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"The Little Colonel"

A recent rash of exhibits has helped resurrect interest in The Little Colonel Series.

The children’s books were once so popular that The Little Colonel became a film starring Shirley Temple. We take a look at the books’ Louisville links in this Et Cetera.

The Little Colonel series was written by Indiana native Annie Fellows Johnston. The first book was inspired by a visit to Pewee Valley, a Louisville suburb, where old Kentucky aristocracy often vacationed at the turn of the 20th century.

Fictionalized as “Lloydsborough Valley,” the suburb was the setting for the The Little Colonel, and the characters were based on real-life residents.

Two popular characters in the series were modeled after Old Louisville’s own William and Craig Culbertson, whose father, Samuel, was the fifth president at Churchill Downs. The brothers were immortalized in 1899’s "Two Little Knights of Kentucky" as Keith and Malcolm.

The Culbertson boys spent several summers visiting their aunts in Pewee Valley and were considered good childhood friends of the real-life “Little Colonel”. Their characters were recurring.

Today the historic Samuel Culbertson Mansion Bed and Breakfast pays homage to its famous past in the form of two themed rooms - The Annie Fellows Johnston Room, which includes mementos of both the author and the Culbertson boys, the elegant Knights of Kentucky Suite, and The Little Colonel Room. Annie Fellows Johnston was often a guest at the mansion.

"The Little Colonel’s Holidays", published in 1901, is set in Old Louisville. Featuring "The Two Little Knights of Kentucky" and the Waltons - based on William and Craig’s real-life cousins, the book gives in-depth descriptions of Victorian Louisville and its holiday celebrations.

More Tidbits:

  • The Complete Little Colonel Series by Annie Fellows Johnston are all on The Little Colonel website. The 13 volumes were written over a 30-year time span.
  • Samuel A. Culbertson and Louise Craig Culbertson, the parents of The Two Little Knights of Kentucky, appear in The Little Colonel Series as Sidney and Elise.
  • The real-life “Little Colonel,” Hattie Cochran, married Albert Conrad Dick of Louisville on October 3, 1912. Albert was the grandson of Theophilus and Mary Conrad, the original owners of the well-known Conrad-Caldwell House at Old Louisville’s St. James Court.
  • The “Little Colonel” and the Culbertson family are all buried at Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery.
  • Johnston moved permanently to Pewee Valley in 1911, to The Beeches – the home formerly owned by Louise Craig Culbertson's sister, Mary “Mamie” Craig Lawton. Many scenes in the Little Colonel stories take place at this country house.
  • Mamie Lawton and her children were known as the Waltons in the Little Colonel Series. The family lived in Louisville for a short time after the death of Mamie’s husband, General Henry W. Lawton. That house was the center for much of The Little Colonel’s Holidays.
  • Another of Mrs. Culbertson’s sisters, Fannie Craig, was the model for “Aunt Allison” of the Little Colonel Series.
  • Many of the people who inspired Johnston’s characters were captured on film by pioneer photographer Kate Matthews, a neighbor and friend of the author. See them now in the Kate Matthews Collection of the University of Louisville’s Ekstrom Library.
  • Louisville’s Children’s Free Hospital (which later became Kosair Children’s Hospital), Union Station (now TARC headquarters), and Benedict’s Restaurant (no longer in existence) - whose owner created the famous Benedictine sandwich spread, were all minor settings in the Little Colonel Series.
  • Annie Johnston grew up on a farm in McCutchanville, Indiana, near Evansville. She is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Evansville, with her family.
  • The Little Colonel movie premiered at Louisville’s Rialto Theater on February 22, 1935, four years after Johnston’s death.
  • Annie Fellows Johnston wrote more than 40 books and occasionally wrote stories for publications such as Youth’s Companion.
Program 219
Award-winning Holocaust education program, Squallis Puppeteers, stargazing at Rauch Planetarium, and the Louisville link to a once popular children's book series. Plus, in the midst of MS Awareness Month, a visit from Whitney Vogel of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Kentucky-Southeast Indiana Chapter. (#219)