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Producer: Charlee Heaton Pagoulatos
A Beautiful City of the Dead
Cave Hill Cemetery
When Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery was dedicated in 1848, the Rev. R.P. Humphrey intoned, “Let the place of graves be rural and beautiful. Let it be under the free air and the cheerful light of heaven.” Though the location hardly qualifies as “rural”anymore—the cemetery is just east of downtown Louisville, with its main entrance at the junction of Baxter, Broadway, and Cherokee—the rest of the good reverend’s words have been fulfilled. Cave Hill is an oasis of greenery and an island of tranquility, combining an outdoor museum of 19th-century monumental art with a botanical garden featuring more than 500 species of trees and shrubs.
When the city purchased the first piece of the former Cave Hill Farm (so named because of a cave on the property), only a small section was intended for a cemetery. The main reason for the acquisition was to take advantage of a proposed railroad line to ship rock from some quarries on the property. But the railroad company changed its plans and the line never came through, and eventually the city fathers decided to devote much of the property to burials.
Once that decision was made, the question of aesthetics arose. The usual thing would have been to level the ground to create nice, neat rows and make the most efficient use of the space available. But Edmund Francis Lee, the civil engineer hired to develop the property, had become interested in the trend of “garden cemeteries,” and he conceived a plan that would take advantage of the rolling topography of the land, with gravesites occupying the tops of hills, winding drives, and lakes and ponds occupying some of the valleys in between.
There was no shortage of customers for the new cemetery—Louisville was in the midst of a cholera epidemic at the time of its dedication. Then just 13 years later came the Civil War. Cave Hill’s governing board, Union sympathizers, sold several acres of the property at 25 cents per square foot for the burial of fallen Union soldiers, prompting several Confederate-leaning businessmen to buy other property nearby in order to offer the same deal for Rebel families. By the time the cemetery was 20 years old, disease and war had nearly filled the original space. Additional property was acquired, bringing the total to just under 300 acres.
In the decades afterward, Cave Hill became the final resting place for many prominent Louisvillians, whose families often commissioned elaborate monuments. One famous example, the Wilder Monument, is by Robert E. Taunitz, who is regarded as “the father of monumental art in America.” The long list of notables buried at Cave Hill includes Col. Harland Sanders; Patty Smith Hill, who along with her sister wrote the tune to “Happy Birthday to You” (the estate still holds the copyright); legendary newspaperman Henry Watterson; Jim Porter, who lived from 1810 to 1859, stood 7'8" or so, and was known around the world as “the Kentucky Giant”; Gideon Shyrock, the architect who designed Kentucky’s state capitol; Louis Rogers “Pete” Browning, a baseball star of the 19th century who introduced the bats made by one John Hillerich to the major leagues; Kentucky Derby creator Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr.; and numerous bearers of such prominent Louisville surnames as Standiford, Galt, Speed, Seelbach, McCauley, Bingham, and Brown. There is also, as far as anyone knows, exactly one animal buried at Cave Hill (deliberately, at least)—a parrot named, of course, Polly.
At least one person buried at Cave Hill created his own monument: sculptor Barney Bright. In a segment from Kentucky Life Program 301, taped about a year before his death in 1997, we visited the cemetery and the artist’s studio to spotlight several other memorials carved by Bright.
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Producer: Marsha Cooper Hellard
A Dear Home of the Living
Our other stop for this edition is also a former farm with a long and interesting history. The Cardome Centre in Georgetown has gone from private residence to religious community to community center.
The center takes its name from the Latin carus domus, or “dear home.” The name was bestowed by an early resident of the site, a farmer named James Fisher Robinson who would later be governor of Kentucky during the Civil War. In 1896, Robinson’s heirs sold Cardome to the Roman Catholic Sisters of the Visitation, a cloistered order of nuns who built a monastery and started a girls’ boarding school to support their community.
After graduating 583 young women over the course of 73 years, the Cardome Visitation Academy closed in 1969. Then the Sisters of the Visitation disbanded in 1987, and the 87-acre property was sold to a nonprofit organization for development as a community center.
Today, the former monastery is rented for events from business meetings to weddings and is the permanent home of the Georgetown/Scott County History Museum; the local Big Brothers/Big Sisters chapter; and senior citizens’, adult education, early childhood development, and hospice organizations. The scenic grounds along Elkhorn Creek also host an annual re-enactment of Morgan’s Raid on Georgetown and the Georgetown International Kite and Culture Festival.
The elegant 19th-century mansion Robinson built burned down in 1985. But the academy building is still in use, and visitors can tour several outbuildings attesting to Cardome’s long and varied history. The site even features some tunnels with Underground Railroad connections.
During our tour, we talk with two women who remember Cardome as a school—Visitation Academy alumnae who attended during the World War II years. We also meet local historian Ann Blevins, who expands on some of the site’s past, and center Director Sherry Williams, who talks about expansion plans for the future.
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