Buechel: Wild animals gave way to farmers
People in Buechel would probably scream — or worse — if they looked out their windows and saw the area as it appeared during the early 1800s, at least according to one history.
“Buffaloes were still numerous. . . . Bears were plentiful, and as they made visits up and down Bear Grass creek, would occasionally pounce upon a hog. Wildcats and panthers often exhibited their fondness for young pigs, and it was difficult to preserve sheep from their ravages.”
But Buechel’s rich land lured more farmers, displacing wild animals and launching a history that includes livestock rustling, legal battles, a visit by no one less than actress Elizabeth Taylor and a theft of nearly $2 million.
The area experienced slow growth for 170 years and then a blastoff of development during the 1950s and ’60s.
Buechel’s development started in about 1790, when George Hikes built its first sawmill, grist mill and wool-processing machine.
Hikes lived in a stone house on property next to what is now St. Michael’s Antiochian Orthodox Church, 3026 Hikes Lane. Most of the original house burned down and was rebuilt. “Hikes Lane was the driveway back to the house from Bardstown Road,” said Edna Hikes Terrel, Hikes’ great-great-granddaughter.
Hunsinger and Fegenbush lanes are named for other early settlers.
But nothing was named for Paschal Craddock, who stole livestock during the early 1800s, his neighbors said.
The last straw came when neighbors found 16 stolen hogs in Craddock’s sty. They told Craddock and two men who apparently stole the animals for him to clear out within six months.
Here’s how the story ended, according to “History of the Ohio Falls Cities and Their Counties,” published in 1882:
“The two accomplices took the hint and left the country, but Craddock, with a stubbornness equal to his meanness, failed to comply, and ere he lived out his six months a little stray vengeance overtook him, and Paschal Craddock was no more.”
An area called Two Mile Precinct — so named because its northern edge was two miles from Louisville — included Buechel during the area’s early days, said Jean Terry, president of the Buechel Area Historical and Preservation Alliance.
Today, Buechel is roughly bounded by Bashford Manor, Hikes and Six Mile lanes on the north; Breckenridge Lane on the east; Buechel Bank Road on the south; and Newburg Road and Progress Boulevard on the west. The area, which long ago included pastures and vegetable and potato farms, includes the small city of West Buechel.
Buechel got its name in the 1870s, after John Buechel bought a tavern-hotel on Bardstown Road, just south of the Southern Railroad tracks, and set up a post office in it. Visitors called the area “Buechel,” and people sent their mail there.
“The tavern was the halfway house between Louisville and Bardstown,” said Hugh Tobaben, who grew up next door to the place. “They just had plain old rooms. It certainly wasn’t the Seelbach, but it was cheap, and they had good fried chicken and chili and roast beef sandwiches.”
The Buechels sold the tavern in 1951, and it was demolished in 1983 after a fire.
Another landmark was Fanelli’s ice-cream shop, which from 1912 to 1983 was at 4119 Bardstown Road. It had the best ice cream around, according to Tobaben, who worked there during the mid-1930s, when he was a teen-ager.
“I started out washing ice-cream cans at 50 cents a day,” Tobaben said.
In 1909, Charles Scroggan established Buechel Bank, primarily to stimulate potato production, a big enterprise at the time in the area.
Scroggan, who was involved in several other businesses, seemed the right fellow to start a bank. He once made $9,000 by buying and selling Bashford Manor Farm, where Bashford Manor Mall now sits, in one day.
Buechel’s commercial strip along Bardstown Road during the ’20s and ’30s also included a hardware store, grocery stores, a drugstore and a barber shop.
Some found that a bit lacking.
“There really wasn’t much out here. There wasn’t much to do when I was a kid,” said David Pfeiffer, 56, who grew up in Buechel and now runs Leatherman Pharmacy, 4014 Bardstown Road.
“We’d catch a Blue Motor bus and go downtown to the movies on Fourth Street,” Pfeiffer said.
But other youngsters found simpler entertainment nearby.
“There was a great deal of hunting,” Tobaben said. “Red foxes were still in the area. A lot of rabbits got trapped. There were sinkholes around here with animals in them, like skunks.”
Tobaben’s brother searched cornfields for arrowheads.
“One farm — we called it the Crawford Estate, out Bardstown Road from the center of Buechel — must have had a big battle one time,” said Charles Tobaben, who now lives in Atlanta. “I had quite a collection of arrowheads, and so did my friend who lived next door.”
After graduating from the old Hikes Graded School, Buechel youngsters went either to Fern Creek High School or a Louisville school.
“I went to Atherton because it was a city school, and I was a country girl. I graduated in ’29,” said Ruth Kleinsteuber, who grew up on Six Mile Lane when it had “a few scattered houses here, there and yonder.”
Kleinsteuber, whose father ran the Buechel train station for the Southern Railroad for 53 years, said she would never forget the 1937 flood, even though Buechel wasn’t under water.
“The furnaces at the Southern office downtown got flooded, and they moved their headquarters to Buechel. All the big shots from the Southern office — maybe a dozen or more of them — were stationed in our house.
“You can’t believe what a madhouse it was. We had three beds, a couch that opened up and a pallet on the dining-room floor. When one person got out of a bed, another would get in. You know there wasn’t any privacy.”
Another landmark was Bashford Manor Farm, known for thoroughbred horses. But at times, more than four-legged critters walked its fields.
“I sat on the fence and watched Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift when part of ‘Raintree County’ was filmed at Bashford Manor,” Pfeiffer said. “I remember that they painted one side of each barn white to make it look good for the movie.”
In 1947, Louis Arru built the Skyway Drive-In Theater on Bardstown Road at Hikes Lane.
“Buechel was still a sleepy little village,” Arru said. Other businesses near the corner were Club Sahara, Jerry’s Restaurant and Miller’s Restaurant, which Arru called “a chicken-every-Sunday type of place.”
Between Jerry’s and the Sahara, Arru said, stood a “ramshackle little hamburger place, something of a mess, about 10 by 15 feet.”
“You know who ran it? . . . It was Foster Brooks, no kidding,” Arru said. “When I was building the Skyway, we would go over there for lunch, and Foster would fry the hamburgers and boil the hot dogs. He was usually in there by himself.”
The drive-in was followed by other new buildings as the post-World War II building boom took off in Buechel and other suburban areas. “One by one, the farms became subdivisions,” Pfeiffer said. “It was sad, really, to see it.”
And Buechel’s boom got a boost — but good — when General Electric’s Appliance Park opened in 1950.
To handle Appliance Park commuters, Buechel Bank Road was widened to four lanes between Newburg Road and Appliance Park in 1951. That same year, the old Buechel Bus Lines doubled its number of buses — to eight — running between Buechel and Louisville.
While land sales skyrocketed, officials announced plans for the Buechel Bypass in 1953, which later fed traffic around Buechel’s commercial district instead of backing it up on Bardstown Road.
As the boom began, Louisville eyed the fat property-tax pie baking in Buechel and proposed annexing much of the area one day in 1951. Two days later, some residents of West Buechel proposed incorporating their area to stay out of Louisville, where taxes were higher.
Buechel folks filed no fewer than six lawsuits to fight Louisville, tying up the mattter in court until 1955, when the big city called off the annexation attempt because it had caused bitterness.
But annexation mess wasn’t the only messy situation in the area at the time.
In 1954, West Buechel issued $2 million in bonds for streets and other improvements. Texas financier BenJack Cage put down $275,000 for the bonds, signed a note for the remaining $1.7 million. He later left for Brazil, and the money was missing.
Texas convicted and imprisoned Cage, now deceased, a few years later on embezzlement and other charges, but West Buechel never got back its money, which left some disgruntled citizens ready to dissolve the city.
The last major development in Buechel was the completion of Bashford Manor Mall, which opened in 1973. By the late 1960s, longtime residents say, most open areas, as well as the Buechel they had grown up in, were long gone.
“When I was a little girl, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine how crowded Buechel is today — no way, no way,” said Dorothy Taylor, who grew up in a house where the Buechel Volunteer Fire Department station now stands.
“I couldn’t have begun to tell you what would happen, no way. There’s so much out here now.”