The $12 million renovation and expansion of the Filson Historical Society should serve as a major economic generator for Old Louisville, drawing visitors and perhaps new spinoff investment to the neighborhood, Filson officials believe.
The project, which is nearing completion, includes a makeover of the stately 111-year-old Ferguson mansion that has served as the Filson’s headquarters for 30 years. It also includes upgrades to a carriage house and a spanking new 20,000-square-foot, multipurpose structure that will greatly ease the society’s longtime cramped existence at 1310 St. Third St.
The latter structure, all but finished near the corner of Fourth and Ormsby behind the mansion, will be named the Owsley Brown II History Center; the Brown family provided a major gift for the project.Buy Photo
Craig Buthod, president and CEO of the Filson Historical Society, said he’s excited to see the progress of the Filson expansion with the new Owsley Brown II History Center, seen in background. (Photo: Alton Strupp/The Courier-Journal)
The entire project should be completed by year’s end, with a public dedication likely in late fall.
The new campus “should serve the institution’s growth for many years,” said Craig Buthod, who retired last year as the long-tenured Louisville Free Public Library director and soon after became the Filson’s new president and CEO.
“It should attract attention and visitors, and remind people of the importance of history in navigating through the modern world,” he said.
Overhead, glass-enclosed pedways unite the complex.
And, an added attraction, the property’s grounds will be developed as a tree- and shrub-laced courtyard — an expanse of landscaped greenery and gardens themed in the style of a European pedestrian mall.STORY FROM ROCKET MORTGAGE®How to navigate the excitement of buying a home.
The project was designed by the De Leon and Primmer Architecture Workshop of Louisville, with Wehr Realm Construction Services serving as the construction manager.
“It’s especially rewarding to design such an important building here at home,” Architect Roberto De Leon said. “The design process was truly a collaborative effort, and it’s really gratifying to know that the project embodies the ideas and aspirations of both the Filson and the community at large.”Buy Photo
Painters work on the window trim inside the current Filson Historical Society space that is undergoing updates and renovation work. (Photo: Alton Strupp/The Courier-Journal)
Work on the project started in 2014 and initially was targeted for completion by the end of 2015. But it has taken longer, Buthod said, “mainly due to the complexities of renovating a 111-year-old mansion. We wanted to do everything right.”
The mansion, which has more than 20,000 square feet of space on three floors and a basement, features huge windows and large interior oak archways. It is getting a full interior restoration. Included, from top to bottom, are refinished floors, new plaster, and new paint.
Much of the work has proceeded simultaneously on all three above-ground levels. The top floor has staff offices and archives, the second floor a research area, special collections, offices and a new non-circulating library and the main ground floor has a lobby, offices and public space.
The basement is used for storage and a staff kitchen and break room. The front door faces Third.Get the Coronavirus Watch newsletter in your inbox.
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The Filson, founded in 1884, has a mission “to collect, preserve, and tell the significant stories of Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley’s history and culture.”
“It should attract attention and visitors, and remind people of the importance of history in navigating through the modern world.”Craig Buthod, Filson Historical Society Presdeint and CEO
It has a staff of about 20 and an annual budget of around $2 million, which comes from donations, endowment interest, and some generated income from rentals and admissions — but zero government support.
Much of the contents and the collection are temporarily being stored off-site to accommodate the work, Buthod said.
The carriage house, which has more than 4,000 square feet of space, had long served as the Filson’s somewhat eclectic museum and display area and was also a storehouse. It has been closed for nearly two years while undergoing the upgrade.
When renovated, the two-story carriage house, which actually predates the mansion by two years, will have gallery space, several offices and a conference room.
The newly constructed Brown History Center features glass and brick exterior materials and is about 90 percent complete. The history center will be used for collection storage and have a modern digitization and conservation center, museum-quality exhibit space, and a multi-purpose event center.
A rendering shows the planned entry for the Owsley Brown II History Center. (Photo: De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop)
One side of the building on five levels will have a lab where items can be treated for preservation and space for archives. The other side will have two levels, each with a hall capable of handling about 230 people.
Buthod said the halls will be available for programs, lectures, author speeches, and can be rented for public functions.
Buthod said the Filson currently can accommodate only about 100 people at an event; he said the organization usually sponsors about a hundred public events a year.
“We’ve outgrown our space for scholarly research, public programming, educational events, history lectures, and author appearance,” Buthod said.Buy Photo
The stately 111-year-old mansion has served as the Filson Historical Society’s headquarters for 30 years. (Photo: Alton Strupp/The Courier-Journal)
The $12 million to cover the cost is nearly all in hand. In addition to the contribution from the family of the late Owsley Brown II, other major support came from the James Graham Brown Foundation, Bill and Lindy Street, the Gheens Foundation, the Ogle Foundation and Brown-Forman Corp.
The collection of the nonprofit organization, Kentucky’s oldest and largest private historical society, numbers more than 2 million documents, some 100,000 photographs and prints, 400 portraits, and about 10,000 artifacts and other items. The society has about 2,000 members and has a large library that is open to researchers.
The Filson and Old Louisville neighborhood leaders view the project as a catalyst for further revitalization in the area and expect the Filson to become more of a destination site for both tourists and scholars.
The expansion had been considered in various forms since at least 2010.
Reporter Sheldon S. Shafer can be reached at (502) 582-7089, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on the Filson, visit www.filsonhistorical.org, or call (502) 635-5083.