Louisville’s West Main Street Preservation District has been designated a local and national historic district both because of its distinctive architecture and its importance to the historic development of the city. Main Street was the first street laid out when Louisville was founded in 1779, and, by the mid-19th century, the street had become the commercial heart of the city.
Today, most of the structures lining West Main Street date from a building boom that began after the Civil War and lasted until about 1900. Many of the buildings are examples of cast-iron construction, making West Main Street the second largest concentration of such buildings in the country. The elaborate cast-iron facades represent a multitude of architectural styles.
The 20th century was a period of decline for West Main Street as businesses shifted to other parts of downtown or to the suburbs. Many historic buildings were abandoned or underutilized until renewal efforts began in the 1970s. Today, West Main Street is once again a vibrant mix of commercial and cultural enterprises.
In conjunction with the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2004 conference that was held in Louisville, local preservation partners set up a public access center called “ABCs: Architecture Builds Communities.” The center offered preservation information, how-to talks, and free “ask the expert” consultations. At the center, the Main Street Association recorded oral histories of the memories of West Main Street business owners and residents. The success of that effort has led to the continuation and expansion of the oral history program.
Designated a Preserve America Community in July 2006.