Filson Launches a New Era

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Election memorabilia, pioneer tools, weapons and quilts are a few of the many items in the Filson Historical Society’s collection that the public hasn’t been able to see for more than two years. But now the artifacts are coming out of storage to be displayed in new exhibit spaces created through a major construction and renovation project.

And it’s just the start of a new era of collection and preservation, says President and CEO Craig Buthod. The “New Filson” is celebrating the completion of its Old Louisville campus expansion by introducing the all-new Owsley Brown II History Center as well as the renovation of its headquarters, the 1905 Ferguson Mansion. An enclosed elevated pedway atop the Carriage House connects the mansion on Third Street with the History Center on Fourth.

These new facilities will allow the society not only to display the artifacts that have been stored in a secure area under the Louisville Zoo but also to exhibit new collections. “We are going to be aggressive in acquiring new material,” Buthod says.

Founded in 1884, the Filson is an independent historical society dedicated to preserving the collective memory of Kentucky, the Ohio Valley and the Upper South. The society serves the public by maintaining extensive research collections and providing numerous educational opportunities, including nearly 100 annual lectures, public programs and scholarly conferences.

During the past two decades, the Filson has seen significant growth in both its programs and its collections, which now include about 1.8 million documents, 50,000 books and 15,000 digitized historical manuscripts and prints about The First American West, including John Filson’s 1784 myth-making biography of Daniel Boone. The collections also include more than 400 portraits and thousands of historic Louisville and Kentucky photographs as well as 10,000 other historical artifacts and museum items.

The 20,000-square-foot History Center –designed by Louisville’s award-winning De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop – will display items in museum-quality exhibit space. The center also includes a multi-purpose event center, increased collection storage facilities and a modern digitization and conservation lab.

Overall, there are five floors of archival storage and two floors of multi-purpose event and exhibit space. The new building received unanimous approval from the Old Louisville Architectural Review Committee because it pays homage to the distinctive character of the neighborhood.

The renovation of the Ferguson Mansion – one of Kentucky’s finest examples of the Beaux-Arts architectural style – includes a new library as well as exhibit galleries and a technologically advanced research facility. Between the two buildings, a landscaped “pocket park” includes a pedestrian mall, and the Carriage House serves as the new main entrance to the campus.

Buthod says the $12.4 million expansion is being funded “entirely by donor generosity,” including some foundation funding, but most of the money has been donated by individuals. “It’s a great deal of money to raise without the help of government grants,” Buthod notes.

He also points out that the expansion is the largest construction project in Old Louisville in more than a generation and will be a catalyst for additional redevelopment and revitalization in the historic, diverse neighborhood.

“The additional space, new technology and open footprint will allow us to share so much more of what the Filson has to offer,” Buthod says. “It is important that we tell the stories of all of the people and events that have helped shape our city, state and region, including those that embody our culture and reflect our day-to-day life.”

The society will officially usher in the New Filson era on October 27 with a news conference and first look at the new and renovated facilities for neighborhood organizations, industry professionals and media.

An open house for the public will begin at 1 p.m. on October 29. It will include special exhibits, music and docent-led tours and interpretations, as well as children’s activities and details on continuing programs. A special concert featuring a newly acquired collection of Tom T. Hall music and instruments will start at 7 p.m., and it will kick off six weeks of special programming and events. VT

For more information, visit filsonhistorical.org.