Louisville to Portland Turnpike

Historical Marker #2561 commemorates the Louisville to Portland Turnpike in Louisville, Kentucky.

Positioned along the Ohio River, Portland was a thriving community in 19th century Louisville. Founded in 1811 by William Lytle, who also founded Cincinnati, the community of Portland grew from Lytle’s 3,000 acres of land just below the Falls of the Ohio. Lytle’s plan was to sell the lots of land to settlers and business owners in order to pay for a canal to go around the Falls of the Ohio.

The Falls of the Ohio were difficult to traverse for steamboats, the primary mode of interstate commerce in the 19th century. The Falls were the only navigational barrier on the 981-mile long river. The Falls have a 26-foot drop, which did not allow boats to continue their journey without stopping, unless they were experienced enough to navigate the Falls during high water, but even that was extremely risky.

In 1818 the Louisville to Portland Turnpike was constructed and connected Portland, Louisville, and the town of Shippingport, all of which were positioned on the Ohio River. The turnpike changed Portland economically for several years.

Steamboat pilots, whether traveling up or down the Ohio River, could now stop at the Louisville wharf or the Portland wharf, unload their cargo, and go around the Falls on the Louisville to Portland Turnpike. They would load their cargo on another boat, pay a toll (typically two centers) and be on their way along the three-mile Turnpike. They would use horse and buggies and wagons to travel on the Turnpike around the Falls. At first, the road was dirt and got muddy and torn up quickly because of all the activity on the road. A few years later, wooden planks were added to the road, which made the turnpike much easier to travel on. The planks helped the flow of the traffic and made the road safer.

When the turnpike came about, the Portland area grew significantly. Many stores, workshops, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses were established because of the heavy traffic flow from the Turnpike. When the businesses came so did more settlers who decided to plant their roots in Portland. Many wealthy families who invested in the area moved to the town as well as many steamboat captains and pilots. People who needed work at the businesses and the wharf also decided to move there. Portland became a thriving area for several years.

In 1826, the Louisville to Portland Canal began construction and was completed in 1833. This was a huge blow to the economy of Portland as businesses were forced to shut down due to the lack of traffic. Instead of stopping, steamboats with cargo and people could now continue on the Ohio River and bypass the town completely.

Portland was incorporated in 1834 and then annexed by Louisville, much to the people’s disapproval, in 1837. However, the annexation was made with hopes that a new railroad would be built and pass through to help financially and to make the canal wider to handle larger ships. Originally, the railroad planned go to Portland wharfs instead of Louisville’s. But, in 1840 the railroad company went bankrupt when the line had only reached Louisville.

The community then voted to become independent again, but ten years later, due to lack of financial help, they were annexed again by Louisville. The Portland to Louisville Turnpike is now a paved road connecting the Portland neighborhood to downtown Louisville. Most of the route is now known as Portland Avenue.

The marker reads:


By the late eighteenth century,
large boats carried people and
products to villages dotting the
banks of the Ohio River. Yet the
boats had to halt at the 26’ drop
at the Falls of the Ohio where
Louisville is today. Draymen
portaged freight to the bottom
of the Falls where Portland
emerged to service the traffic.


Horse drawn wagons slogged
along dirt paths until a plank
toll road connected the cities.
The 3 mile long Turnpike opened
in 1818 and greatly reduced the
time it took to make the trip.
After the Portland Canal opened
in 1830, use of the Turnpike
declined and the route eventually
became Portland Avenue.

This marker was dedicated on September 29, 2018.