Cities in the Commonwealth

Cities in the Commonwealth: Two Centuries of Urban Life in Kentucky

Copyright Date: 1982
Edition: 1
Pages: 162
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Cities in the Commonwealth
    Book Description:

    From the 1780s, when Louisville and Lexington were tiny clusters of houses in the wilderness, to the 1980s, when more than half of all Kentuckians live in urban areas, the growth of cities has affected nearly all aspects of life in the Commonwealth. These urban centers have led the state in economic, social, and cultural change.

    Cities in the Commonwealthexamines the crises that have shaped the history of Kentucky's cities and sheds light on such continuing concerns as urban competition, provision of essential services, the importance of the arts, and the struggle for racial justice.

    By allowing contemporaries to tell much of the story in their own words, Allen J. Share conveys a sense of the exuberance and dynamism of urban life and thought in Kentucky.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5026-0
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. [Illustration]
    (pp. x-x)
    (pp. 1-21)

    In 1773 the wilderness that would later become the Commonwealth of Kentucky lay virtually untouched, inviting yet menacing. “Odds were indeed great in 1773 against a settlement being planted in Kentucky,” historian Thomas D. Clark observed. “It was still too far in advance of the spreading line of civilization for safety.” But in August of that very year, hundreds of miles beyond the line of settlement, Captain Thomas Bullitt of Virginia and his small party were encamped just above the Falls of the Ohio on the south bank of the river, busily surveying land and laying out a town for...

    (pp. 22-45)

    Gain! gain! gain! Gain is the beginning, the middle, and the end, thealphaandomegaof the founders of American towns,” English traveler Morris Birkbeck exclaimed in 1817. In the period immediately following the War of 1812 a wave of urban speculation swept Kentucky and the Ohio Valley, set off by the optimism and prosperity of the era, the increasingly cultivated and settled character of the surrounding country, and the fact that a few places like Louisville, Lexington, and Cincinnati had already become populous and thriving cities. The boom was spurred on by an extraordinary currency inflation, widespread credit...

    (pp. 46-65)

    During the early decades of the nineteenth century, the cities in the Commonwealth were challenged by an urban crisis of formidable proportions and frustrating complexity. As young communities with little knowledge of the workings of municipal government, they had to struggle to meet the basic needs of rapidly expanding populations with inadequate revenues and with antiquated customs derived from rural and village experiences. Urbanization overwhelmed municipal administrations in Kentucky as elsewhere, and across the country civic leaders turned in desperation to temporary expedients, haphazard methods, and stopgap measures. “In nearly every field of municipal authority—police, fire, streets, water, and...

    (pp. 66-87)

    At the close of the Civil War, both Louisville and Cincinnati impatiently stood ready to reopen trade with the South and to renew their economic rivalry with each other. On April 29, 1865, the editor of theLouisville Daily Journalannounced that “we deem it a matter of the utmost importance that the freedom of trade [with the South] should be established at the earliest day possible which may be consistent with the idea of withholding supplies from the enemy.” He warned Falls City merchants that “none of our natural tributaries must be diverted from us by superior inducements, either...

    (pp. 88-108)

    Comic song-and-dance man Thomas D. Rice came to Louisville for the 1828–1829 theatrical season as a member of Samuel Drake’s illustrious touring company. At a stable located near Drake’s City Theatre, Rice observed the movements of an elderly slave named Jim Crow, described by contemporary Noah Ludlow as “a very black, clumsy negro.” As the slave tended his chores, he shuffled about, singing a little tune and, on the refrain, executing an awkward jump. Rice decided to incorporate the slave’s mannerisms into a blackface routine designated in the theater’s program as “the comic Negro song of ‘Jim Crow.’” Outfitted...

    (pp. 109-122)

    In 1937, journalist George R. Leighton published an article inHarper’s Magazineentitled “Louisville, Kentucky: An American Museum Piece.” Leighton charged that Louisville had become “the city of let-well-enough-alone,” and had prematurely entered upon an “ossified dotage.” “That any genuine intellectual life could flourish in such an atmosphere was of course impossible,” he sneered. “In the sciences there was a stygian darkness. Poetry was represented by the maunderings of Madison Cawein; the high point in the novel wasMrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch.” Anyone possessing an “active intellect was apt to move away,” for all that remained of the...

    (pp. 123-140)

    In 1970 the federal census revealed that, for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth, a majority of Kentuckians lived in cities. In statistical terms, 52.3 percent of the state’s total population of slightly over 3.2 million lived in the 102 cities of 2,500 people or more. Kentuckians had gone to town, and although they might entertain a wistful and superficial nostalgia for “the good old days,” they had no intention of returning to the land. As historian Thomas D. Clark pointed out, urban Kentuckians “love nothing better than to reminisce about those other times. They drive out...

  12. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 141-147)
  13. Index
    (pp. 148-150)