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Jack Trawick interviews with Samuel W. Thomas

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: 2023_017

Indexes of nine interviews with historian Samuel W. Thomas conducted between August 31, 2011 and December 28, 2011. The purpose of the interviews was to gain Dr. Thomas's perspective on the history of planning in Louisville, from the original settlement of Louisville by Anglo-Europeans in the 1770's up until the present time. Trawick chose Thomas for this study based on his study of and involvement in city planning spanning over 45 years.

Each index is prefaced by a summary of contents and includes timecode references so researchers can reference passages in the recording for verbatim information.

Among the key subjects discussed:

Early town plans and surveys. The distinction between urbanization and rural agricultural settlement and their corresponding economies. Early town governance and the importance of the City Charter of 1851. Beargrass Creek as the avenue for interior settlement of Jefferson County, and as an open sewer fouling the town.

The development- and redevelopment- of Louisville's waterfront: the original focal point of Louisville's economy, and subsequent focal point of downtown revitalization. The history of waterfront redevelopment, beginning with Harland Bartholomew ca. 1928, with subsequent plans by Konstantinos Doxiadas and Gerald Hines.

Louisville's version of the "City Beautiful" movement, led by engineer J.C. Murphy and focusing on the Broadway corridor. Bartholomew's impact, both via the original comprehensive plan, and through an update plan for downtown ca. 1956. Modernism, the proposed civic center, and Urban Renewal.

The role of business organizations in urban revitalization, with an emphasis on the Louisville Area Development Association (LADA), established in 1943 to plan and implement post-war economic restructuring and urban expansion.

The impact of cemetery design upon town planning, and as the precedent for Olmsted.

The influence and legacy of The Courier-Journal's urban affairs "beat," including Grady Clay, Douglas Nunn, Don Ridings, Joan Riehm.

Grady Clay's particular voice and influence, locally and nationally. Grady Clay and the "Venturi Effect" of urban space and social interaction.

S.W. Thomas's involvement during the founding years of Locust Grove, a national historic site and final home of Louisville founder George Rogers Clark.

Thomas' s subsequent work toward civic center redevelopment during the administration of Jefferson County Judge/Executive Louis J. "Todd" Hollenbach, ca. 1974-1978.

Republican municipal governance, ca. 1966. Mayor William 0. Cowger. County Judge/Executive Marlow Cooke, succeeded by E.P. "Tom" Sawyer." Riverfront development by Archibald Cochran and Al Schneider.

The shortsightedness of traditional city planning, and lack of "sustainability."

The importance of newspapers to civic involvement, and the decline of newspapers and of local civic institutions.


  • 2011


Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers. Paper and full-text searchable digital copies available.


.1 linear feet (1 half manuscript box)

47.5 Megabytes (9 pdfs)

Biographical / Historical

Teacher, researcher, editor, publisher, preservationist, planner, graphic designer, photographer, records manager… Samuel W. Thomas was a man of many talents, and he used all of them to benefit his adopted city of Louisville. His legacy includes books, preserved structures and an extensive collection of research materials. In 2011 Dr. Thomas gave his archive to University of Louisville Photographic Archives, noting his long association with the repository: he had drawn inspiration for his first book, Views of Louisville since 1766 (1971), from the Photographic Archives’ R.G. Potter Collection. The Samuel W. Thomas Collection, gathered over a 50-year career, contains prints, negatives, manuscripts, papers, research notes, audio tapes, maps, slides, clippings, and building plans. Samuel Wilson Thomas was born January 31, 1938, in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania. Following graduation from Chestnut Hill Academy in 1956 Thomas moved with his family to Louisville. In 1960 he graduated from the University of Louisville with a B.A. in chemistry. In 1964 he received a Ph.D. He was an instructor in chemistry at the University of Louisville from 1964-1969 and an adjunct professor in its Institute of Community Development from 1972-1976. Although trained in the sciences, Thomas developed an interest in history, especially local history, from the time he was in graduate school and living as caretaker of the historic house museum Locust Grove. His role grew into resident curator, historian, and clerk of the works as the house was restored and opened to the public. Later Thomas edited the papers of George Rogers Clark, who had lived at Locust Grove with his sister Lucy Clark Croghan and her husband William. Thomas also was president of the George Rogers Clark Press which reprinted works of local history. Thomas’s interest in local history deepened when he organized and directed the Archives and Records Service for Jefferson County, Kentucky. From 1969 to 1980 he made the county’s records holdings accessible to both the public and scholarly community through his leadership and with the publication of “An Inventory of Jefferson County Records.” Thomas’s resulting familiarity with primary source materials informed his subsequent research projects and publications. He simply knew where the data was and used it. Publisher of The Courier-Journal and Louisville Times Barry Bingham, Sr., tapped Thomas to organize and direct its book divisions. From 1972-1975 the division produced nine books based on material generated by the newspapers. Among them were best sellers Joe Creason’s Kentucky and April 4, 1974: Tornado! Although most people know Thomas for his many handsomely produced books, he also played a significant role in historic preservation. He loved early Louisville architecture, a fascination that could be traced to his residency at Locust Grove. Louisville’s old Jefferson County Courthouse was one of Thomas’ favorite buildings, and he directed a 1977 preservation effort which included a complete interior renovation. Other buildings that owe either their preservation or renovation to him include the Eight Mile House, Louisville Trust Bank building, the Courthouse annex, and the old County Jail. The present appearance of downtown Louisville owes much to Thomas’s planning and advocacy for adaptive reuse of structures. From 1984-1986 Thomas served as development director of the Filson Historical Society as it moved from Breckinridge Street its present location. He directed a $3 million project to adapt and upgrade the Beaux-Arts Ferguson mansion into new headquarters for the region’s most significant private historical research collection. Much of Thomas’s work was an independent scholar providing research and written accounts for families, businesses and organizations. Throughout his career, he also continued to work in historical preservation: documenting, evaluating, and making recommendations on historic structures. Perhaps, however, Thomas’s most important contribution to the local record was the prodigious amount of written material – both published and unpublished – on a variety of topics. The contents of the Samuel W. Thomas Collection reflect both his meticulous approach to research and his obvious affection for his community. In addition to his many publications, Thomas was affiliated with and contributed to many local organizations including The Filson Historical Society, Historic Homes Foundation, Kentucky Historical Society, Kentucky Oral History Commission, Louisville Historical League, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Portland Museum, Preservation Alliance of Louisville and Jefferson County. Samuel Thomas died on October 4, 2012. He is survived by his wife Deborah M. Thomas who continues his work.

Jack Trawick interviews with Samuel W. Thomas
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections Repository

Ekstrom Library, Lower Level Room 17
Louisville KY 40292
502 852-6752