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History of Joe Creason Park

Ben and Bess Collings
Ben and Bess Collings
Joe Creason Park is the remainder of the former Ben Collings Estate, which was assembled from several pieces of two large estates that were founded almost 200 years ago.

Joseph Kinney and Basil Prather, a Revolutionary War Captain, purchased adjoining tracts “on the waters of Beargrass Creek” from Robert Daniel in 1789. The Daniels evidently had resided in the park area during their four years of ownership, since a Rebecca Daniel was buried in a graveyard on the property.

Each of the men built a large house. Kinney’s house stood where the current Metro Parks administration building stands; Prather’s house was located to the northwest, across Illinois Avenue near where the Quarry Shopping Center is today.

Kinney’s estate at some point became known as “Fox Hill,” and was a popular gathering spot, because of its clear well in a shady grove of majestic trees, and pleasant view. The well was used extensively for many years, and was re-opened during the 1937 flood when clean water was difficult to obtain. The estate passed through a number of owners, including George and William Prather, sons of Basil Prather, who purchased it in 1850; and General John B. Castleman, a former Confederate officer and second president of the Board of Park Commissioners of Louisville, who owned the property from 1885 to 1894. Castleman re-named the estate “Castleford,” a name he used in the deed when he sold it. Ben Collings, a construction materials supplier specializing in concrete, purchased the property in 1937 and re-named it “Colonial Farms.”

The Basil Prather estate was partitioned between his heirs early on, and his heirs eventually sold their parcels to various people, so that the portion of Basil Prather’s estate now in the park was under several different ownerships at any one time through the years. All of his estate within the park was purchased for Camp Taylor prior to World War I and re-sold when the camp was disassembled after the war. The pieces were later assembled by Ben Collings following his purchase of the mansion.

Collings accumulated almost two hundred acres by the time of his death in 1951, including much of the land now in the Louisville Zoo. His wife, Bess, inherited the estate at his death, and sold off about half to private interests, and to the Archdiocese. After she died in 1965, Bellarmine College purchased the remainder of the estate. In 1966, the city paid Bellarmine approximately $600,000 for 68 acres, including the mansion.

The mansion that now stands in the park was built by Ben Collings in 1944 after the 154-year-old original house burned down. Collings was determined that it would never again burn down, and he built it with eight-inch-thick reinforced concrete walls. The walls are faced with brick and the floors are concrete,. The house was rebuilt on the foundation of the old 18 room house.

The estate was used by many owners as a horse farm. The Collingses themselves were active in raising horses, and all the facilities were still on the property when the city purchased it. The horse barn, unfortunately, burned down shortly thereafter. The large barn that remains on the property presently houses Metro Parks forestry and maintenance operations. It was formerly used as a tobacco warehouse, and was originally constructed as part of the Camp Taylor operation during World War I.

The Prather graveyard, which includes Rebecca Daniel’s grave, still remains. The inscriptions from this graveyard were recorded by the Kentucky Historical Society in 1929. Although it is technically not owned by Metro Parks, it is maintained by the park system.

The trees along Trevilian Way east of the park entrance drive are Osage Orange. These trees, named for the inedible fruit that resembles a green orange, only grew in a small area in Texas when the first settlers arrived but quickly spread throughout the country as people used it for fencing. Because of its heavy thorns, dense, bushy growth when young, and willingness to grow from cuttings, it was extensively used to contain livestock before the advent of barbed wire. The plantings along Trevilian Way are a remnant of such on old hedge, but are now large trees.

The property also used to have fine orchards, producing many apples and much fine apple brandy each year. A few fruit trees still stand on an adjacent 15-acre tract owned by Bellarmine.

ln 1982, the State Nature Preserves Commission purchased a 41-acre wooded tract that adjoins the park on the north. This tract, now known as the Beargrass Creek Nature Preserve, was a port of the Collings estate that had been acquired by the Archdiocese of Louisville in 1960.