Luigart & Harting Complex

Luigart & Harting Complex

At the northeast corner of Limestone and York streets is the old Luigart & Harting complex, which has been known by many names over its long history. 

The earliest reference to the parcel in the local newspapers occurred on March 23, 1850, when The Kentucky Statesman reported that at “about one o’clock on Thursday morning last, the Rope-Walk and Bagging Factory of the Messrs. Randall, situate on Mulberry street, near the city limits, was discovered to be on fire.” Although two fire companies responded to the blaze, the fire “could not be arrested before all the buildings were consumed” and the loss was estimated at $4,000.      

In its place is the still standing 1850 structure described in Perrin’s History of Fayette County, Kentucky as “the first hemp factory in Fayette County operated by steam power.” Perrin went on:

After Randall & Bro., the factory carried on for a time by Dr. Gillespie, a son-in-law to Judge Robertson. It was first used as a malt house by Swigert [sic, should be Luigart and corrected hereafter] & McLellan, in 1870, and, after running it about eight months, Luigart bought McLellan out, and for two years conducted the business on his own accord and alone. In 1873, Mr. Harting was admitted into partnership, since when the firm has been, as above, Luigart & Harting. The grounds comprise four acres. The water is obtained from a spring nearby; there is also a well on the ground, which is used in dry weather. … The floor of the old building is 12,800 square feet; the new building in process of erection (1881), will have a floor space of 15,000 square feet. The warehouse holds over five thousand bushels of barley. The firm handle annually 75,000 bushels of malt, make 30,000 bushels , and with the new building (now being erected), will make 75,000 bushels per annum; 75% of the barley used is purchased in the county. One thousand bushels of coal is consumed annually by this establishment. …

Joseph Luigart, incorrectly identified by Perrin as having the last name Swigert, was an immigrant from Württemberg, Germany. A brewer by trade, Luigart was born in 1829. Upon his arrival in America in 1855, he worked first as the foreman at a brewery in Cincinnati, Ohio and later at a brewery in Logansport, Indiana. While in Logansport, he and Gerhard Fuchs patented a beer cooler technology that remains in use today. Luigart returned to Cincinnati to manufacture the technology then sold his interest in that operation before relocating to Lexington, Kentucky in 1875. Here, Mr. Luigart worked at the Wolfe and Yelham brewery and introduced Lexingtonians to the German lager style of beer, whetting their appetites for his own brews that he would make after acquiring the old hemp factory.     

Luigart’s partner, William Harting, also hailed from Germany. Born in 1833 and immigrating to the United States in 1854, Harting, too, settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. Four years later, Harting relocated to Lexington, Kentucky in 1858 where he became a respected jeweler and watchmaker. He joined Luigart in the malting business in 1873, but continued the jewelry trade as well. Beginning in 1881, Harting served for two years as the president of the Lexington City National Bank before retiring from poor health. He died in 1887.     

The historic value of the 1850 structure as the “first hemp factory in Fayette County operated by steam power” is made that much greater by its continued presence in the neighborhood. It stands today as one of the oldest hemp factories in Kentucky and among the oldest in the nation. (Langsam: FANL-41). The historic building was given a second story in 1927 and, along with it, a

very fanciful treatment, with round-arched openings on the front-section, a balcony on center of the Limestone St. front, a shingled oriel over a high first-story window on the south; the entire second-story on the south side overhands on shaped and carved beam ends; there are variegated pilasters, panels, and plaques between round-arched single and double openings on the new front section and along the south upper walls; there is also an interesting batten door on the alley. Grotesque human heads and busts, lions’ heads, foliage in relief, and figurative gutter spouts enliven the surfaces.

Dixieland Gardens

Originally, this ‘new’ second story was occupied by the Star Hotel and the structure also served for a time as a dancehall known as Dixieland Gardens. For decades in the middle of the twentieth century, the spot was a popular luncheonette for the discussion of Democratic politics. Langsam described it as “one of the most interesting examples of ‘primitive’ decoration in the city and, combined with the significant industrial structure behind, a major urban landmark.” 

In 1980, the building housed a repair shop and supply storage in the warehouse section while the front section of the building had first-floor storefronts with second-floor apartments. As of this writing, the first floor of the front contains the Charmed Life Tattoo parlor, and the second story contains apartments. The warehouse is used as storage, and a variety of other uses.

The 1881 addition mentioned in Perrin’s History was the design of architect Herman L. Rowe and was among Rowe’s earliest Lexington designs. Rowe, another German immigrant, would later design both the Lexington Opera House in 1886 and the Lexington Public Library (now the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, located in Gratz Park). It was not the only project Rowe completed for Luigart; according to Langsam, Rowe later designed a planing mill complex further east on York Street as well as other Luigart residences and buildings.

The bushels of barley described by Perrin provided several cities with Luigart & Harting Malt. The variety of barley, however, was winter barley. This variety fell out of favor as demand for northwestern spring barley spiked. Business waned, and Luigart died on June 26, 1896. During Luigart’s final decade, Sanborn maps identified the project as the “Joseph Luigart Malt House.” Five years after his death, however, it was “formerly” the malt house and identified as “Old and Vacant.”

Shelby Bros. Tobacco Company

Shelby Bros. Tobacco Company

Between the Belt Line Railway and Loudon Avenue, is the ca. 1893 Shelby Bros. Tobacco Company building at 787 North Limestone Street. Excavation for the building’s foundation was reported on February 13, 1893, on “land adjoining the Hercules ice factory” according to that day’s issue of the Lexington Leader.

The 1896 Sanborn map identified the structure as the Shelby Bros. Twist Tobacco Factory. And another Sanborn map shortly after the turn of the century noted the building’s role in the tobacco industry. Then, it was noted as “David Reed Occupant as Tobacco Re-Handling House, W.J. Loughridge (Owner)” Later, the structure experienced a change of industry according to yet another Sanborn map: “Wholesale Beer and Soft Drinks.” It is not surprising to see the change in the building’s role, considering much of Lexington’s tobacco industry shifted to the south of Lexington anchored by countless warehouses and the Liggett and Myers Rehandling Plant on Bolivar Street.

Tobacco was a staple American industry with international demand. The Bluegrass region’s climate and soil is well suited toward the crop’s growth and entrepreneurs took advantage. Access to railways and navigable waterways made the growing, handling, twisting, and packaging of chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco, and snuff a boon for the local market.

Bluegrass Tobacco Company

Bluegrass Tobacco Company

The anchor of the neighborhood’s tobacco trade, however, was not Shelby. Rather, it was the Blue Grass Tobacco Company Warehouse.  The five-story building stands at the southeast corner of the intersection of Loudon and Bryan Avenues, and was built in two stages in 1904 and 1907.    

The first stage was begun in August of 1904, and it was associated with Ernest B. Drake, another Lexington entrepreneur who would become involved in a myriad of industries and businesses including large-scale tobacco distribution. Prior to constructing the 1904 building, however, Drake seemed primarily involved in farming and the sale of related implements at a “stand” on Cheapside. Among these implements was a “tobacco-worm destroyer,” a device that was critical for farmers growing the cash crop.

In April 1904, the Blue Grass Tobacco Company suffered a major loss from a fire at its leased Louisville factory. The news, however, proved good for the North End - the company announced in June that all operations would be located at a new complex on Loudon Avenue. Soon after, ground was broken on the now-dominant five-story structure.

By 1908, Blue Grass Tobacco Company was employing 300 workers, and producing 30 different tobacco brands. It was considered a good place to work, being a fully equipped, modern space that was well-lit and “airy.” Some reports concluded it a “healthful place to work.” 

Also in 1908, yet another structure was added to the neighborhood at the intersection of the Belt Line and North Limestone. The one-story structure had six rooms and served as joint offices for Blue Grass Tobacco Company and the American Hemp Company. 

Each of these two entities were led by W.J. Loughridge, the son-in-law of W. W. Bruce. Born in Mississippi, Loughridge appeared almost as the caricature of a southern gentleman “in manner, appearance and voice” but in terms of his energy seemed to have “the spirit of the energetic easterner or northerner in promoting affairs and in business ventures” according to a sketch published in the Lexington Leader in May 1909. Just as Hunt had become incredibly wealthy from hemp, Loughridge’s wealth came from both hemp and tobacco.

In 1909, Blue Grass Tobacco Company was partially sold to a northern syndicate and was reorganized as the Blue Grass Tobacco Works. Without any change in ownership, the name was again changed in 1910 to the J.D. Moore Tobacco Company. Good planning, Loughridge’s family ties, and entrepreneurial success were not the only causes for Blue Grass Tobacco’s success. Another opportunity for Loughridge was the politics of the tobacco crop towards the end of the Black Patch War.

The Black Patch War began as a response to the American Tobacco Company operating as a trust, fixing prices on tobacco through its control of the market. Farmers organized to boycott sales to the American Tobacco Company while a more militant group, known as the Night Riders, burned the crops of those who ignored the boycott. Most of the Night Riders’ actions occurred in western Kentucky and Tennessee, though the effects were felt across the industry. 

Local tobacco industry, like Blue Grass Tobacco, operated outside the trust and largely maintained favor with local farmers.  On November 27, 1908, the Lexington Leader reported that more than a dozen salespeople who had been sidelined due to diminished crop availability, likely resulting from the Black Patch War, were being put back on the road.

Irving Air Chute

Faded painting on the five-story structure bares allegiance to some of these name changes – the words “Blue Grass Tobacco Works” are still visible. The ghost painting advertisements also reveal that tobacco wasn’t the only industry to be supported by the building’s presence - others included coal, hay, corn, oats, lime, sand, cement, and more. 

Another industry, parachute manufacturing, also occurred in the single-story part of this structure now identified as 720 Bryan Avenue. From 1950 through 1952, the Irving Air Chute Company, Inc. of Buffalo, N.Y. manufactured parachutes and other items from the location. The company, best known for its manufacture of parachutes used during the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day, had opened its first Lexington factory on West Main Street in 1942. A plan in 1950 would have relocated the manufacturing facility to South Broadway, but the move was opposed by the Fayette Fiscal Court. Instead, the parachute company rented the space at 720 Bryan Avenue. After only two years, however, the company relocated to a space on Versailles Road.