Sinkholes swallowing people in West End, U of L archivist knows why
By Ginny Washbish–
A UofL history expert knows why sinkholes like the one that swallowed a child and adult last week are popping up all over Louisville’s west end
Yesterday, Louisville firefighters rescued a 2 year old girl and 47 year old man from a sinkhole in Russell Lee Park. The child fell in the hole. A football coach trying to rescue the child became stuck as well.
The two were rescued an hour later — a sight witnessed by many on live television. The Fire Department said the brick-lined hole was about 10 or 12 feet deep and two and halfto three feet across.
University Archivist and Louisville Metro Councilman Tom Owen knows exactly what the rescuers described. He also knows why sinkholes keep littering the city’s west end.
The history and development of Louisville’s Park DuValle and Parkland area explains why these holes are arising, said Owen. He thinks the cause of many of the sinkholes is decades old cisterns. Similar to wells, cisterns were water-proofed, brick-lined holes containing drinking water.
Owen said, “In the 1800’s a zone in Parkland, informally defined as ‘Little Africa,’ sat where Russell Lee Park is today. The area was predominantly African American and was much different than the rest of the city.”
Little Africa unofficially began from about 32nd street and stretched west to the Ohio River. It consisted of dirt and gravel roads, no paved allies, irregularly-built houses, no sewage or plumbing systems and yes, cisterns.
Owen said “During the Urban Renewal Program, in the mid- to late-1950’s, local governments secured federal funds to ultimately destroy neighborhoods and rebuild more modernized areas.” What once used to be Little Africa is now Russell Lee Park. Houses were leveled, the grounds were raised, and cisterns were boarded up.
Owen’s views are supported by the Louisville Metro Parks. Julie Kredens, communications manager, said that “last Thursday’s occurrence is an issue of infrastructure from long ago; houses were leveled and raised making way for Russell Lee Park.”
Parkland is not the only area of town reporting instances of these holes. In the past three weeks, Owen received a call regarding a finding off Taylorsville Road and several also have been reported in the Highlands.
Many locals in the past have reported similar holes found in Russell Lee Park, only to have city government simply mark the holes with warning cones. The Courier Journal reported that Councilwoman Attica Scott was at the park didn’t know of holes there. She said more people could fall into holes if the city doesn’t correct the problem now.
According to the Courier Journal, Scott said, “Action will be taken to correct holes in Russell Lee Park.” A detail of what actions to be taken place has not yet been released.
Photo courtesy of WLKY News.