The Filson Historical Society
(originally named the Filson Club
) is a historical society located in the Old Louisville
neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky
. The organization was founded in 1884 and named after early Kentucky explorer John Filson
, who wrote The Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucke
, which included one of the first maps of the state. The Filson's extensive collections focus on Kentucky, the Upper South, and the Ohio River Valley. Its research facilities include a manuscript collection as well as a library that includes rare books, periodicals, maps, and other published materials. The Filson also maintains a small museum. One intriguing possession of the museum is a section of American beech
tree trunk, with the carved legend "D. Boon kilt a bar 1803."
The Durrett years
The Filson's primary founder was Col. Reuben T. Durrett. After retiring from his law practice, Durrett devoted his attention to collecting and preserving Kentucky history. With interests in manuscripts, published materials, portraiture, and artifacts, Durrett's collecting habits formed the basis for what the Filson collects to present day. In 1884, Durrett and nine other prominent Louisvillians, including Gen. Basil W. Duke and Richard H. Collins founded the Filson Club, as an organization to preserve Kentucky's past.
For almost thirty years, Reuben Durrett served as the president of the Filson. The Filson's collections were stored in Durrett's home along with his personal library. While this arrangement was convenient at first, it proved problematic as Durrett grew older. In the early 1910s, Durrett suffered from a series of strokes, and as his health declined, he became concerned about the fate of his collection. In 1912, he sold his collection to the University of Chicago. However, most of the Filson's holdings, which were not part of the purchase, went to Chicago as well. The Filson was forced to start again.
R. C. Ballard Thruston revives the Filson
R. C. Ballard Thruston was another prominent Louisvillian with a strong interest in Kentucky history. An heir to the Ballard flour fortune, Thruston spent much of his time traveling the world and collecting manuscripts, portraits, and other material related to Kentucky. After becoming president of the Filson in 1923, Thruston worked diligently to revive the Filson and its collections. During his presidency, the Filson moved into a permanent location on Breckinridge
Street and first published a scholarly journal, The History Quarterly
(later The Filson Club History Quarterly
, and presently, Ohio Valley History
). When Thruston died in 1946, he left a strong historical society that no longer relied on one man to carry it.
The modern Filson
Since 1946, the Filson has relocated to Third Street and has amassed a collection of over 1.5 million manuscript items and over 50,000 volumes in the library. Additionally, it has accumulated an impressive collection of Ohio Valley portraits and over ten thousand museum artifacts. The general public has access to the Filson's vast resources, which provide valuable source material for books, articles, dissertations, coffee table books, and other work.
In 1986, the Filson moved to its current location on Third Street in Old Louisville.
Prominent members of The Filson