Historical Marker #2038, located in Louisville, Kentucky (Jefferson County) marks the rich history of the Harrod’s Creek subdivision and its innovative creator, James Thomas Taylor. Harrod’s Creek began as a small port for flatboat traders during the final years of British colonial occupation in the mid-to-late 1700s. It lies directly on the bank of the Ohio River, and is situated between two smaller offshoot streams, Goose Creek and Harrod’s Creek. It is not known who exactly Harrod’s Creek was named after, but evidence points to either James Harrod, who founded Fort Harrod, or Captain William Harrod, an expeditionary who severed under George Rogers Clark and commanded the first fort in Louisville.
In 1775, the Transylvania Company, a frontier land speculation company, bought the area from Native Americans as part of a 20 million-acre deal, the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals. The company began to sell lots with the intention of establishing a town, but instead, farmers settled in the highly fertile area.
The Harrod’s Creek area and other nearby districts began to suburbanize after railroads reached them in the early 1900s. Farmers capitalized off of the increased demand for residential property by selling their plots, and in 1919, farmer A.E. Shirley notably sold his land to James Thomas Taylor, a local Black real estate developer.
Taylor, born on November 17, 1885 in the Harrod’s Creek area, had been working from the age of 14, when he bought a plow and a team of mules and began contract farming. He gradually expanded his skillset and influence, branching into road construction and eventually real estate. In 1924, he began selling Shirley’s former land specifically to Black individuals and families who wished to settle in the area. In doing so, Taylor was building upon the momentum of the newly-constructed Jefferson Jacobs School, a school for Black children that was built in 1916 as a part of the Rosenwald Schools program. The program, a joint effort between Sears, Roebuck and Co. president Julius Rosenwald and Black educational leader Booker T. Washington, provided millions of dollars for hundreds of new schools to be built in the segregated South, where Black children had few educational options of their own. The Jefferson Jacobs School was named after Jefferson Jacobs, a formerly enslaved individual, and served as a primary school. As its students began to graduate, Taylor bought a school bus and drove them to the closest high school, Central High (https://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/309?tour=18&index=17), himself.
Taylor, seeking to prevent the Black residences from being bought out by larger development projects, put acreage and home size limits on the lots he sold. However, in the wake of Taylor’s death in 1965, as well as the zoning and residential freedoms ushered in by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it behooved many Harrod’s Creek residents to sell their homes.
Today, many of the subdivision’s historic buildings have been torn down and replaced with newer houses or condominiums, but significant landmarks remain intact within the 319-acre historic district. The Jacobs School still stands, currently serving as a Masonic lodge. Also prominent is the Merriweather House, which belonged to the first people that James Taylor sold land to, and is known for its 19th century steamboat-style exterior. The Captain’s Quarters, a local restaurant and bar, incorporates the original stone walls and fireplace from the 18th century Harrod’s Tavern, which served early river traders.
The Harrod’s Creek Historic District provides an expansive view into the richly diverse history of the state of Kentucky, and commemorates the enterprising efforts of Black real estate developer James T. Taylor, who helped Black families carve out a community for themselves in a time when very few such opportunities existed.