victorian Louisville loved to read.  The area that is now Old Louisville was a center of a thriving artistic and literary community in the area.

Madison Cawein lived at 1436 St. James Court. He was Kentucky's first Poet Laureate, and was often called the "Audubon of Poetry" because of his many poems about nature.

Even more famous to most was Alice Hegan Rice (1870-1942).  She lived at 1444 St. James Court, and was the wife of  Cale Young Rice, a successful poet and dramatist.  Her best selling 1901 novel, Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch,  an enjoyable tale and social commentary on residents of the "Cabbage Patch" area just west of today's Old Louisville, was made into a play which opened in 1903 at the Macauley Theater.  A movie version was released in the 1934 that starred Pauline Lord and W. C. Fields.  There were 2 other film versions of the book as well, first in 1919 with Mary Carr playing the title role and also in 1942 with Fay Bainter and Hugh Herbert.


Annie Fellows Johnston, a native of Evansville, but a long time resident of Pewee Valley, a community just east of Louisville, is famous for her Little Colonel series, a highly influential and widely read series of stories for young readers.  These books sold millions of copies in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, and were translated into 40 languages.  The stories center around Pewee Valley (renamed Lloydsborough valley for the stories), an aristocratic enclave just east of the city  that was the summer gathering place of much of Louisville's elite at the turn of the 19th/20th century.  Annie Fellows Johnston's stories were far from pure fiction.  She used real people and actual places and events in the weaving of her tales.  All of the main characters of the 13 books that make up the series are based on real people.  The models for the Two Little Knights of Kentucky lived in Old Louisville at 1432 South Third Street.  They were featured in a book by that name (the second in the Little Colonel series), and continued as major characters throughout the whole series.  It may also be of interest that The Little Colonel's Holidays is largely set in Old Louisville.   The Little Colonel was made into a movie starring Shirley Temple and Lionel Barrymore in 1935.  A Little Colonel website is hosted on OldLouisville.com as a resource for more information. The marvelous thing is that this series of stories reveals much about the day to day lives, psyche, and mores of the people that lived in Louisville during the Victorian era.

From 1898 until well into the 1930s, 1154 S. Third St was the home of Reuben Post Halleck (1859-1936) .  His works    included Psychology and Psychic Culture (1895) History of English Literature (1900) History of American Literature (1911),  Halleck's New English Literature (1913), Readings from Literature co-authored with Elizabeth G Barbour (1915), History of Our Country (1923), Founders of Our Nation (1929), Makers of Our Nation (1930 ) and Our United States (1935).  Halleck was also principal of Louisville Male High School, and the main building of DuPont-Manual High School now bears his name.

We should not forget that also, among others, Charles W. Buck, an author and attorney, lived at 1468 St. James Court, and that Dr. Christopher Columbus Graham, a scientist, author, adventurer, and crack rifle shot, lived at 1348 South Third Street.

Now, through what we refer to as the "Magic of the Internet," it is possible to read many of the original works of these poets and authors on line.  Following is a list of links to many complete works by some of our beloved Old Louisville writers. 

Links to Writings on line:

Madison Cawein (1865-1914)

Kentucky Sonnets   Writings  Deserted  In the Forest  After the Tournament  Waste Land  The Man Hunt


Alice Hegan Rice (1870-1942)

Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch: 1901 The once idyllic Oakland Race Track, which faced 7th Street (Oakland Turnpike) just South of Magnolia in the early 19th Century, preceded Churchill Downs as Louisville's venue for horse racing.  The last race was held in 1850, and the area at the western edge of present-day Old Louisville became a military camp during the Civil War, and then a residential area, known as "the Cabbage Patch," housing the very poorest people of Louisville.  First hand contact with the social conditions in this enclave allowed Alice Hegan Rice to write the immensely popular and witty tale that exposed 'shocking' conditions of poverty in Louisville at the turn of 19th/20th centuries.

Alice Hegan Rice Literary Collection at WKU.  This site includes photos, sketches and other memorabilia of old Louisville authors Alice and Cale Young Rice.


Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931)

The Little Colonel 1895 The beginning of the series.  Set in now what is essentially a Louisville suburb, Pewee (Lloydsborough) Valley, a favorite summer retreat of Louisville aristocracy during Victorian times, this is the tale of a bitter old confederate colonel (based on the real-life character of Colonel John Weissinger) and his 5-year old granddaughter (real-life Hattie Cochran) who possessed a certain military demeanor from which she got her name.  A story of reconcilliation.

Two Little Knights of KentuckyTwo Little Knights of Kentucky 1899 Old Louisville's own William and Craig Culbertson are used as the models for little knights Malcolm and Keith in a fictionalized version of their winter and summer visiting their grandmother in Pewee (Lloydsboro) Valley at the close of the 19th century.  The relationships are real and even the bear was modeled after a performing bear that came to the valley during that time.  A real chance to meet the types of people that lived in and around our city over 100 years ago.  Don't miss the descriptions of a genuine Victorian era Valentine's party and the tableaux which comprised some of the most respected home-made entertainments of the time.
"Knighthood has not passed away.  The flower of chivalry has blossomed anew in the New World, and
America, too, has her 'Hall of the Shields'"

The Little Colonel's Holidays  1901 Several chapters of this 1900-1901 tale are set in "Old Louisville."  The Little Colonel and the Two Little Knights of Kentucky have grown a bit, and are joined by the Waltons, modeled after the family of General H. W. Lawton, a fallen hero of the Spanish American War.  The story revolves around the search for a little girl who has been "kidnapped" by her drunken father.  Yet the real interest may lie in the imagery of Victorian Louisville, good and bad, its values and mores (also good and bad), as well as the descriptions of Victorian holiday celebrations.  Well known early in the 20th Century was the Halloween party at the Haunted House of Hartwell Hollow (the house really existed, but burned down by the 1930s). 
"To 'The Little Captain' and his sisters  Whose proudest heritage is that they bear the name of a nation's hero"

The Complete Little Colonel Series by Annie Fellows Johnston are on the Little Colonel website hosted on OldLouisville.com.  Click the link above to read them all!

Recent Authors

Dr. Sena Jeter Naslund,  Kentucky Poet Laureate for 2005 - 2006, resides on St. James Court.   Besides writing over 400 works recognized nationally and internationally, she is Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Louisville; and Program Director of the Spalding University Master of Fine Arts in Writing. She is also the editor of the literary magazine, The Louisville Review Most recent novels include Sherlock in Love, the New York Times best seller Ahab's Wife, and Four Spirits, a story of the civil-rights movement.  Sena Jeter Naslund Official Web Site


J. D. Yeiser, The Body In The Barrel, a contemporary murder mystery, one of the key characters, Dr. Fritz Kaplan, lives in Old Louisville on Belgravia Court. Kentucky native author, J. D. Yeiser, has always been fascinated with the Old Louisville area and took the opportunity to ‘move in’ with the character. We wish there could have been more, but the detail is fascinating and flattering. 

The mystery details the efforts of a team of amateur detectives on the trail of the identity of a body discovered in a barrel of bourbon at the back of a warehouse and the murderer and his accomplices. Political intrigue and Washington sex scandals and scenes that sound like they are straight out of current headlines.

David Domine, Ghosts of Old Louisville "When the wind picks up and sets the dead leaves on the sidewalk to swirling, you might wonder who lived - and died - in the large brick mansion in front of you. When the air bristles with the fall chill, you could stop and ask yourself why someone is staring down at you from the third-story window of the large, uninhabited gray stone house across the street or why you hear organ music from the abandoned church on the corner. Take a stroll, and the past comes alive in Old Louisville, especially when the gaslights click on and night falls, and ghosts start to roam the streets."  David Domine lives on Third Street in Old Louisville.

Michael Wiliams, has published a series of novels of increasing oddness -- combinations of what he characterizes as "gothic/historical fiction/fantasy/sf/redneck magical realism" -- beginning with Weasel's Luck (1988) and Galen Beknighted (1990), and most recently the critically acclaimed Arcady (1996) and Allamanda (1997).  Michael Williams lives on St. Catherine Street.  More...



For those interested in literature on-line, check out the links below to tens of thousands more books on-line (libraries with a mouse-click).  Most are pre-1923 (the usual cut-off for writings in the public domain.)  Those of us who live in these fine Victorian homes can glean a wealth of information and insight into the lives and thoughts of their original inhabitants by reading the books they knew and held dear. 

Books on Line
A Celebration of Women Writers

Project Gutenberg
The Internet Public Library


Old Louisville Guide Home Page
Old Louisville National Historic District

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