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Enjoy the lively charm of historic Louisville.

Once a year, amid mint juleps, flowery hats, and the fierce pounding of hooves, America's attention turns to Louisville for what has been called "the greatest two minutes in sports," the Kentucky Derby. The rest of the time, this city by the Ohio River is often overlooked by those outside the Bluegrass State. And that's a shame, because Louisville has much to offer: Southern grace and riverine culture, a past steeped in Civil War politics and 19th-century commerce, a lively downtown scene, good food, and, of course, bourbon - the real stuff, aged to golden perfection in charred oak barrels. So we invite you to join us June 20 - 23, 2010, for the 117th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, to explore what you don't know about Louisville. Whether you stroll to the riverfront to gaze across the Ohio, visit Main Street's Museum Row, view the world's largest baseball bat, or relive Derby classics at Churchill Downs, you're sure to have a memorable visit. In the following pages, we will guide you through some of Louisville's highlights and history. For more information, check

A Bend in the River

If rolling "blue" hills are an emblem of Kentucky, then the Ohio River is a distinctive feature of Louisville, the state's largest and best-known city. In the summer, breezes from the river help keep temperatures reasonable in the city's compact downtown. It's easy to walk and navigate, so even the busiest conference attendee can find time to take in some of the city's sights. Near the river, you'll find museums, shops, and cafés along Main Street. Join George Rogers Clark's commanding statue on Belvedere Plaza to take in the expansive sweep of the Ohio and the slow-moving barges easing downriver. Just beyond is the MacAlpine Lock and Dam, a designated historic civil engineering landmark dating to the 1820s. Riverwalk paths extend down to a system of urban parks and the dock of the Belle of Louisville steamboat, one of the last of the grand old "floating palaces."


In early centuries, the river was a key mode of transportation out West. But when its waters reached the enormous limestone outcropping today known as the Falls of the Ohio, travelers had to pause to portage, dragging their boats across the rocks and carefully navigating the shallow rapids. As a necessary stopping point, the area was ripe for development. During the Revolutionary War, George Rogers Clark claimed the territory on behalf of Virginia. Two years later, in 1780, the charter was established for the town, named for King Louis XVI of France, who backed American independence. It was George's brother, William Clark, who would later set off from the Falls, joining Meriwether Lewis on an exploration of the Pacific Northwest.

Louisville didn't hit its commercial stride until the turn of the 19th century, when engineer Robert Fulton refined commercial steamboat technology. Until then, travel upriver from New Orleans could take as long as four months; but in 1814, Fulton's steamboat made the trip in 25 days. By 1838, one visitor described Louisville as the greatest commercial port on the Ohio, with a sight of steamboats that "lay as thickly as they could, with their noses to the land, for the space of half a mile." The burgeoning river trade supported a new court system, paved roads, newspapers, hotels, and a population that doubled in 10 years. Louisville became the first Western city to illuminate its streets with gas lamps; by the 1850s, it gained a railroad, great numbers of German and Irish immigrants, and renown as a major meatpacking center.

Gardens and Grandeur

You'll need transportation to reach Old Louisville and the main campus of the University of Louisville, but both are worth the effort via car, bus, or trolley. Then walk through the stately neighborhoods of Belgravia and St. James Court, enjoying the parks and fountains, elaborate turreted stone structures, and charming gardens. Consider joining a guided tour of one of the most elegant Beaux-Arts mansions, the Conrad-Caldwell House.

Vats of corn mash are used
to make bourbon whiskey.

The tranquil elegance of Old Louisville belies the turbulence and strife that dominated the middle decades of the 19th century. Antebellum Louisville supported the largest slave market in the country, and when traveling aboard a local steamboat, Abraham Lincoln was dismayed to observe shackled slaves being "sold down the river" to Southern plantations. Mary Todd Lincoln shared her husband's anti-slavery position, though she was raised in a prosperous slave-owning Kentucky family and several of her relatives fought - and died - for the Confederacy. Such family divisions were not unusual in this Southern state, which remained in the Union but did not outlaw slavery, even after Lincoln's 1863 emancipation proclamation. Indeed, it was another Bluegrass native son - Jefferson Davis - who served as president of the Confederacy.

In the decades following the Civil War, Louisville experienced a manufacturing boom, aided by the expansion of the Louisville-Nashville Railroad. Hydraulic elevators, oil refineries, ironworks, and leather, paper, glass, and furniture factories all crowded into the city. The Southern Exposition, a huge industrial show held every year for five years in the late 1880s, demonstrated the brilliant new spectacle of local inventor Thomas Edison: incandescent bulbs, 4,600 of them. Louisville quickly gained an electric streetcar, high-rise office buildings, and three iron-and-steel railway bridges spanning the Ohio. As the wealthy moved further out to escape the thickening coal smoke, the city developed its first suburbs, and the renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted was commissioned to create three large public parks. The Cherokee, Iroquois, and Shawnee parks still today provide a verdant expanse at the city's edge, with plenty of opportunity for walking, biking, outdoor sports, and picnicking.


Take the kidsWithin easy driving distance of so many cities and replete with great activities for kids of various ages, Louisville is the perfect conference site for a family. Just down the street from the convention center is the Muhammad Ali Center, the Louisville Science Center, and the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. Watch the families cradling the souvenir miniature baseball bats as they exit the Slugger tour, and you'll be hard pressed to tell who is more thrilled - adults or children. Ball fans should also visit the nearby outdoor Louisville Slugger Field and catch the minor league Louisville Bats against Durham. At the Kentucky Derby Museum, everyone will enjoy the displays on champion jockeys and horses, as well as the 360-degree film presentation on horse racing and raising in Kentucky. But the real fun comes with the tour of Churchill Downs: visiting a thoroughbred horse, walking through the paddocks, and climbing the grandstands to view the racetrack. For younger children, the Art Sparks Interactive Gallery at the Speed Art Museum is a good choice, with workshops and creative activities, including "Planet Preschool" for toddlers. And don't forget nearby Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, with six roller-coaster rides and a refreshing water park.

Engineering, Galleries, and the Race for the Roses

A visit to the university campus means touring the J. B. Speed Engineering School, named after James Breckenridge Speed, who set up the city's first street railway. Established in 1925, near the end of Louisville's manufacturing boom, the school weathered an economic decline that began in the 1930s, when factories closed, businesses moved, and population shrank. Today Speed is an integral part of Louisville's resurgence, supporting seven fields of engineering and a long-standing co-op program that pairs students with industry for experiential internships. It is also the professional home of ASEE's popular current president and longtime Louisville resident, J.P. Mohsen.

Louisville found economic revival in the service economy. Still an important inland port - seventh largest in the country - the city boasts a revitalized downtown and serves as a worldwide hub for UPS. In recent decades, It has earned distinction for its medical services and research, with notable advances in heart, hand, and cancer research at the University of Louisville Health Sciences Center.

Before you leave the university campus, make time for the lovely Speed Museum of Art, the oldest and largest in Kentucky, with an extensive collection of African and ancient European works, decorative arts, and galleries showcasing the Native American cultures of the Great Plains.

Just beyond U of L, Churchill Downs is enjoyable even during the off-season. Its Kentucky Derby Museum provides an engaging look at the business and fun of horseracing in the state, including a 360-degree film capturing the thrill of Derby Day. A ticket includes a tour of the famous racetrack where you can lean against the rails, imagining those horses thundering down the track to the wild roars of the crowd.


Austin EatsMany of Louisville's culinary treats celebrate pleasure and comfort. Take the Hot Brown - a turkey and ham sandwich topped with melting cheese - and the dreamy walnut-and-chocolate Derby pie, both often served with a hint of rich bourbon flavoring. This is, after all, the city that originated the cheeseburger and was the home of Col. Harland Sanders of fried chicken fame. Beyond such indulgences, there's a tremendous choice in Louisville. Residents are both selective about their eats and proud of their local establishments. So it's a good bet you'll have more than one excellent meal while in town.

Nearby, 4th St. Live houses the largest offering of quick, reasonably priced eateries. For something more elaborate, try any one of several downtown locations. Bristol's is a favorite, with a welcoming atmosphere and some imaginative offerings, like the spicy Thai pasta. The elegant Vincenzio's, housed in a beautiful old bank building, offers fine Italian dining and exquisite desserts. Proof on Main, part of the fashionable 21c Museum Hotel, is fast becoming a Louisville landmark, with unusual signature dishes, including bison from the owner's nearby plantation. At the Seelbach Hotel, the Oakroom's sumptuous setting is rivaled only by the creativity of the menu and extensive wine list.

In the area of Old Louisville and the university, you'll find a number of locally owned cafés, with a low-key, relaxed setting and good sandwiches. To find the real action, however, you'll need to venture out along Bardstown Road or Frankfort Avenue for the bustling scene of bars, cafés, and restaurants intermingling with curio shops and bookstores. Nothing beats Lynn's Café, a local institution where the kooky décor is as breathtaking as the abundant servings of home fries, omlettes, and catfish. This is the place that sponsors an annual ugly lamp contest and where patrons dress in their pajamas on New Year's Day.

The several restaurants along the river also require transportation but reward you with good views of the Ohio, tasty seafood fare, and cooling drinks as you enjoy the summer sunset. Joe's Crab Shack is the closest, but the country drive to Captain's Quarters is a pleasure, as are the expansive outside deck, live music, and great food.

Attractions of Downtown: Arts, "the Greatest," and Home of the Slugger

The small park across from the convention center typifies the public spaces that have been carved out to tame this urban landscape, with fountains, benches, and colorful plexiglass horse statues. Gaze upward, and you'll find on the sides of buildings images of notable Louisville residents, part of a "hometown heroes" campaign - Diane Sawyer, KFC's Colonel Sanders, and philosopher-monk Thomas Merton.

Just down the street from the convention center and conference hotels is the 4th Street Live!, a lively pedestrian mall featuring familiar chains like the Hard Rock Café and TGI Fridays, as well as establishments with a distinctly local flavor - the Maker's Mark Bourbon House and Lounge, and Howl at the Moon nightclub. Outdoor performances are frequent during the summer, so the mall is a popular, if sometimes raucous, gathering spot.

Those who prefer a quieter venue, and the lush sense of a bygone era, should venture further down 4th Street to take in the opulent décor of the historic Seelbach Hotel, which F. Scott Fitzgerald chose as the setting for Daisy to wed Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. Equally impressive is the ornate 1920s Brown Hotel, origin of the Hot Brown sandwich, a sinful creation of turkey and bacon smothered in melted cheese.

Walking along Main Street, you can't miss the striking Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, which attests to the city's vibrant ballet, opera, and theater scene. While there, consider viewing KentuckyShow! a lightning-fast multimedia presentation that highlights the state's unique culture, from bourbon to horse racing to music, quilting, and farming. Just around the corner, the Muhammad Ali Center pays tribute to the professional boxing career of this Louisville native, as well as his political activism and commitment to social causes.

In the section known as Museum Row, you'll find hands-on exhibits at the Louisville Science Center; weapons and armory at the Frazier International History Museum; the small but elegant Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft; and the stylish 21c Museum, where several multimedia exhibits explore intersections of art, science, and computer imaging. GlassWorks Factory houses functioning artist studios, an exhibit space, and a gift shop.

Without a doubt, the most striking Main Street landmark is the enormous 68,000-pound baseball bat that rests outside the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. Inside, the factory tour allows visitors to watch the full process of making these famous bats and to cradle the favorite hitters of Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Derek Jeeter, and other greats.

Head for those Rolling, Bluegrass Hills

One of the pleasures of this year's ASEE Annual Conference site is its accessibility - Louisville is reputed to be within 500 miles of half the U.S. population and is within driving distance of many major cities. If you come by car, consider a leisurely return, touring along Kentucky's scenic highways and country roads. Head north to the Appalachians or south to the stunning lakes region. Visit one of several horse farms of Eastern Kentucky or join the "bourbon trail." Guided tours of Makers Mark, Heaven Hill, and the historic Woodford Reserve distilleries all demonstrate the precise work of producing Kentucky's famed liquor. Just outside Louisville are the historic plantations of Locust Grove and Farmington, where visitors gain a sense of traditional working farms and the importance of the state's agriculture.

Whether you're seeking the entertainments in town, rich and complex history, art and culture, or just relaxing over a "bourbon and branch," you'll find Louisville easy to enjoy and much harder to forget.


Robin Tatu is senior editor of Prism.

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