Map of a section of Lexington, with the borders of Davistown highlighted in yellow. The boundary streets are named in the text.

Davis Park, also known as Davistown and formerly known as Davis Bottom, was unusual among Lexington's urban settlements in that it was racially diverse almost from the beginning. The community formed in a "bottom"—a narrow, swampy valley about half a mile southwest of downtown Lexington—and is named for the original developer, William Willard Davis, who purchased and subdivided the original 43 lots in 1865.

As shown on the map to the left, the borders of Davistown were High Street and South Broadway on the north and South, and Pine Street and railroad tracks on the east and west. The map is from the 1971 Irishtown Davistown South Hill Neighborhood Study.

Most of the early purchasers were African Americans. Soon working-class White people, many of them European immigrants, also moved into the area. In the 1880 census, Davis Bottom had a total population of 387 people; 69% Black, and 31% White. According to the Kentucky Archaeological Survey's Davis Bottom History Preservation Project website, most of the early residents worked as "domestic servants, waiters and cooks, or as laborers for construction companies, railroads and horserace tracks."

Although there were a few larger houses, most homes were primarily shotgun style, and many were built on wooden posts to prevent flooding from the frequent high water.

The population of Davis Bottom reached a peak of 1,050 residents in the 1920s, and then began to decline, but the neighborhood remained an unusually racially diverse community throughout its history.

The Kentucky Department of Transportation and multiple collaborators have produced a video, "Davis Bottom: Rare History, Valuable Lives," that presents a richly detailed history of this remarkable place.

Several factors led to the decline of Davis Bottom. First, part of the area was zoned for industry, and absentee landlords owned most of the homes. As a result, many homes were demolished and replaced with factories, tobacco warehouses, and similar uses over the years.

A 1980 Lexington Leader special supplement, "Valley of Neglect," includes a photo (see below) of a Davis Bottom house with a virtual mountain of junk cars looming behind it. The supplement can be found on the Davis Bottom History Preservation Project website.

A street in Davistown. In the midground are five or six small frame homes. Looming over their back yards is a tower of crushed, junked cars.

Junked cars tower over Davistown homes in 1980. Photo by Ron Garrison, Lexington Herald-Leader. Used with permission.

The long-planned Newtown Pike Extension project was expected to demolish a major section of the neighborhood. That project—planned since the 1930s but held up for various reasons until the 2000s—created such uncertainty that few homeowners or landlords were willing to invest in home repairs, and the city was unwilling to invest in street repairs or sidewalks. From the Irishtown Davistown South Hill Neighborhood Study, here is an example of how plans for Newtown Pike Extension affected Davistown:

In 1968, the Irishtown/Davistown residents asked the Planning Commission for assistance in eliminating the industrial zoning from their neighborhood in an effort to encourage new residential activity in the area. Discus­sions and meetings were held for over a year regarding the matter, after which the Planning Commission re-zoned most of Irishtown to a residential classification but left Davistown in its non-residential classification because of the uncertainty of the proposed crosstown expressway (Lexington-Fayette County Planning Commission 1971).

Despite the obstacles this small community faced, Davis Bottom is reported to have been a strong, tight-knit neighborhood. Neighbors looked out for each other, and several generations of many families, including renters, lived there.

Several factors led to the decline of Davis Bottom. First, part of the area was zoned for industry, and absentee landlords owned most of the homes. As a result, many homes were demolished and replaced with factories, tobacco warehouses, and similar uses over the years.

Instead of Urban Renewal, it was finally the long-awaited (or dreaded) Newtown Pike Extension that led to the loss of many Davistown homes and almost total transformation of that community.

The section of Newtown Pike Extension that most affects Davistown is now complete; it is called Oliver Lewis Way, honoring the Black Lexington jockey who won the first Kentucky Derby. Many of the original Davis Bottom houses are gone. But through the efforts of neighborhood activists, community organizations, and state and local government, the final plan for the road yielded a park, housing for residents, and new homes built by the Lexington Community Land Trust. In 2022, the plan is still being carried out; a significant number of attractive new homes are in place.

To learn more about the rich history of Davis Bottom, its residents and the lives they lived there, see:

  • The Davis Bottom History Preservation Project. Here you will find not only interesting articles about the neighborhood and its history, but also links to a one-hour documentary, several oral history interviews, newspaper articles, family photo archives, and more.

To learn more about the Newtown Pike Extension project and Lexington Community Land Trust, see