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How 9 Louisville Neighborhoods Got Their Names

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Historic Louisville, Kentucky, has got to be a contender for having the most neighborhoods in any American city. Its districts can be small, sometimes comprising only a few blocks, but they number in the hundreds, and each has a distinct personality—and more often than not, an interesting tale to tell. Here are a few of their backstories.

1. LIMERICK

Named after County Limerick by the Irish immigrants who established the area, this neighborhood was a Catholic stronghold in a Protestant city. The area had its own annual St. Patrick’s Day parade for 46 years, and roads are named after Catholic saints, such as St. Catherine Street and Bertrand Street (for St. Louis Bertrand, who is also the namesake of the neighborhood’s striking Edwardian English Gothic style church). Although some “lace curtain Irish” immigrants built lavish mansions in Limerick, it’s historically been home to working-class people, and today supports a mix of Irish-American and black Louisvillians, among other demographics. It’s also known for its well-preserved 19th-century architecture.

2. CAMP TAYLOR

Camp Taylor started out not as a neighborhood but a military base. Named after the United States’ 12th president, Camp Zachary Taylor was one of the largest military training camps in the U.S. when it was constructed in 1917, housing over 47,000 recruits. It was also, at the time, the single largest building project in Louisville’s history.

After World War I ended in 1918, most of the government buildings were torn down and the area was redeveloped to become a residential neighborhood of mostly bungalows—many of which were bought by soldiers returning from war—but the old name stuck around. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald was stationed at Camp Zachary Taylor for one month in 1918 and later name-checked it in The Great Gatsby: The mysterious Jay Gatsby is said to have met Daisy while stationed there.

3. CHEROKEE GARDENS/CHEROKEE TRIANGLE

A photo of autumn leaves in Cherokee Park, Louisville, Kentucky.
Autumn in Cherokee Park.
LuAnn Snawder Photography, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Both neighborhoods are named after nearby Cherokee Park, a massive 409-acre city park designed by the father of landscape design, Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in New York City. Cherokee Park itself is so named thanks to a 19th-century trend of romanticizing Native American imagery—e.g., Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha. Olmsted actually went on a tear and named three parks after native peoples: Cherokee, Iroquois, and Shawnee. Later, his sons and their firm would help develop more parks, some maintaining that naming tradition.

4. PLEASURE RIDGE PARK

This somewhat salaciously named neighborhood stems from a resort that was built there in the 1870s. The Paine Resort was adjacent to shady Muldraugh Ridge, a popular spot for dancing and picnicking. It was colloquially renamed “Pleasure Ridge,” and the new name later spread to the whole area. (An earlier name for the neighborhood, dating to before L. M. Paine built the resort but still owned most of the surrounding land, was pretty much diametrically opposed its present-day one: Painesville.)

5. OKOLONA

Settled by farmers in the late 1700s, Okolona would eventually get the name Lone Oak, after a huge tree that stood in its center. But when the town tried to register its post office, it learned that there was already a Lone Oak, Kentucky. So the residents roughly rearranged the letters and called it Okolona instead. (For what it’s worth, there’s also a town called Okolona in Mississippi, but its chamber of commerce claims it was named after a Chickasaw warrior and has nothing to do with oak trees.) The community of Okolona has since been incorporated into Louisville proper, which happened when all of Jefferson County merged with the city in 2003. The lone oak itself was around until the 1970s, when it was hit by lightning and subsequently chopped down.

6. KOSMOSDALE

Located in the southwestern part of Louisville, this area was christened after the Kosmos Cement Company, which began developing the area around 1905. (The company’s name itself has been claimed to have come from a type of stone used in the manufacture of cement, or the idea that the product would be sold “around the cosmos,” with a spelling change to tie it in to Kentucky.) The company built a row of 12 duplexes on Dixie Highway for its employees to live in, as well as a school, a medical clinic, and a company store, fostering a small community that still stands today. Kosmos Cement Company is now affiliated with Cemex, but the plant still operates out of Kosmosdale.

7. SCHNITZELBURG

In 1866, when developer D.H. Meriwether first planned out this area of Louisville, along with a triangle of land just to the west that bears his name today, it was originally named Meriwether's Enlargement. However, when it turned out that the neighborhood’s residents were largely German immigrants, they and other Louisvillians began calling it “Schnitzelburg,” probably referring to the popular German/Austrian dish.

8. BUTCHERTOWN

A photo of the interior of Butchertown Grocery in Louisville, Kentucky
The interior of Butchertown Grocery.
Jessica Dillree, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This one is kind of a no-brainer: Butchertown was once full of butchers and stockyards, starting in the 1820s. It was attractive to these business owners because animal remains could be handily dumped into Beargrass Creek, which wasn’t allowed next door in the downtown area for hygiene reasons. In 1937, the Ohio River flooded, and 70% of Louisville was underwater. With Butchertown sitting right on the river’s edge, the already-seedy neighborhood was sent into even sharper decline, with many homes destroyed—or just left to rot. In the 1990s, though, a major overhaul was launched, old buildings were rebuilt and refurbished, and today’s Butchertown is a trendy hotspot known for sleek restaurants, antique boutiques, and art galleries.

9. SMOKETOWN

Smoketown was where Louisville’s brickyards were; according to an 1871 directory, 9 out of the city’s 20 were located in this area. This was thanks to a giant deposit of clay in the ground (possibly evidenced by the name of South Clay Street, which runs through the neighborhood). The kilns used in brickyards produce smoke as well as bricks, and so the neighborhood’s name wrote itself. Folks also called it Frogtown, a name that originated after the brickyards were abandoned in the 1880s, once the clay had been depleted: They left behind empty clay pits that filled with water—and frogs.

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A Historic Ghost Town in California Is Up for Sale
Nolan Nitschke
Nolan Nitschke

For just shy of $1 million, a ghost town in California’s majestic Inyo Mountains could be yours. Cerro Gordo, a 19th-century mining town that served as the “silver thread” to Los Angeles, is now up for sale via Bishop Real Estate in Bishop, California.

Located in Owens Valley near the town of Lone Pine, the $925,000 property comes with over 300 acres of land, mineral rights, and no shortage of peace and quiet. There are 22 structures on site, including a historic hotel, bunkhouse, saloon, chapel, and museum—plus all of the artifacts that come with it. 

“The site has been extremely well protected from diggers, artifact looters, and Mother Nature herself,” reads the listing, posted on a website specially created for the property that's aptly named ghosttownforsale.com. “Restoration has been undertaken on most of the buildings, and the rest are in a state of protected arrested decay.”

The town of Cerro Gordo has been privately owned for decades, but the family who owns it “felt it was the right time to sell it,” real estate agent Jake Rasmuson tells Mental Floss. No conditions are attached to the purchase of the property, but Rasmuson says “one would hope that some of the history would be maintained and that it would still be open to the public.”

Walking tours of the property can be booked via Cerro Gordo’s website, and those will continue to be offered until the property is sold. The listing was just posted online a week ago, but Rasmuson said the property has already received “quite a bit of interest,” mostly from history lovers who have visited the site before.

Cerro Gordo, meaning “Fat Hill,” received its name from Mexican miners who combed through the area in search of silver before it became a commercial mine, according to the town's website. In 1865, a prospector named Pablo Flores started a mining operation at the nearby Buena Vista Peak. It didn’t take long for word to spread, and within two years prospectors were flocking to Cerro Gordo.

A businessman named Mortimer Belshaw is the man who really put the town on the map, though. In 1868, he brought the first batch of silver to Los Angeles and later built a toll road to supply the burgeoning industry. Within a year, the mine was the largest producer of silver and lead in California. 

“If you look at the history of Cerro Gordo, it was really instrumental in the expansion of Los Angeles,” Rasmuson says. One of structures on the Cerro Gordo property—the Belshaw bunkhouse—still carries on his legacy.

It wasn’t until the 1880s that the mine was finally abandoned after being hit by a fire and falling silver prices. (However, mining operations were revived in 1905 and continued for a couple of decades.) 

The town may be peaceful now, but it wasn’t always so. In the 1860s and ’70s, the town saw a murder per week, according to a Los Angeles Times article from 2006 about the restoration of the property. The property’s late owner, Michael Patterson, told the newspaper that the only sound for miles around “is the whistle of the wind blowing through all the bullet holes in every building up here."

For those who aren't afraid of ghosts, this little slice of Wild West paradise might just be the perfect place to live. Keep scrolling to see more photos and a video of the property.

The Cerro Gordo property
Nolan Nitschke

The Cerro Gordo property
Nolan Nitschke

A former church
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Inside the saloon
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How 8 Phoenix Neighborhoods Got Their Names
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Inhabited by native people for thousands of years and colonized by white settlers in the 1860s, Phoenix has developed a booming economy based around “the Five Cs”: cotton, citrus, cattle, climate, and copper. It's grown from a once-dusty desert town to the state capital, as well as the nation's fifth-largest city, with a population of 1.6 million and counting. Here’s the story of how eight of the city's neighborhoods ended up with their current names.

1. ALHAMBRA

Best known as the founder of Glendale, Arizona, William John Murphy was a pioneer, contractor, and the impresario of the Arizona Improvement Company, created in 1887 to sell land and water rights south of the Arizona Canal. Murphy also greatly contributed to the early development of Scottsdale and Phoenix, and he was responsible for splitting a large chunk of his land along the western border of Phoenix, next to Glendale, into smaller subdivisions [PDF]. He also came up with the subdivision's names; Alhambra stemmed from the 13th-century palace and fortress of the same name in Granada, Spain. Today, the neighborhood is known for large homes and its Murphy Bridle Path, named after its former landowner.

2. AHWATUKEE

The word Ahwatukee—an “urban village” in the East Valley region of Phoenix—has roots in the Crow language, but theories about its translation differ. Before it was a village, the name referred to a single estate built in 1920 that sat at the modern-day streets of Sequoia Trails and Appaloosa Drive. The original builder, William Ames, first named it Casa de Sueños ("house of dreams"), but he died three months after moving in. His widow, Virginia Ames, owned the house until her death in 1932, and it was eventually sold to a rich Midwesterner named Helen Brinton, who had an interest in the Crow tribe. Her attempt to translate “house of dreams” into Crow was Ahwatukee, but the tribe says there’s no such word in their language. The name caught on regardless, being used to refer to the house as well as the area that developed around it.

3. SUNNYSLOPE

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Southwest was a place where sick people would travel from all across the U.S. to recuperate from pulmonary illnesses—especially pulmonary tuberculosis. The hot, arid climate was thought to dry out one's lungs, while the year-round sunshine was believed to have healing properties in general. In the early 20th century, Sunnyslope—and Sunnyslope Mountain, marked by a 150-foot-tall white S near its peak—became known as an area where ill people could get well. California architect William Norton built a subdivision in the area in 1911, and it was his daughter who came up with the name Sunnyslope after admiring the sun glinting off the slope of the mountain.

4. F. Q. STORY HISTORIC DISTRICT

The F.Q. Story district is named after Francis Quarles Story, who purchased the land it’s on back in 1887. Formerly a wool merchant, Story moved to Los Angeles County for health reasons and became a citrus farmer before investing in land in Arizona’s Salt River Valley and promoting agricultural development there. He never lived in Phoenix, but he did have a hand in the development of its major thoroughfare, Grand Avenue, as well as its subsequent streetcar line. The F.Q. Story neighborhood was built as a “streetcar suburb,” with newspaper ads in 1920 calling the grand opening "one of the big real estate events of the season." (Unfortunately, a flood at nearby Cave Creek caused a temporary halt in construction the following year, but the area rebounded after a dam was constructed in 1923.)

5. WILLO

Willo started out as a planned community, an idyllic suburb on the outskirts of Phoenix, although today it lies near downtown. A man named J. P. Holcomb acquired the southern part of the neighborhood in 1878 and then the northern part in 1886, using the land mostly for farming for the next 20 years. In the early 1900s, several homes were built on long, narrow lots, and 41 more were added in the '20s, but the area was still isolated from the city and it was difficult to attract buyers. Developers decided it needed a snappy name, and came up with Willonot from the willow tree, but from combining the two nearest voting districts: Wilshire and Los Olivos.

6. LAVEEN

As early as 1884, Mexican and Mormon settlers were living in what’s now called Laveen Village, in the Southwestern part of Phoenix. The school district was called the Harovitz District, but the community itself had no name for more than 30 years, until Roger Laveen was appointed as its first postmaster in 1913 [PDF]. The post office was located in the back of Laveen’s brother's new general store, which became a cornerstone of the town. Roger only worked in the post office for about two years, although both brothers continued living in the area that now bears their name for decades more.

7. MEDLOCK PLACE

Medlock Place was named after prominent residential developer Floyd W. Medlock, who created the community in 1926 with the idea of giving it a rural aesthetic despite being only a few miles from downtown Phoenix. The precocious Medlock—he was only in his early 20s—planned palm tree-lined roads in the new community and sold pre-built houses, a ground-breaking move in 1920s Phoenix. (In an ad, Medlock called his community "the Subdivision Extraordinary.") For his subsequent South Medlock Place addition, he began selling vacant lots instead, with buyers permitted to hire their own builders.

8. ARCADIA

Located at the foot of Camelback Mountain and one of the wealthiest areas of Phoenix, Arcadia started out like a lot of the city’s neighborhoods: as citrus orchards. The first grove was planted in 1899, and by 1920, the foothills were covered in citrus trees—thanks in large part to the Arcadia Water Company, which set up a widespread irrigation system starting in 1919. Soon, farmers and developers began investing in the region and building homes. The neighborhood took its name from the water company, which in turn got its name from Greek mythology: Arcadia was where Pan, the goat god, originated—a region supposedly named for its king, Arcas, the hunter. The association with nature is still apt, since fruit trees abound in the neighborhood even today.

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