Shelby Park: A History
March 13, 2013
In the early 1900’s Shelby Park neighborhood was a dense urban and industrial area. Louisville Mayor Paul Barth commented, “The neighborhood is thickly settled with men who have families. For the most part they have little space for breathing as the houses are close together.” Mayor Barth championed the need for a city park in the neighborhood, “Few people realize the need of a park in that section of the city. They have no park with in their reach.” The Board of Park Commissioners purchased the land that became Shelby Park at a cost of $75,000. It was named for Kentucky’s first governor, Isaac Shelby.
Designed by the Olmsted firm, it is the only Louisville park designed in conjunction with a Carnegie Library. Shelby Park is an example of Beaux Art design created during a time when physical fitness and active recreation became the driving force in park design.
By 1910 the 17-acre park was one of the most patronized in Louisville. Tennis and track meets were held and there is record of 1000 spectators coming out to watch one track meet. Park features included hard sand croquet courts, tennis courts, separate gymnasiums for men and woman, gymnastic apparatus, a pole vaulting area and basketball courts.
After 1970, Shelby Park was used less as many families moved to suburban nieghborhoods. As park usage declined so did maintenance and upkeep. In 1999, Jefferson County Board of Education proposed using half of Shelby Park as a site for a new elementary school. Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Mayor Abramson and neighbors advocated saving the park. Mayor Abramson offered a $100,000 towards park improvements if the Conservancy agreed to raise matching funds. This public-private partnership resulted in the creation of a master plan and the successful completion of many improvements resulting in the restoration of this historical park.
While the master plan projects are not complete, much has been accomplished. Shelby Park and the surrounding neighborhood are experiencing revitalization as a result of the improvements. Support received from corporate partner Gresham, Smith & Partners and the Shelby Park Neighborhood Association’s commitment to the park is crucial to keeping Shelby Park a beautiful community asset.
Master Plan improvements from 1999-2010 include:
•New curbing and bollards along the perimeter to eliminate vehicles inside the park.
•New basketball, tennis courts, walkways, benches and lighting
•Restoration of the pavilion and bandstand.
•Extensive tree planting.
•A new sprayground replacing the swimming pool, new walking path connecting it to an existing playground, and improvements to restrooms.