March 29, 2019

Archivist Tom Owen walks through U of L’s history

Walking Tour, David Mucker

By Joseph Garcia — 

With Spring just beginning, more and more students can be seen sitting or walking around campus. What many don’t realize is the amount of history that surrounds them.

This semester Tom Owen is leading two walking tours highlighting the University of Louisville’s lively past. The tour is definitely worth the time whether you love history or just want to have a fun experience with a charismatic tour guide on a Friday afternoon.

Owens has been an Archivist in Ekstrom Library’s Archives and Special Collections for 44 years.

The 55-minute tour pointed out the eight oldest surviving campus buildings. These buildings were Civil War era structures owned by the city and functioned as an orphanage and reform school called the House of Refuge. The oldest of the eight is Gardiner Hall, built in 1872.

While going around, Owen energetically pointed out other interesting pieces of history.

For example, have you ever wondered why the main campus is called Belknap campus?

“William Belknap was a member of our Trustees in World War I. He bought a farm out in the Douglass Loop area and that was where the University was going to move its new campus to,” Owen said.

In 1925 a $1 million dollar bond issue was eventually passed, this time promising $100 thousand for African-American higher education.  “We sold the farm and used the money to buy this campus which we named after him for buying the farm for the suburban campus,” Owen said.

Grawemeyer Hall was the first building built in 1927.

Another example is Miller IT was once the Student Center up until 1990.

“It housed cafeterias, a faculty dining club, bookstores and all kinds of activity spaces for students. It was even supposed to include a bowling alley, but it was never built,” Owen said.

The Honors Overseers house along First Street Walk is also the only surviving house from 1870. It was part of the original neighborhood that the University acquired when it was expanding.

As Owen concluded his tour he reminded the group that this campus is more than just a gathering of buildings where people learn or research.

“This campus is a destination. It’s Tree Campus USA because of the way we care for our trees. It’s a place for the exhibit of modern sculpture, the place for water features, the place where people come just because it is a warm, relaxing place,” said Owen.

Owen next walking tour is Friday, March 29 at noon. It starts outside Ekstrom Library on the side facing Bingham Humanities.

Photo by David Mucker / The Louisville Cardinal

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