The Louisville area owes its existence to the Falls of the Ohio, the only place where the 981-mile river flows over bedrock. The falls were really a rapids where the river dropped about 27 feet in three miles, usually blocking passage by boat.
Early explorers recognized the strategic importance of the Falls. George Rogers Clark established the first settlement there in 1778, to use as a base of his invasion of British territory in Southern Illinois and Indiana. Two years later that settlement became Louisville -- named for King Louis XVI of France, who was supporting the American Revolution.
Louisville quickly become a vital transportation center for the young nation. Ports were established above and below the Falls. Passengers and freight moved overland around the rapids. Trails and road connected the ports to inland settlements in Kentucky and Indiana. The steamboat brought prosperity and growth to the area; by 1850, Louisville was the 10th largest city in the nation.
In the decades that followed, railroads greatly improved connections with cities throughout the nation, and Louisville became known as the "Gateway to the South." Businesses and industries were attracted by the strong and convenient transportation network and Louisville became an industrial center.
In recent years, the economy of the Louisville area has shifted from a heavy reliance on industry to an increasing emphasis on services, including transportation. Once again, location is a key factor. Louisville is located near the center for the eastern half of the contiguous 48 states, with nearly half of the nation's consumer markets within a 500-mile radius. The climate is mild enough that Louisville's airport is rarely closed because of weather.
Climate, location and a good transportation system helped convince United Parcel Service to establish its national hub in Louisville in the early 1980s. UPS, in turn, is attracting businesses that depend on fast and efficient transportation of their goods to other parts of the nation and throughout the world.
The Kentucky Center for the Arts is one of the nation's premier performing arts facilities, housing three spacious theatres.
Sports, including U of L athletics, are an important facet of life in the Louisville area. Churchill Downs has hosted three Breeders' Cups and continues its traditional Run for the Roses each May. The 1996 PGA Championship, which sold out nearly a year in advance was held at Valhalla Golf Course in eastern Jefferson County and the event will return in 2000. The Louisville Riverbats, the triple-A baseball team of the Cincinnati Reds, drew over a million fans to games in a single season. Over 140 public parks, 20 public golf courses and 226 public tennis courts also provide outdoor entertainment.
Even though Louisville has changed through the years, it still has the flavor and gentleness of a Southern town. The Belle of Louisville steamboat still paddles its way up and down the Ohio River daily, mint juleps are still served under an old oak tree during the hot and muggy summers and fishing in the many lakes and rivers of Louisville and surrounding counties is still a favorite pastime.
Another favorite in Louisville is trying to figure out the correct pronunciation of the city. So if you're a tourist, don't say Louie-ville or Lewis-ville. Natives claim it's Lou-a-vuhl. Either way, Louisville is still the same happy place.