Historians: Whiskey Row survived fires and floods, will survive again

Historians: Whiskey Row survived fires and floods, will survive again
Seventy-five firefighters worked to put out the fire. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Seventy-five firefighters worked to put out the fire. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Historic Whiskey Row (Source: UofL Archives)
Historic Whiskey Row (Source: UofL Archives)
Tom Owen (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Tom Owen (Source: WAVE 3 News)
David Domine (Source: WAVE 3 News)
David Domine (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - For historians and preservationists excited about the revitalization of historic Whiskey Row, Monday's fire in three buildings of the 100 block of Main Street came as a devastating blow. Despite that, they have found a silver lining in the block's history of survival.

There's a reason people say they just don't build them like they used to. Preservation Louisville, the group that fought so hard for revitalization of Whiskey Row, said the buildings have been through floods, tornadoes and fires before and they will survive again.

Metro Councilman, historian and University of Louisville archivist Tom Owen said of the fire that smoked some of the recent progress of the block, "We had turned the corner, we had turned the corner."

[RELATED: Firefighters knock down 3-alarm blaze, preserve Whiskey Row facades]

Louisvillians were so close to seeing new life brought to Main Street's Whiskey Row before Monday's fire.

"It is a real tragedy that block, that side of the street," Owen said.

The 100 block of West Main Street, between 1st and 2nd Streets, is a historic commercial corridor.

"It was a couple of blocks from the river, so you had ships coming and going," said Louisville Historian and author David Domine.

In the late 1800s, street cars were seen in front of multiple types of businesses. The block was an economic hub, not only in Louisville but in the United States, with the L&N Railroad Station and ticket office, pork producers, warehouses and of course, the reason it got its name.

"The reason it's called Whiskey Row," Owen said, "is that there were several whiskey distributors and whiskey makers housed in those three four story buildings with warehousing operations down the bank of the river down to Washington Street."

And as the years went by, commerce continued in the Victorian era buildings.

"We had dry goods merchants, there were department stores down there at one time and that's where Belknap hardware was, that was the largest hardware store in the world," Domine said. "The original Galt House (Hotel) which was said to be the most luxurious hotel in the United States."

Domine explained, it rivaled hotels in Europe and when Charles Dickens came to town that's where he stayed.

That history is the reason why when the buildings started crumbling in the 1990s preservationists fought in court and on the streets to save them or at least their facades. City dollars were then loaned and private money was invested.

Owen said of the fire, "That's what's so sad that they were to be a Brown-Forman Old Forester Visitors Center and I hope it's not damaged because it's right up against the fire."

Considering what the block has been through, Domine said this may be just another chapter in its historic survival

"Hopefully, this is something they can overcome, just another bump in the road," he said.

Not that long ago, developers began referring to the block as the Iron Quarter, because there's so much cast iron in many of the buildings. But to historians it's Whiskey Row and its progress will, at some point, move forward.

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