There will never be a better morning to open a new park than April 15, 2016, a date with almost perfect alliteration, a date filled with cool morning sunshine, bird songs, laughter, brief speeches, long shadows and incredible stone walls that swept away toward rising hills painted pale green in newly-awakening trees – each section of those walls peeking just a little higher above the next as they zig-zagged off into the distance.
Hundreds of people had gathered at the site just off Bardstown Road for the opening of Broad Run Park, the fourth and final phase of the four separate parks and one connective strand in the almost 4,000-acre creation of The Parklands of Floyds Fork.
The long stone walls stole the show in a nicely planned morning that would include a donor breakfast, school kids tossing Frisbees to alleged adults, hot air balloons, bus tours, trail hikes and celebratory rhetoric. The walls had a lot to say about that themselves; so many pieces coming together to form something so much larger.
They spoke of a link to separate parts of Louisville; a piece of its 100-mile park loop; the 10 years of planning and work required of thousands of dreamers, fund raisers, donors, engineers, architects, construction workers and Parkland’s staff.
The walls also offered historic tribute to the works of Frederick Law Olmsted, who 125 years earlier began development of Louisville’s Olmsted Parks, a man whose presence and vision loomed large over every step required to create The Parklands.
The speakers at the event were names familiar to most: Bevin, McConnell, Ward, Schnatter, Fischer and, of course, Jones. Other names given special written mention included Beshear, Benepe, Tamulonis, Walters, Douglas and Rummel.
There was praise for Main Street Realty, the architectural firms Bravura, and Wallace, Roberts & Todd. Nice things were said about Future Fund, 21st Century Parks, the weather, the food and calories burned by park visitors.
There was mention of the original “Big Idea” park goal now met, of creating a world class facility to be “safe, clean, fun and beautiful.” There was praise of a $125 million project completed in that rarest of circumstances: “On time and on budget.” There was talk of “Field of Dreams” and “If you build it, they will come.” And they certainly have. In the millions. Some of them through corn fields.
But other not so visible guests must be mentioned here, too, their names not listed on the program, but certainly present in spirit. They include the early believers, and Kentucky’s not-to-be-forgotten pioneers. They are the modern day settlers whose family names were on this land long before it became a “donor supported” park – more than 80 parcels of land purchased one at a time with no condemnation procedures.
I’ve spent almost seven years chasing their stories. Many of them involve people who grew up on the land, hunted it, fished it, raised crops and families on it, and, in a few cases, are buried beneath it. It is their pasts that help make this present possible.
So let’s also celebrate the 1770’s Kentucky explorer and surveyor John Floyd, a man Thomas Jefferson appointed as one of Louisville’s first leaders – an all-but-forgotten peer and friend of Daniel Boone and George Rogers Clark.
It is, after all, Floyd’s name on the river connecting 27 miles of The Parklands of Floyds Fork, the river that flowed near the Broad Run Park podium where people sang its praises. John Floyd needs his own historic statue someday. And don’t forget Squire Boone, Daniels’ brother, once owned 1,500 acres of land just a short distance upriver from Broad Run Park.
A few hundred years later David Miles cried when talking about seeing his family name – his father’s legacy – forever part of Beckley Creek Park. Cathie Oesterritter Woods spoke proudly of the land that became the Egg Lawn when talking about the 13 Oesterritter children who grew up in two family farm houses on that property, land, quite fittingly, now part of the Marshall Playground & Sprayground.
Horace Dickerson, one of twelve children, whose great-great-grandparents had been slaves, told stories of fishing in nearby Floyds Fork as a child. Bob and Nancy Bell talked fondly of their 120 acres of land along Floyds Fork, their “End of Lane” farm that would become the Humana Grand Allee – with a nearby barn preserved at the site in their name.
Further downstream Pope Lick Park provided the Pope Lick Monster, a mythical creature that lived beneath an imposing railroad trestle. Locals also spoke of a moonshine still in the area, and a 98-acre site along Taylorsville Road speaks to a man named Rolleigh Peterson, who planted 6,000 walnut trees along Floyds Fork, a tribute to his daughter – now the Rolleigh Peterson Educational Forest.
Then there was Martha Williams of Fisherville, the unofficial mayor of the community, the protector of the legend of the nearby Blue Rock Hotel, who said of its early 1900s popularity: “It was a popular place to go because it was far enough away from Louisville that you felt you’d been somewhere, but not so far away that you couldn’t get there.”
The Strand – that connective piece of twisting Floyds Fork between Pope Lick Park and Turkey Run Park – would become the home of the descendants of one Lee Honest McGraw, a successful farmer and store owner who insisted a son, Clark McGraw, live and farm in those Floyds Fork bottomlands.
Clark and his wife raised six children there. An old cemetery along the Fork tells the stories of other such pioneers. All of that farm – house, smokehouse, chicken coop, buggy shed and tobacco barn – is gone.
Seatonville, at the heart of Turkey Run Park, created more history than can be told in any one sitting; its old pioneer mill; a cemetery where Kenner Seaton is buried; a covered bridge; the historic Ben Stout House built in the early 1800s; the Seatonville school; the abandoned golf course complex; the seven-generation Jean family farm with the “Silo Lookout” now overlooking it.
Also here is “Mary’s Island,” once the site of the old mill, and named for Mary Bingham, one of the first big donors to The Parklands. She joined the Parklands effort along with Sally Brown, another early donor best described as a “force of nature” – her 100-year-life was filled with art, nature and environment causes.
They all – in their way – had their place in this Broad Run opening, along with “Miss Virginia” Wheeler, the legendary school administrator who lived in the 150-year-old Mills-Wheeler House just below Big Vista Overlook in Broad Run. The old road past her house is connected to Broad Run Valley Paddling Access in Floyds Fork, but back in the day was a much-used fishing hole, picnic area and weekend-nighttime-adventure hangout for Fern Creek high school kids and local residents.
The opening of Broad Run Park offered both a milestone, and remembrance. If you walk up the park trail toward the vista, you can look back and see those angled stone walls – part of the many throughout the park, all of them placed just so for good reason.
They were built by Aguilar Stone Masonry, a company formed by Jesus Aguilar and two sons, Cecil and Rigoberto, who learned their craft – their art – watching their father and grandfather build them in their native Mexico.
The walls are history with a purpose; history beyond words; visually and metaphorically connecting the past, present and future. You rarely see walls so well done in a public park. The Frisbee tossing just made their viewing all the more fun.
About the Author
Former Louisville-Courier columnist Bob Hill is a historian for The Parklands of Floyds Fork. He travels Floyds Fork writing of the people, the places and the history of the stream within the 20-mile park system – all of which is to be preserved in the Filson Historical Society. Some of Hill’s stories appear in A Landscape and its Legacy, the commemorative book for The Parklands of Floyds Fork project. Hill has also compiled a Floyds Fork “Places & Faces” presentation that adds imagery to the words.