Amusement-park site in Shawnee found new use

By Sheryl Edelen
The Courier-Journal
October 20, 2004

In the fall of 1979, the old site of Fontaine Ferry Park was having an identity crisis.

The city wanted to use the land 64 acres at Market Street and North Western Parkway to extend Shawnee Park.  Developers wanted to build apartments and condos.  Some neighbors proposed another amusement park, but others wanted a police station.  One even suggested a disco.

These days, most interests have gotten some of what they want.

Lots in Fontaine Estates, a 7-acre upscale subdivision on the site of the park's old horse stables, went on sale in 1996, and the development has attracted buyers.

Across Market a year later, the city created the $1.2 million, 18-acre Shawnee Park Sports Complex, complete with baseball fields, a large concession stand, restrooms, playground equipment, a picnic area and more than 600 new trees.

Still no disco, though.


By John C. Pillow
The Courier-Journal

...Gish also has fond memories of the old Fontaine Ferry amusement park on South Western Parkway, which provided entertainment for most of the area's children.  However, some of the newer Shawnee residents don't have such pleasant memories of the park.  The park wasn't integrated until 1964 and was the site of several demonstrations in the early '60s.   "I didn't realize I was black, and black was different until I stood outside Fontaine Ferry one day," said John Green, 40, of Cecil Avenue.  "We didn't understand why we couldn't go in there.  When you are a child and you see other children having fun, you can't understand why you can't do it too."  "It was a very sad feeling.  Even after they let us go in, nobody really felt welcome."  The park closed in 1969, shortly after an incident involving looting and vandalism.  That incident also served to drive many of the remaining whites out of the neighborhood, according to Gish.  But he wasn't one of them.  He kept his home on 36th and Market streets until 1980, when he moved near Bowman Field...

Westward Ho

Excerpted from his book "Joe Ward's Wheeling Around Louisville"

...Further along on the right, you'll pass the now-leveled site of Fontaine Ferry - better known as Fountain Ferry - Park, dear to the memory of many a white Louisville native, but tainted with segregation issues for many blacks.  It was a popular summer picnic spot, with a large swimming pool with a waterfall, a succession of spectacular roller coasters and other rides, and the Gypsy Village dance garden.

Internationally known bicycle racers set world records on Fontaine Ferry's one-third-mile velodrome during the 1896 meet of the League of American Wheelmen - a national cycling organization that was then at the height of political power and social popularity.

Turn right onto Shawnee Park Road and enter the broad park that designer Frederick Law Olmstead supposed would be a great place for lawn games.  It has many playing fields today...

(Primarily East-Central Area)

By Joseph Jacob Eisenbeis

...Fontaine Ferry Park, foot of Market St.
I remember when there were no amusement devices only a large cage of Eagles flying around in their cage, that was OK then but not to-day.  Tony Landenwich was the owner and operated a hotel and restaurant.  Next to the park was a bicycle race track which must to have been very popular in its day, but when I saw it it was not in use, very likely the craze died and it was not used at all, because weeds were growing in places.  It was built on a slant as auto tracks are today.  That passed out very likely because it was not profitable.

The New Fontaine Ferry Park
Fontaine Ferry Enterprises, Inc.
J. R. Singhiser President mailed me a season pass every year and myself and family enjoyed the privilege every year.  These passes should eventually become a collectors item because they will never be issued again.  It started like Coney Island Amusement or Kings Island, Cincy, OH and remained so for many years.  It had all the amusement devices you can think of.  Many people know of these things to-day.  When F F E opened, the people down town could not get there because the street cars were so crowded by people of the East End.  So the transit company started some cars to make trips from down town.  In the early days of F F my father took the family for an outing and it seemed to me that we were way out in the country, because there were trees on both sides of the car track, I did not see many houses on the way.  The tracks were like railroad tracks the same kind as were used at Billy Goat Hill in Crescent Hill. F. F. folded as River Glen Park.  There were other parks in the west end which were quite popular namely Riverview Park and White City Park.  Riverview was like the original F F when Tony Landenwich was in full swing.  Dancing Lunches and a very restful place.  I was there several times at dinners which were given to the teachers of St. Johns' S S and the choir members for their loyal service to the church.  This dinner was the annual gift by Mr. Fred J. Drexler a member and officer of St. Johns Evang. Church.  It was delightful.  As far as I can remember Riverview was eventually taken over by White City Enterprises and ran in opposition to F F. The main attraction was a water arcade where boats were used from a hifh position and run into the lake below.  To oppose F. F. was a hard task for White City and it folded.  In my late teens it was my great pleasure to spend the afternoon when possible to go to F. F. and sit at a table and order something to eat & drink and listen to the very good bands play their afternoon concerts.  Every week there was a new well known band.  I remember the bands of Creatore, Elingers, Webers of Cin O. Nattilo of Lou. and Bohemia Kryl and there were other bands to make appearances.  I became thrilled when I heard Mr. Elinger play the famous Inflamatur est Rossina as a cornet solo accompanied by the band.  In Creatore Band I remember there were no stick trombones all valves.  Fontaine Ferry also had summer opera which was always a delight to attend shows like Robin Hood, Prince of Pilsen, The Firefly, Wild flower, Ktinka, Spring Maud, The Red Mill, Naughty Marietta, Wizard of Oz, Gypsy Love, The Fortune Teller, Chocolate Soldier, The Witch Doctor, Sari, Mlle Modiste and others...

Century of Old Fontaine Estate

by Mary Lytle Byers

...Hardly can be held to apply to Fontaine Ferry park which under the management of Col. Harry A. Bilger, soon will open for the summer season of 1914. It is probable that few persons recall that this is the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the famous fountain that gave the celebrated amusement resort its name and prestige. An article prepared by Charles Thurston who is one of the descendants of the Fontaines, tells some interesting incidents in connection with the origin of the place.

Mr. Thurston says:
Col. Aaron Fontaine came from Virginia in 1798 with a family of twelve children and his son-in-law, Judge Fortunatus Cosby, and settled on Harrods Creek in Jefferson county, of this State. He afterward removed, on January 17, 1814, to the banks of the Ohio river west of Louisville and established his family on a large estate which was purchased by him from Mr. William Lytle, of Cincinnati, O. This estate was part of 3,000 acres purchased by his son-in-law, Judge Fortunatus Cosby, from Sarah Beard, July 7, 1806, the property being known as part of the Connolly and De Warnsdorff tracts.

The estate purchased by Col. Aaron Fontaine from William Lytle embraced ... acres and at the time of its purchase the property was called 'Carter's ferry'. It was afterward named 'Fontaine Ferry' by Col. Fontaine in 1814 and the place was laid out in orchards lawns and grass lands. The house, of substantial construction, faced the Ohio River, where a boat was kept for pleasure and service. A fine cypress avenue opened on what is now Main and the old Fountaine Ferry Road was a famous drive leading into the country retreat. Here Col. Fontaine lived the life of a country squire in the good old days in peace, plenty and hospitality, 100 years ago.

Col. Fontaine was a gentleman of the old school whose type almost has passed away. He was of French descent and a member of a noble Huguenot family in France. Among the number of the ancestors of this Huguenot was the noted Peverence Peter Fontaine, rector of Westover parish, Charles City County, Va., in 1716. It is said of Col. Fontaine that he was particularly courteous and polite to everyone with whom he came in contact and particularly so to his wife to whom he always doffed his hat before taking his morning toddy and insisted that she taste the toddy first.

Col. Fontaine, previous to his emigration to Kentucky in 1798, married Barbara Terril, of Virginia, who traced her lineage to the royal house of Stuart and was the granddaughter of Col. William Overton, of Glencairn, Hanover county, Va. Twelve children were born of this marriage as follows: Mary Ann, the wife of Judge Fortunatus Cosby; Mathilda, the wife of Thomas Prather; Martha, the wife of Aexander Pope; America, the wife of William S. Vernon; Sallie, the wife of Gov. George Floyd; Deborah, the wife of Judge Edmund Bullock; Maria the wife of Sterling Grimes; Barbara, the wife of John Sanders, Ann Overton, the wife of John I. Jacob, and Peter, John and Maury Fontaine, sons.

Soon after the death of his first wife, Barbara Terrill Fontaine, Col. Fontaine married Mrs. Elizabeth Whiting Thruston, the widow of Col. John Thruston, of Sans Souel, of Jefferson county, who was with Gen. George Rogers Clark in the campaigns against the British and the Indians at Kaskaskia and Vincennes. Mrs. Thruston had ten children when she married Col. Fontaine and four children were the result of this marriage.

Mrs. Elizabeth Whiting Thruston's children were Charles M. Thruston, Sr., lawyer in Louisville from 1800 to 1856; Alfred Thruston, cashier of the Bank of Louisville in 1833; Algernon Thruston, Attourney General of Texas, killed at the side of Davy Crockett in "The Alamo:" Lucius Thruston, Louisville; Mrs. Kitty Luckett, Louisville; Mrs. Worden Pope, Louisville; Mrs, Mollie January, St. Louis, Mo.; Mrs. Fanny Rector, of Arkansas; Mary Thruston, of Louisville, and John Thruston, II, Louisville. The children of the marriage of Col. Fontaine and Mrs. Thruston were Aaron B. Fontaine, Alexander Fontaine, Henry W. Fontaine and Emmeline Dillon Fontaine...

Captain Aaron Fontaine

Capt. Aaron Fontaine
[Virginia gentleman and planter, migrated to KY in 1798; had French Huguenot ancestry]
born: 1753
died: 1823, age 70
married: Barbara Terrell (1st wife), Elizabeth T. Thruston (2nd wife, mother of 10 already, they had 4 more children)

Barbara Terrell (Fontaine) of Virginia
born: 1756
died: 1798
[Barbara's great-grandmother, Mary Waters, was associated with the court of Charles II in France]
children: 12

Peter Fontaine
born: 1774
Catherine Taylor, 1798

James Fontaine (tavern keeper)
born: 1776
married: Deborah Hobbs, March 1799
1. ? Fontaine
1. Charles Beauregard Fontaine
1. Ruth Fontaine Scott

3. Mary Ann Fontaine
born: 1778
married: Fortunatus Crosby, 1795

4. Eliza Fontaine
born: 1780
married: Edmund Bullock (speaker of the KY house of representatives), 1799
children: Mary (m. Maj. Thomas Hart Shelby), Edmund, William F. Bullock

5. Matilda Fontaine
born: 1782
died: 1850
married: Thomas Prather (b. 1770, d. 1823; conducted a general store; early millionaire)
children: James, William(m. Penelope Pope), Mary Jane, Matilda, Maria, Julia, Catherine Cornelia (m. Rev. E. P. Humphrey)

6. Martha Fontaine
born: 1785
children: Penelope Pope (m. William Prather), Martha (1. m Charles Pope, 2. m. Rev. E. P. Humphrey)

7. Sally Fontaine
born: 1787

8. Maria Fontaine
born: 1789

9. America Fontaine
born: 1791

10. William Fontaine
born: 1793

11. Barbara Fontaine
born: 1794

12. Ann Overton (nicknamed Nancy) Fontaine
born: 1796
married: John I. Jacob
children: Matilda Prather Jacob

The nine Fontaine girls were daughters to Capt. Aaron Fontaine, a Virginia gentleman and planter, who migrated to Kentucky in 1798. Aaron settled first on the banks of Harrod's Creek, moving shortly into Louisville. He and his wife, the former Barbara Terrell, came of French Huguenot ancestry and their ancestors were associated with Charles II.

When the Fontaines set out for Kentucky, Aaron's 42 year old wife died, and his eldest daughter, Mary Ann, 20, took command. She had married Fortunatus Cosby three years before and had an infant girl. Her eight sisters were Eliza, 18, Matilda, 16, Martha, 13, Sally, 11, Maria, 9, America, 7, Barbara, 4, and two-year-old Ann Overton (nicknamed Nancy). Brothers were 24-year old Peter, James, 22, and William, five.

Matilda married Thomas Prather, and took care of Nancy, who married Prather's business partner, John I. Jacob. Nancy's first baby bore the name Matilda Prather Jacob.

Aaron purchased a large farm on the banks of the Ohio River that is now Louisville's west end. He also bought a ferry franchise - Fontaine's Ferry.

Peter wed Catherine Taylor in 1798; James, who became a tavern keeper, wed Deborah Hobbs in March, '99.

Eliza married Edmund Bullock a few months later, a former speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives. Eliza moved with her groom to Fayette County. Eight years later she died. Her children were Mary (m. Maj. Thomas Hart Shelby), Edmund, and Willliam Fontaine Bullock. William F. Bullock came to Lousville in 1828 and became a lawyer. Edmond Bullock, his father, came to live with him until dying in 1852.

Back to Matilda and Tom Prather - Tom and his brother-in-law partner, John Jacob, became two of the city's earliest millionaires. He and Matilda had six children - James, William, Mary Jane, Matilda, Maria Julia, and Catherine Cornelia. Thomas Prather died in 1823 at the age of 53; Matilda lived 27 more years.

Matilda's William married her sister Martha's daughter, Penelope Pope. When Matilda's daughter, Catherine Cornelia, died, her widower, the Rev. E. P. Humphrey, married Martha's daughter, Martha, a widow of her cousin, Charles Pope!

Aaron remarried to Mrs. Elizabeth T. Thruston in 1805, fathered 4 more children, and died in 1823 at the age of 70.