Written by Walter Munday, Outreach and Volunteer Manager for Metro Parks.
Like most large cities around the country, Louisville’s suburban population exploded during the post-World War II economic expansion era of the late 1940’s and 1950’s. Returning veterans wishing to start a settled life, moved en masse to the suburbs. The economy was booming, and Louisville’s federal road system, which was introduced in 1944, was well underway. New housing develops were quickly expanding east and south. Along with that came commercial development, which also began to expand outwardly along major thoroughfares like Shelbyville Road, Bardstown Road, Preston and Dixie Highways during the late 1950’s-60’s.
To support this new expansion, infrastructure and new public amenities were needed. One of those needs was the expansion of parks outside of the city limits, which fueled the creation of the Jefferson County Playground and Recreation Board in 1944. Ray Baer was the first Director. With funding from Jefferson County Fiscal Court, this new board partnered with the County Board of Education to utilize school sites from expanded recreational programs. Two years following in 1946, a total of 736 acres was purchased as the original tracts of land for what would become the Jefferson Memorial Forest. Today, Jefferson Memorial Forest totals 6,390 acres, and is one of the largest municipally owned forests in the United States.
That same year, Charlie Vettiner became the Parks Director. One year later, in 1947, Highview Park opened. Highview Park is located between Okolona and Fern Creek. The land was purchased from Nolan & Helen Humler and Fred & Mary Francis Kuhn in 1947. A second tract was purchased from the Humler & Kuhn families in 1975.
The following year, in 1948, a bypass was built first between Shelbyville Road and Dixie Highway, and later expanded to I-71. The construction of this bypass further accelerated development in the county. In 1952, the roadway was named after the founder and long-time editor of the Louisville Courier- Journal Henry Watterson. The Watterson Expressway was incorporated into the Interstate Highway System in 1956 as I-264. The segment from Dixie Highway to I-64 was completed between ’70 and ‘74, and was referred to as the Shawnee Expressway now the Georgia Davis Powers Expressway.
In 1952, Carrie Gaulbert Cox’s Park opened along River Road. Most of the land, 44 acres along the Ohio River, was purchased with a $50,000 gift to the Jefferson County Fiscal Court from Mrs. Harriett Cox Collins and husband John in honor of her mother, Carrie Gaulbert Cox.
In the mid 1950’s, Vettiner introduced his “Rainbow Chain of County Parks” initiative focused on land acquisition in the suburban areas. Vettiner pointed to the fact that land outside the city core was quickly disappearing, and if the county didn’t act quickly, there would not be any affordable property left to build parks, and accommodate the suburban population. Vettiner spoke with local business men and community leaders about his four-way plan for parks, which solicited strong community involvement.
The construction in the 1950’s of the Jefferson Freeway, later renamed the Gene Snyder Freeway in honor of former U.S. Congressman Gene Snyder, continued to fuel suburban expansion. Vettiner’s “Rainbow Chain of Parks” concept jumped into full swing with the opening of Chenoweth Park (now Charlie Vettiner Park) in 1957. This land was the first major acquisition that Vettiner made. On October 13, 1985, the park was renamed Charlie Vettiner Park in honor of Vettiner’s contributions to the city’s park system.
In 1958, the Commonwealth of Kentucky deeded approximately 18 acres of land over to Jefferson County. During the 1960’s the area began to expand with several sixth classes cities incorporating. Hounz Lane Park, located between the City of Meadowvale and the former City of Keeneland (now part of Lyndon) was opened.
Dedication renaming Chenoweth Park to Charlie Vettiner Park on October 13, 1985
Much of the land for this park was deeded over from the Commonwealth of Kentucky with a few acres donated by the City of Meadowvale and former City of Keeneland.
In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, a need quickly arose for short connector routes to accommodate eastern suburban expansion. The Jefferson Freeway was constructed originally with two sections, one between Taylorsville Rd. and Shelbyville Rd., and a second section between Westport Rd. and US 42. I-265 continued to expand on through the ‘80’s due to continuing residential and commercial development now in the far eastern and southern parts of the county.
On September 25, 1960, Jefferson County acquired more than 300 acres of land from Clifford and Julia Pearce, as well as M.H. and Nannie Pearl Satterly for $63,900. Later that year on November 7, more land was acquired from Lucille Young for $3,300. This land would later be dedicated as Long Run Park on May 30, 1964. Additional tracts of land were purchased through a grant from the federal government in the late 70’s. The land was formerly a dairy farm, and included a sizeable lake.
Vintage photo of Long Run Park
The name Long Run was derived from the Long Run Massacre which took place on September 15, 1781, about one mile from the park as the settlers and their militia escort, approaching the Long Run tributary to Floyds Fork, were ambushed by Indians under the command of British Captain Alexander McKee.
28 acre fishing lake at Long Run park
Land acquisition for McNeely Lake Park, which today is one of the largest parks in the entire Metro Parks’ system began in 1961. McNeely Lake itself was built in the mid-1950s by the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. The lake and park were named for Louis P. McNeely, who was the sports editor of the now-defunct Louisville Times and an avid fisherman and outdoorsman until his death in 1945. The lake was dedication on August 5, 1955.
McNeely Lake Park
Continuing the trek west, Jefferson County Playground and Recreation Board acquired land for Waverly Park in 1964 following the closing of Waverly Sanatorium in 1961. The land was transferred from the Jefferson County Board of Health who owned the property.
Other parks added around this same time period include: Black Mudd Park (1965) and Riverview Park (1966). Riverview is a beautiful, newly renovated 46 acre park land along the Ohio River in southwest Jefferson County. Also added was Nelson Hornbeck Park in 1967. Nelson Hornbeck was an avid supporter of children’s activities in the Fairdale area.
In 1968, the City of Louisville Parks and Recreation and the Jefferson County Playground and Recreation departments merged forming the Louisville Metropolitan Park and Recreation Board (“Metro Parks”). Charlie Vettiner became the first director. At the time of the merger, the County parks equaled 3,338 acres, including 1,721 in Jefferson Memorial Forest, supervised playgrounds, swimming pools, community buildings, golf courses, camping areas, cultural arts center, etc. The City of Louisville owned parks 2,211 acres of parkland as well as 11 community centers, numerous playgrounds, swimming pools, golf courses, and more.