Long known as the “Old Slave Market” this structure is the oldest and best known in Louisville. For years it was said to have been built in 1758 at the intersection of Native American trading roads but recent research suggests it was built during the 1790s as a general market for the newly-founded city. Restored in the 1990s, it still includes some of its original timbers.
Perhaps, at the height of Reconstruction and the ensuing Jim Crow era, calling it a “slave market” was just a way to symbolize segregation in a physical space. Human beings were likely sold here and that should be known but it obviously served a more general purpose and the removal of “slave” from the name is an enlightened, if controversial, evolution in the historical record.
This historic marker, placed by the City of Louisville, reads: This Market House was built between 1795-1798 as a publicly owned multi-purpose trading house. Louisville newspapers record sales of large tracts, household goods, town lots and slaves by sheriffs, tax collectors, marshals and people of the community at the Market House. The square became the hub of transportation routes that centered on Louisville when the State Capital was located here (1794-1807). Although portions of the structure have been replaced, the Market House has never lost its distinctive style. Inside the Market House hangs a bell that was cast in France for a New Orleans Convent in 1772. The ship carrying the bell was sacked by pirates and the bell was sold in Savannah. It was given to the State Capitol but was used in the Market House as a community warning signal.
Louisville Commercial Historic District, National Register of Historic Places
Thanks so much for your comments and the history of this market and Louisville. Extra information adds a lot to any photo of an old place. I just finished reading “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” for the first time in my 60+ years. To see what could have been used as a slave market adds to our understanding of our history and of how, thankfully (!) so much has changed.