Knights of Pythias Temple

Historical Marker #1662 notes the Louisville location of the Knights of Pythias Temple.

Although many fraternal organizations predated the Civil War, most African Americans were not allowed to form separate chapters of these benevolent societies until after emancipation. The Order of the Knights of Pythias began in 1864 in Washington, D.C., as a white entity, with the stated principles of "Friendship, Charity, and Benevolence." But, as with other organizations after the war, African Americans eventually began to form their own chapters.

Little is known about the early black Knights of Pythias in Louisville. A city directory in 1893 notes two lodges in the city, and, just before World War I, the Knights had expanded to eleven lodges. In 1914, construction started on a new state headquarters building in Louisville, at Tenth and Chestnut Streets, which was completed in 1915. The architect for the building was Henry Wolters, who was noted for his buildings in the South and Midwest.

This multistory building served a number of functions for Louisville's African American community. Not only did the Knights of Pythias meet on the building's second floor, black professionals such as doctors, dentists, tailors, and photographers also practiced there. There was even a ballroom and roof garden, both of which could be rented for parties or dances.

The black Knights of Pythias held their annual national convention in Louisville in 1925. It is estimated that more than 25,000 attended, and these visitors were treated to marching bands and a parade in downtown Louisville. The Pythias chapters were noted for their bands and drill teams. Pythias members were often well-educated and lodges were comprised of successful black leaders of their communities. Therefore, members served as role models for African American youth.

The Great Depression caused membership to drop significantly, and many lodges became inactive during this period. The Pythias building continued to be used for offices, apartments, and educational facilities in the 1940s and early 1950s. In 1953, the Chestnut Street YMCA purchased the building, where it continues to serve the community today.