Louisville (generally pronounced or by natives, and by others) is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the 28th most populous city in the United States. It is one of two cities in Kentucky designated as first-class, with the other being the state's second-largest city of Lexington. Louisville is the historical seat and, since 2003, the nominal seat of Jefferson County.
Louisville was founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark and is named after King Louis XVI of France, making Louisville one of the oldest cities west of the Appalachian Mountains. Sited beside the Falls of the Ohio, the only major obstruction to river traffic between the upper Ohio River and the Gulf of Mexico, the settlement first grew as a portage site. It was the founding city of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, which grew into a system across 13 states. Today the city is known as the home of the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Fried Chicken, the University of Louisville and its Louisville Cardinals athletic teams, Louisville Slugger baseball bats, and three of Kentucky's six Fortune 500 companies. Its main airport is also the site of UPS's worldwide air hub.
Since 2003, Louisville's borders have been with those of Jefferson County because of a city-county merger. The official name of this consolidated city-county government is the Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government, with Louisville Metro used for short. Despite the merger and renaming, the term "Jefferson County" continues to be used in some contexts in reference to Louisville Metro, particularly including the incorporated cities outside the "balance" which make up Louisville proper. The city's total consolidated population as of the 2013 census estimate was 756,832. However, the balance total of 609,893 excludes other incorporated places and semi-autonomous towns within the county and is the population listed in most sources and national rankings.
The Louisville-Jefferson County, KY-IN Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), sometimes also referred to as Kentuckiana, includes Louisville-Jefferson County and twelve surrounding counties, eight in Kentucky and four in Southern Indiana. As of 2013, the MSA had a population of 1,262,261, ranking 43rd nationally.
The history of Louisville spans hundreds of years, and has been influenced by the area's geography and location.
Early history and founding
The rapids at the Falls of the Ohio created a barrier to river travel and, as a result, settlements grew up at this stopping point. The first European settlement in the vicinity of modern-day Louisville was on Corn Island in 1778 by Col. George Rogers Clark, credited as the founder of Louisville. Several landmarks in the community are named after him.
Two years later, in 1780, the Virginia General Assembly approved the town charter of Louisville. The city was named in honor of King Louis XVI of France, whose soldiers were then aiding Americans in the Revolutionary War. Early residents lived in forts to protect themselves from Indian raids, but moved out by the late 1780s. In 1803, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark organized their expedition across America in the town of Clarksville, Indiana at the present-day Falls of the Ohio opposite Louisville, Kentucky.
The city's early growth was influenced by the fact that river boats had to be unloaded and moved downriver before reaching the falls. By 1828, the population had swelled to 7,000 and Louisville became an incorporated city. The city grew rapidly in its formative years.
Louisville was a major shipping port and slaves worked in a variety of associated trades. The city was often a point of escape for slaves to the north, as Indiana was a free state.
On March 27, 1890 the city was devastated and its downtown nearly destroyed when an F4 tornado tore through as part of the middle Mississippi Valley tornado outbreak. An estimated 74 to 120 people were killed.
20th and 21st centuries
In late January and February 1937, of rain fell during a month of heavy rain. It caused the "Great Flood of '37". The flood submerged about 70% of the city, caused the loss of power and forced the evacuation of 175,000 residents. It led to dramatic changes in where residents lived. Today, the city is protected by numerous flood walls. After the flood, the areas of high elevation in the eastern part of the city saw decades of residential growth.
Louisville was a center for factory war production during World War II. In May 1942, the U.S. government assigned the Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Company, a war plant located at Louisville's air field, for wartime aircraft production. The factory produced the C-46 Commando cargo plane, among other aircraft. In 1946 the factory was sold to International Harvester, which began large-scale production of tractors and agricultural equipment. In 1950, the Census Bureau reported Louisville's population as 84.3% white and 15.6% black.
For many years Louisville was home to the Belknap Hardware and Manufacturing Company, one of the largest manufacturers and wholesale distributors of hardware in the United States.
Similar to many other older American cities, Louisville began to experience a movement of people and businesses to the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s. Middle class residents used newly built freeways and interstate highways to commute to work, moving into more distant but newer housing. Because of tax laws, businesses found it cheaper to build new rather than renovate older buildings. Economic changes included a decline in local manufacturing. The West End and older areas of the South End, in particular, began to decline economically as many local factories closed.
Since the 1980s, many of the city's urban neighborhoods have been revitalized into areas popular with young professionals and college students. The greatest change has occurred along the Bardstown Road/Baxter Avenue and Frankfort Avenue corridors as well as the Old Louisville neighborhood. In recent years, such change has also occurred in the East Market District (NuLu).
Since the late 1990s, Downtown has experienced significant residential, tourist and retail growth, including the addition of major sports complexes KFC Yum! Center and Louisville Slugger Field, conversion of waterfront industrial sites into Waterfront Park, openings of varied museums (see Museums, galleries and interpretive centers below), and the refurbishing of the former Galleria into the bustling entertainment complex Fourth Street Live!, which opened in 2004.