Like many landfills across the country, the story of the Lee’s Lane Landfill can be understood as an outcome of Louisville, Kentucky’s history of residential and industrial development. In the summers of the early 1900s, the banks of the Ohio River were the city’s top tourist destination. Just southwest of the city boundaries of Louisville, KY, city residents used the land along the river as a place to escape pollution and enjoy cooler temperatures while taking advantage of several unique amenities. The area featured a handful of amusement parks—White City (1907-1912) and Fontaine Ferry Park (1905-1969) on the Kentucky side and Rose Island (1923-1937) just across the river in Indiana (9). The parks were segregated for whites only until 1964 when Fontaine Ferry Park was integrated only to be closed and sold in 1969 (9).
For the next decade, the resort area continued to be segregated and was a prime location for parties and events for Louisville’s white social circles and clubs (12, 26), as well as local businesses (11, 20, 21) and University of Louisville fraternities (2, 3, 27). The resort clubhouse (see photo, left) was home to the Riverside Gardens baseball team (19, 24) and special events such as horseshoe tournaments (25) and an annual swim meet and regatta (18, 19) in addition to the everyday offerings of swimming, fishing, and boating. Free rides to the resort were available on the weekends, and music and entertainment, including dances on Saturday nights, were held to attract customers (1).
The influx of industry as well as damage from flooding and the lack of public works caused both Riverside Gardens and Lake Dreamland to lose their appeal as vacation destinations. Hartlage made a final attempt to maintain his resort’s status by converting an old dairy barn into Club El Rancho, a tavern and dance club that claimed to be the first spot to bring rock ‘n roll to Louisville. However, a fire destroyed the club in 1967, ending Hartlage’s enterprise (30, 32). Over time, various leaks and spills of gases and chemicals from the manufacturing plants caused further issues; leaks would kill crops making the remaining farmland in the area unsuitable for agriculture, and a chlorine leak in 1961 forced the temporary evacuation of Lake Dreamland (8). In 1975, flash fires were reported in Riverside Gardens homes, and these fires were linked back to gases released from the nearby landfill operation at Lee’s Lane (23).