Uptown Across the river


Louisville Magazine cover, September 2006


By Robyn Davis Sekula

Louisville Magazine | September 2006

In 2002, my husband and I were relocating to the Louisville area. Since he was coming here for a job with the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana, our housing search focused on Indiana communities. We were initially drawn to Madison, but it was too remote. Jeffersonville had a blissfully clean and well-restored downtown, but lacked historic homes on the market in our price range. New Albany was the community that seemed to call to us — specifically, the Uptown neighborhood that we now call home.

It seems to me to be a throwback to times preceding my ’70s childhood in a Virginia subdivision filled with small ranch houses, acre lots and crazy cul-de-sacs that ran lost drivers in circles. Uptown, to me, is a neighborhood my parents’ generation might have known. The houses, erected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, are a pleasant mix of Victorian (like ours) and bungalows, happy little abodes that are neither ostentatious nor boring. On walks, my husband and I comment about the architecture of nearly every house we see.

I loosely define Uptown, centered a mile or so east and north of downtown, as a neighborhood bonded by schools. If we stay here, our girls — two-year-old Abby and her four-month-old twin sisters Anna and Amelia — will be able to walk to school daily until they graduate from New Albany High, just as generations before them have done. Silver Street Elementary School is just two blocks away, a pleasant evening’s stroll to where Abby rides the slide and other playground equipment. It’s a gathering spot for working parents and their youngsters.

Hazelwood Middle School, where the girls likely will continue their education, also is within walking distance. And the high school also stands just two blocks away. On crisp fall nights, we can hear muffled calls from the football stadium and the roar of a crowd cheering on the Bulldogs. In our pre-twin days, we enjoyed the track surrounding the football field, and we dream of getting back to the school for tennis on the outdoor courts or to one of the surprisingly polished theater productions at what we think of as our own neighborhood cultural center.

It’s not a perfect place. The area has its share of poorly maintained rental properties and unsightly businesses that could use a good scrubbing. But what struck me about Uptown was a sort of blissful ordinariness. Those unkempt rental houses were mixed in with single-family residences adorned by colorful planted flowers and fronted by meticulously weeded brick sidewalks. A newly formed neighborhood association, we hope, will help us all highlight the problem houses and encourage upkeep.

Beyond the immediate boundaries of our little residential district, New Albany has a pleasant supply of locally owned businesses that continue to surprise me. About two years ago, the city finally got the kind of bookstore that can be a magnet for bibliophiles like me. DESTINATIONS BOOKSELLERS, 604 E. Spring St., is a well-stocked and friendly shop, and proprietor Randy Smith is a great mind-reader — if only he’d stop listening to his wife Ann. I called Randy one day last spring to order a particular book on raising twins, and he laughed. The day before he’d sent that very volume back to the publisher, as it’d been around the store for a while and didn’t sell. He had almost called me to ask if I wanted to buy it, but Ann discouraged him by telling him that might be too pushy. Now he knows to follow his ESP notions on what I might like to read.

On other stops downtown we’ve delighted in the cuisine at the recently opened BISTRO NEW ALBANY, 145 E. Market, happy to see it replace the lackluster (and, by courtesy, unnamed) restaurant that proceeded it in the same location. The food and its location in an old hotel building draw us back. ERMIN’S, 211 E. Main, is a nice lunch spot, as is FEDERAL HILL CAFE, 310 Pearl St. We intend to frequent downtown’s small-in-scale but high-in-freshness farmers’ market, at the corner of Bank and Market streets, in the near future, when we teach our children that not all food comes from a can.

PRESTON ARTS CENTER is a fun place to spend an afternoon browsing. The store, at 315 Pearl St., has an extensive and amazing collection of art supplies. Any kind of paper or coloring matter that you — or your little scribblers — might want can be found within the store. Antiquing, too, has a nice presence in New Albany. The newly opened MARTHA’S ATTIC, 222 Pearl, offers a pleasant mix of interesting items, as does AUNT ARTIE’S ANTIQUE MALL, 128 W. Main.

The ultimate New Albany clubhouse is the CULBERTSON MANSION, 914 E. Main. For those of us who love a great old house, this is the crème de la crème, and it’s worth the price of admission (a donation) just to see the massive restoration under way there (tours are given on the hour Tuesday through Sunday). Each October, the Friends of the Culbertson raise money through a highly recommended haunted house tour — the ghosts and grotesques are alive and known to chase screaming girls — and use it to fund restoration, which focuses on the hand-painted murals inside. Each winter, when the mansion shuts down for a few months, crews move in and restore a room to its original eye-popping glory. Nearly every square inch of wall space was covered with some sort of faux finish or hand-painted work.

With so much history surrounding us every day, we find a lot of charm in our new New Albany home.