Sometime in 1835 the city of Louisville purchased Joseph Chamberlin’s 100-acre Cave Hill farm in anticipation for further urban development of the city. Much of the land was later turned over towards the establishment of Cave Hill Cemetery. However a smaller patch containing a rock quarry was then used as a place to work city prisoners. Around 1851 construction was authorized on a cell block in close proximity to the quarry to house prisoners. Louisville Mayor Philip Tomppert, in his 1867 annual address to the city council, proposed the construction of a new city workhouse as he believed the existing one was insufficient and in dire need of replacement.
It wouldn’t be until 1878, when then mayor Charles D. Jacob diverted $100,000 in funds from the city budget that construction finally began on updating the workhouse. With three new wings, a superintendents house, and overhauled main cell block completed, the refurbished workhouse officially opened on April 8, 1879 at a final cost of $105,000 and a capacity of 200 prisoners. For many years mining the quarry was the main source of work for many prisoners until it was nearly depleted. Afterwards prisoners would spend their days performing such duties as furniture building, farm work, and laundry. During the 1940’s workers began to make children toys for the citys less fortune at Christmas time.
Due to the decline in the prisoner population and building of newer city jails the idea of a ” city workhouse” was quickly becoming obsolete. On July 31, 1954 the last 15 prisoners were transferred to the Louisville city jail on July 31, 1954. The workhouse closed its doors for good the following day. After sitting vacant for many years, in September of 1958 the old workhouse became home to the Louisville dog pound as well as the testing center for automobile drivers until 1966. After an extensive fire broke out in the vacant buildings on April 29, 1968, the remaining structures were quickly demolished. The land then sat vacant for a number of years until the city refurbished the land and established Breslin community park and pool in 1974.
Louisville City Workhouse Image Gallery
– Contributed by Jay Gravatte