When I was growing up in Boulder, the town of Louisville—just six miles east on Hwy 36— was hardly a destination. It was tiny and mostly residential, with a fading downtown occupied by elderly folks, blue-collar families, and the occasional hard partiers at Senor T’s Mexican Restaurant.
Everybody knew that Karen’s Country Kitchen made the best pies. You got your Italian food from the Blue Parrot and your Chinese from the Double Happy. But no one was living in Louisville on purpose. It seemed like a place you ended up, not a place you went to.
A resident once told me, “Happiness is Loserville in the rearview mirror.” There was only one high school, shared with the town of Lafayette, the rougher neighbor to the east. The further you got from the mountains, the poorer and more ethnically diverse the neighborhoods got. Those who could afford it bussed their kids to Boulder for school.
But then something started to shift. Several of our newlywed friends, unable to afford the astronomical property values just down the road, bought houses in Louisville. We saw the transformation happening before our eyes: Louisville was becoming “New Boulder.”
Not that you can tell from my pictures, but today, Louisville is BUMPIN’. It was named the best town in America to live in by CNN/Money and Money magazine not once, but TWICE in the last five years. The downtown has received a total makeover, bringing in new bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. During the summer, they close off a portion of Main Street to make room for umbrella-dotted patios for al fresco dining. Every Friday, the Louisville Downtown Street Faire attracts a huge crowd of residents and visitors to eat street food, drink beer, and listen to music.
But how did it all get this way?
Louisville got its name from a local landowner named Louis Nawatny in the 1870s who was basically like, “Hey dudes, I’m naming this town after myself. Deal with it.” It began as a mining town, which attracted European settlers, including a large number of Italian immigrants.
Coal mining is a rough life by any stretch of the imagination, but turned out to be especially difficult in these parts due to low-quality coal, labor disputes with the big mining companies, and a depressed economy during the off-season. The Louisville Historical Museum has some great artifacts illustrating this history:
The museum currently has an exhibit about the Rex Movie Theater, which stood on Main Street from 1920 to 1978. Just this year, a new restaurant opened on the spot and adopted a replica of the theater’s original facade.
Next door to the museum is the historic Tomeo House, built by a coal miner and saloon keeper named Felix Tomeo in the early 20th century. The home was rented by the Rossi family, a widow and her children, through the 1930s. The Tomeo House is staged with period household items, showing what life was like for families of that time.
These days, Louisville is just downright quaint as hell. And, of course, the rest of us can’t afford to live there.