Massive restoration effort to preserve history at Portland Wharf Park


By Walter Munday
Outreach Manager
e-mail Walter 

Before highways and railroads, the river served the great transportation needs of a young nation. Though smoother and faster than travel by foot, river travel was fraught with danger and delay. One such obstacle was located on the river near Portland and Louisville where travelers encountered the dangerous 28-foot drop at the Falls of the Ohio.

General William Lytle of Cincinnati owned the land next to the harbor below the Falls and in 1811 laid out the town of Portland. He planned to sell the lots to finance his plan to build a canal around the Falls. The town grew as travelers portaged around the Falls and later when steamboats made it possible to come up river.

Later, the port served as the terminus of the New Orleans run. Lytle never fulfilled his dream of building a canal but in 1829, an innovative three-tier lock system allowed the Louisville and Portland canal to by-pass the Falls. The reduced time and effort to pass the Falls improved river traffic and the Portland Wharf expanded into a bustling riverside town.

Today, Metro Parks serves to protect and share this rich maritime past of Portland Wharf Park through the support of partners in the Portland community. Plans for sharing important resources include interpretive exhibits and educational opportunities within and outside the park boundaries. Archaeological and Interpretive work is conducted in cooperation with the Portland Museum, the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Archaeological Survey.

Portland Wharf Park preserves the remains of the original and oldest part of the town of Portland once a thriving and bustling nineteenth century river town. The park encompasses 55 acres (consisting of six city blocks) along the banks of the Ohio River, just below the Falls, and the entrance to the Portland Canal. It is primarily a forested environment with dense trees and undergrowth interrupted by symmetrical swaths of mowed grass and an open meadow.

The site is bound by a railroad bridge on the east, the Ohio River on the north, a golf course on the west, and an earthen levee and elevated interstate highway on the south. Portland Wharf Park is designated as a National Historic Landmark, and is maintained by Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation. The archaeological remains of the town (Portland Proper), including streets, sidewalks, building foundations, privies, cisterns, and thousands of artifacts dating from the early 1800s to the early 1900s are preserved in several areas of the site.

The largest threat to the preserving this site is the unstable riverbank as shown in photos like the one below:


To address this issue, the US Army Corp of Engineers has evaluated the streambank erosion problems along the Ohio River within the Portland Wharf Park boundary heading westward along the paved river walk (Louisville Loop) trail, and have located two erosion locations within River Mile 607.4 and 607.6.

In addition, similar erosion issues exist between River Mile 610.1 and 610.6. The Riverbank Stabilization Project at Portland Wharf Park is set to begin this spring.

Recent photos in this post were taken Tuesday, February 14, 2017, as part of a coordinated effort between the US Corp of Engineers and Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation to rescue historical stone materials from the original Portland Wharf.


The stones will be used for future interpretive elements at park.

What’s in a name? William H. Britt Park established in 1975


By Walter Munday
Outreach Manager
E-mail Walter

William H. Britt Park was originally named MINI-PARK B by the City of Louisville and the Metropolitan Parks and Recreation Board in 1971 with a permanent name to follow.

Prior to becoming a park, the site formally consisted  of many single family, bungalow-type, dwellings which were substandard and at the request of the neighborhood organization, the property was acquired and designed to meet the needs of the elderly residents who desired a passive open space.

It is across the street from Elliott Park, a 3.9 acre piece of land which provides multi-recreational facilities.

In 1975, following a request from Mary Green, a member of the Russell Area Council, MINI-PARK B was renamed in honor William H. Britt.

Mr. Britt was a strong and dedicated neighborhood leader in the Russell Neighborhood, and had spearheaded the efforts to create the park.   Mr. Britt was one of original members of the Russell Area Council.

So… following a vote from the Louisville Board of Alderman, MINI-PARK B became William H. Britt Memorial Park.

What’s in a name? Russell Lee Park a testament to political leader’s legacy

russell-lee-parkBy Walter Munday
Outreach Manager
E-mail Walter 

Russell Lee Park in west Louisville is the home of the Southwick Community Center and is situated near the Villages of Park DuValle neighborhood. But, who was Russell Lee?

Russell P. Lee was a local elected official, veteran, and a probation officer who was active in working with the youth throughout Louisville.

He was first elected to the Board of Alderman in 1960-61.  He was a veteran of World War II, and a Jefferson County Probation Officer.

According to the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia.

Russell P. Lee


Alderman Lee joined Louise Reynolds as the first African-Americans ever elected to the city’s Board of Alderman. Lee served the 8th Ward.

He was a native of Elizabethtown, Ky.  In addition to politics, Lee was a real estate manager, a former supervisor for the National Youth Administration, an advertising representative for the Louisville Defender.

Lee died of cancer at Louisville’s General Hospital in 1965 at the age of 57 while serving in his second term as a Louisville Alderman.

Three years following his death, a park at 35th & Southern Avenue was named in his honor.             

African-American History Month series: Hays Kennedy Park


NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles highlighting African-American history throughout Louisville’s parks system.

By Walter Munday
Outreach Manager
E-mail Walter

In the aftermath of one of our city’s worst natural disasters in recorded history (1974 Tornado), a beacon of light shined along the banks of the Ohio River in northeast Louisville.  Approximately three months after that infamous tornado, neighborhood and church leaders joined elected and park officials to dedicate the then-new Hays Kennedy Park on July 27, 1974.

Before Jefferson County Fiscal Court purchased the 78 acres in February 1969, the land was originally owned by James S. and Bettie L. Taylor (now Bettie Johnson).  Mr. Taylor was the son of James T. Taylor, a local entrepreneur who grew up in Harrods Creek to become a farmer, a school bus driver, a road and bridge builder, quarry owner and president of the James T. Taylor Real Estate Company.  The elder Taylor is credited for developing the traditionally African-American neighborhood following the purchase of the A. E. Shirley farm (Shirley Avenue) around 1920. He is believed to have been the state’s first licensed African American realtor.  The younger Taylor and his wife purchased the property adjacent to his father’s land from the Bass Family (Bass Road).

Prior to purchase of the land, the old Jefferson County Playground and Recreation Board, under the leadership of Charlie Vettiner, helped coordinate recreational programs at the Harrods Creek Recreation Center; formerly the Jacob Colored School building on Jacob School Road.  Mr. Vettiner believed strongly that it was important for the communities surrounding those parks to be actively involved with recreational programs.  He believed that partnering with the community would instill ownership in the programs and the parks.  Later, the Prospect-Harrods Creek Optimist Club and the Prospect-Harrods Creek Park and Recreation Association, Inc. stepped forward.

One of the most faithful volunteers was Ms. Hays Robinson Kennedy.  Ms. Kennedy was a “nurturing soul” who loved children.  Not having any biological children of her own, she adopted all of the kids in the neighborhood – black and white.  She coordinated activities for the young people in the neighborhood.  Ms. Edith Edmondson, a lifelong resident of the Harrods Creek, was one of those neighborhood kids, and vividly remembers Ms. Kennedy and the cross-town softball games between the J-town and Newburg Centers.

“Ms. Kennedy loved kids.  She was definitely committed to volunteer service.  She worked hard to coordinate activities for the kids and raise money for programs and playground equipment,” Ms. Edmonson said.

Ms. Kennedy was born Hays Robinson to Henry and Louise Robinson on March 1, 1893, in Louisville, Kentucky.  She was the sixth of nine children. She was a longtime member of Lampton Baptist Church, and started attending Harrods Creek Baptist Church when she married Calvin Kennedy on November 23, 1923.  Mr. Kennedy was the brother of Rev. Harrison Kennedy who was a founding member and pastor of Harrods Creek Baptist Church on River Road.  Mr. Kennedy died in October of 1966.  At Harrods Creek Baptist Church, she participated as a Watchcare member for 45 years before she moved her membership permanently as part of a promise to Rev. C. Owens, her pastor at Lampton Baptist Church who asked her not to move her membership as long as he lived.

For most of her life, Ms. Kennedy performed domestic work.  Ms. Lonzetta Howard, a long-time member of Harrods Creek neighborhood, remembers working with her at W.L. Lyons and Sally Brown’s home. She remembered that she was such a loving person.  Ms. Kennedy also worked for more than 20 years at St. Francis in the Fields Church on Wolf Pen Branch Road from 1948 to until 1971.  Ms. Kennedy left St. Francis when her sister’s illness necessitated her care.

Meme Sweets Runyon, Executive Director, River Fields, fondly remembers Ms. Kennedy when she attended nursery school at St. Francis in the Fields Church.  Ms. Runyon remembers how kind and gentle Ms. Kennedy was.  “She was adored by everyone,” Runyon said.  She went on to say that one of the things she remembers most about Ms. Kennedy was that she used to “flip” cookies to her while she was at school.

On November 15, 1972, the Prospect-Harrods Creek Optimist Club was formed.  Its charter membership was intentionally developed to be racially-balanced with the purpose of “busying themselves with youth programs in the area”, as noted in the Prospect News, a local newspaper published in the area.  Some of the members included: Matthew Coomer, Stuart Kane, Cordell P. Franklin, Alex Jones, Frank Clay, Sr., F. Deedom Alston, William Kellar, William E. Taylor, Charles Wilson, Bill Bartley, James Bond, George A. Roberts, Martin Dunbar, Jr. and Steve Rauh.

Their first big project was to develop the newly identified park.  Several local churches, including Green Castle Baptist Church, Harrods Creek Baptist Church, and St. Francis in the Field Episcopal Church, joined the Prospect-Harrods Creek Optimist Club, and the Metropolitan Parks and Recreation Department to name the park.  On Saturday, July 27, 1974, their dreams were realized with the dedication of the Hays Robinson Kennedy Park.  A memorial now stands at the park with the following biblical passage printed on it which reads “suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not:  for such is the Kingdom of God”.

A copy of the original flyer distributed in 1974 promoting the official dedication service.

On that day, Congressman Ron Mazzoli, Marlow Cook (representing Governor Julian

Carroll), County Judge-Executive Todd Hollenbach and County Commissioners Tom Helm, Ray Kirchdorfer and Glen McDonald, William Summers, and Metro Parks Director Carl Bradley, joined area clergy, neighbors and friends as they gathered to honor Ms. Hays Kennedy, and take part in the dedication service.

Following the dedication, the momentum continued to move forward.  The Prospect-Harrods Creek Park and Recreation Association was formed, and even the Hays Kennedy Park Foundation was created in the late 70’s and early 80’s which raised money to build the concession stand and some of the courts at the park.  Their big dream was to raise enough money to build a community center, but unfortunately that never happened.  Two names prominent for spearheading the fundraising efforts are Ms. Velma Booth and Lois Troyer McGrath.)

After more than a half-century of service to the Harrods Creek neighborhood Ms. Kennedy passed away on January 15, 1985, at the age of 91.  A Courier-Journal article (date/author unknown) I found in our files here at Metro Parks highlights Ms. Kennedy’s volunteer service.  The short article is titled “Fund-raiser for Children”.  It calls attention to Ms. Kennedy’s simple fundraising techniques, which often included regular collecting of bottles along the side of the road, and organizing fish fries and ice cream socials, all to raise money for playground equipment and youth programs.

Her love and commitment to helping others resounds loudly through the many voices and memories of those with whom I spoke who remembered Ms. Kennedy.  While many of our parks carry the name of Indian tribes, former politicians, explorers, and philanthropists, Hays Kennedy Park bears the name of a “good shepherd” whose unyielding sacrifice and perseverance are an everlasting testament to her legacy.

A famous quote from a famous French/Cuban poet comes to my mind.  It reads…

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Hays Kennedy Park is located off River Roa,  Bass Road to Beachland Beach Road.   It has a paved walking path, a picnic shelter with restrooms, lighted tennis courts, basketball courts, new playground, ball-fields and so much more.  Hays Kennedy Park is adjacent to the Garvin Brown Preserve, a 46-acre nature preserve owned and preserved by River Fields.  Garvin Brown Preserve is open to the public from dawn until dusk daily.  Please take time out to visit Hays Kennedy Park and/or one of our 121 other parks.


Metro Parks and Recreation: looking for (more than) a few good lifeguards


By Keith Smith
Aquatics Supervisor
e-mail Keith

The lifeguard position ensures the safety of pool patrons and assists with aquatic programs and pool operation. Did you know that from 2005-2016, there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non-boating related) annually in the United States — about ten deaths per day.

The average age of a lifeguard is between 16 and 18 years of age.  The young lifeguard has a lot of responsibilities, each time that a lifeguard goes into the lifeguard chair he has the life of each swimmer in that pool in his hands, he or she at any given second could be face with the reality that they might have to save a life.

I am an aquatic professional with 22 years’ experience training lifeguards, I have trained YMCA lifeguards and American Red Cross lifeguards and the training is challenging, the student learns the importance of maintaining lifeguarding knowledge and skills. The American Red Cross lifeguard program is 28 to 30 hours and teaches:

  • Surveillance skills to help you recognize and prevent injuries
  • Rescue skills – in the water and on land
  • First aid training and professional rescuer CPR – to help prepare you for any emergency
  • Professional lifeguard responsibilities like interacting with the public and addressing uncooperative patrons

To become a lifeguard you must first pass the prerequisite skills test which includes a 300 yard swim (100 freestyle, 100 breaststrokes, and 100 choice of freestyle or breaststroke) and you must swim 20 yards and surface dive 10 feet retrieving a 10 pound brick. Once the swimmer has retrieved the brick then the swimmer must swim 20 yards on their back while holding the brick to the original starting point. The swimmer must exit the water without using a ladder or steps. This prerequisite must be completed in 1 min and 40 seconds. The student must be able to tread water for two minutes without using hands.

Once the students complete the lifeguard class they must obtain a lifeguard permit from the Louisville Metro Board of Health to work in Louisville Metro which consist of passing a Board of Health guard course (water skills) and passing a written test.

Louisville Metro Parks Aquatics will be hosting American Red Cross Lifeguard classes at the Mary T. Meagher Aquatic Center at 201 Reservoir Ave. now through the end of May. The cost of the classes is $200. Anyone who is interested in being a lifeguard for Louisville Metro Parks may take the class for free!

Please contact Keith Smith at the Mary T Meagher Aquatic Center at (502)895-6499 or by e-mailing me.

What’s in a name? Sheppard Park

The picnic pavilion in Sheppard Park, located in Louisville’s Russell Neighborhood

By Walter Munday
Metro Parks and Recreation Outreach Manager
e-mail Walter

Sheppard Park is located a 1601 Magazine Street in Louisville’s Russell Neighborhood.  The park is listed at 1.93 acres, and was acquired in 1925.  Sheppard Park was named for Rev. William Henry Sheppard, a Presbyterian Minister of Grace Hope Presbyterian Church in the Smoketown Neighborhood.  Sheppard is renowned for this Human Rights work in the Congo in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s.

Sheppard Square Public Housing Development was also named in honor of Rev. Sheppard.  Sheppard’s Square was located in the historic Smoketown neighborhood. The site was comprised of 16.5 acres and is bordered by Finzer, Clay, Lampton and Preston Streets. Construction of the original Sheppard Square buildings was completed in 1942. At the time of grant award, the site included 326 apartments. The rich history of the Sheppard Square site and the surrounding Smoketown neighborhood is featured in More than Bricks and Mortar: the Sheppard Square Story, a documentary by local filmmaker Lavel White.

In 2011, it was announced that Sheppard’s Square would become Louisville’s third HOPE VI project.  The program used a $22 million federal grant to leverage $74.5 million in additional investment and resources to replace the aging public housing unit with mixed-use, affordable housing developments.

Sheppard Park was acquired in 1925, three years before Rev. Sheppard’s death.  This is one year following the segregation of city parks.  Sheppard Park was one of first three parks opened to African Americans, which also included Chickasaw Park and Seminole Park (a victim of airport relocation).

Mayor Wilson W. Wyatt was on hand to dedicate the new Sheppard Park, which offered a playground, swimming pool, tennis courts, a restroom and ball fields and courts for residents in the surrounding African American neighborhood.

William Henry Sheppard 
Congo’s African-American Livingstone

Born March 8, 1865 in Waynesboro, Virginia, William Henry Sheppard, a black man, was never a slave. His mother was of mixed-race background, which status made him a free black. His father was an employee of the local all-white Presbyterian Church, serving as janitor. Growing up, he was enrolled in the local school for blacks. Showing great resolve, he next enrolled at the Hampton Institute in 1880 in Hampton, Virginia, where Booker T. Washington was one of his instructors. Then graduating from Hampton in 1883, he moved on to the Tuscaloosa Theological Seminary (now Stillman College). After graduation in 1886, he became an ordained Presbyterian minister in the Presbyterian Church in the United States.


Dr. William H. & Lucy G. Sheppard. Charcoal portrait by Greg MacNair, 2005. Used by permission. [This portrait hangs just outside the reading room of the PCA Historical Center.] 

Becoming a pastor at Zion Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, Shepherd found himself restless and applied with the PCUS Mission board to go to the Congo as a missionary. When several applications received only vague rejections, Rev. Sheppard finally traveled to the headquarters and applied in person. Prejudices died hard in the former Confederacy, and this was evident by their initial refusal and final acceptance. He could go to the Congo as a foreign missionary, but only if a white missionary would supervise him. To his surprise, a young white minister by the name of Samuel Lapsley, volunteered to go with him in that position. They sailed to the Congo on February 25, 1890. Despite what the mission board stated at home, these two missionaries soon were treating each other as equals. Arriving at what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they set about founding a mission in a village known as Luebo. Despite contracting malaria numerous times, Shepherd managed to adapt to the African climate and setting far better than did Lapsley, who died of a fever after only two years on the field, in 1892.

Of Lapsley’s death, Rev. Shepherd wrote,

“Before this time you will have learned of the Mission’s loss. My friend and brother left Luebo, Jan. 6th, 1892, for the Lower Congo to attend to some business about the transport, and our land. He thought also a change would be beneficial to him, expected to return by the next steamer. I went forth with the people to do some building that our home might be more comfortable. For those two years we have labored as one. We have loved and cared for each other as though we were brothers. We have never been separated only this once, and it grieves my heart that I was so far from him. Oh! that I could have kneeled by his side to catch the last whisper before he slept. [The Missionary, 25.10 (Oct. 1902): 415]. ”

Shepherd learned the language of the natives, which in turn enabled him to discover parts of the Congo where no outsiders had visited. He even found himself in a village of King Luckenga, which presence was in itself equivalent to a death sentence. However, Shepherd’s fluency in the language persuaded the king’s family that he was a reincarnation of one of their dead relatives.

In 1893, Sheppard left Africa to travel to London, England. He met Queen Victoria and was inducted into England’s Royal Geographic Society. Back in the United States, he lectured all over the States. Marrying Lucy Gantt, whom he had met just after he had graduated from the theological institute, they started a family. Expanding the first mission, they started a second Congo mission. When two of their children succumbed in disease, Lucy in 1898 took their third baby back to the United States, where they remained for two years.

In the next year, there was a new challenge. Shepherd began to notice the exploitation of the black tribes under the colonial ruler, Belgium, and specifically King Leopold II of Belgium. In essence, it was slavery in all of its terrible forms, with atrocities right and left. Specifically, Belgium rubber companies were exploiting the land and its people, Sheppard recounted incredible violence including murder and mutilation. The Presbyterian Church had a spiritual interest in that part of the world, but it also was concerned with these human rights issues. In 1908, Sheppard brought the national colonial government to task, with pressure through the media.  Sheppard’s victory secured his status as an international human rights advocate.

Sheppard returned to the United States and he and his family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, in 1912 where he had been recruited by Louisville’s Grace Hope Presbyterian Church to become their next pastor.  He was officially installed as the church pastor on September 15, 1912.  He pastored Grace Hope for 27 years.   According to the Encyclopedia of Louisville, Sheppard’s presence as a well-known and respected black minister brought new life to the church and the Smoketown community.  Not only Smoketown, but Sheppard led Grace Hope to become the center for black Presbyterian leadership in Kentucky.  Sheppard spoke around the city raising money for the church’s mission work in the black community.

In 1924, three years before his death, Sheppard Park in the Russell Neighborhood was opened and named in his honor.  This is the same year that city officials officially segregated parks.  Sheppard Park was one of three parks opened to African Americans which also included Chickasaw Park.  Mayor Wilson W. Wyatt was on hand to dedicate the new Sheppard Park, which offered a playground, swimming pool, and green space for residents in the surrounding African American neighborhood.      Along the way Sheppard wrote a book titled “Black Livingstone,” which recounts the explorer’s difficult return to the United States, a racially divided world where even his white colleagues, who knew of his impressive accomplishments, considered him inferior. It states: “Sheppard found it necessary to repackage himself as a humble Sunday school teacher.”

Sheppard was also known for his appreciation for African Art.  Several of the pieces he collected are housed in the J.B. Speed Art Museum and at the Hampton Institute in Hampton, VA.

Sheppard died in on November 25, 1927. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral.  He was eulogized by both black and white clergy alike.  Fifteen years later, when the $1.4 million Sheppard Square (named in his honor) was completed and dedicated with great fanfare, one of Sheppard’s colleagues at the church wrote in a memo: “May his name be a constant inspiration to the occupants of these homes.”

In an LEO article in 2011 following the announcement of a $22 million HUD HOPE VI Revitalization grant to demolish Sheppard’s Square, Dr. J. Blaine Hudson, who’s studied Rev. Sheppard extensively, offered this comment,

“I don’t think Sheppard would’ve been pleased with the project becoming more of a dead end to people rather than a launching pad for people to go on to other, better things.”

Park Workers’ heroism, quick thinking save capsized boater


(pictured, from left: Ron Mills, Tyler Piccuito and Matt Blankenship. Not pictured is Jimmy McCoy)

from Metro Parks and Recreation staff
e-mail us

Four Metro Parks and Recreation Forestry Division workers displayed bravery and quick thinking on the afternoon of Dec. 27, 2016, as they saved a man from drowning and hypothermia exposure at Long Run Lake.

At approximately 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 27, a passer-by stopped the crew, consisting of Matt Blankenship (Forestry Supervisor 1), Tyler Piccuito (Forester I), Ron Mills (Forestry Supervisor 1) and Jimmy McCoy (Forestry Supervisor II), and alerted them that the man had fallen from the boat near the Long Run Lake Dam and was clutching its side in the frigid water.

Immediately, Blankenship, Piccuito, Mills and McCoy took action, locating the man near the dam, on the eastern portion of the lake. They entered the water and pulled the man to shore when instinct and training took over, taking off his wet clothes and then covering him with their own dry clothes, including their jackets, to keep him warm and calm before the Anchorage Fire Department and EMS showed to assist.

The man, was taken to the hospital by EMS, was treated and released.

Jimmy McCoy

“I’m very proud of these men for recognizing the danger this citizen found himself in, and for the quick and decisive action they took in possibly saving his life,” Parks and Recreation Director Seve Ghose said. “It’s also a testament to what type of guys these are that they didn’t take a split second to consider the danger they were placed in. They simply saw someone who was in need – and allowed that to become their immediate priority without regard to their own safety.”
Blankenship, Piccuito, Mills and McCoy are the second Metro Parks and Recreation crew to assist in a dangerous situation within the last several months. On August 18, park workers Ricky Duncan and Bryan Haynes lifted a vehicle off a man who was pinned beneath in the Clifton Neighborhood, saving him from serious injury.

“It’s good for all of our employees to be aware of what to do when placed in a challenging situation outside their core duties,” Ghose said. “Our primary goal is to serve the public. You never know what you might be faced with in that capacity, and these are two great examples of what our workers are capable of doing when the situation calls for it.”