Sadly many institutions, especially those for children in the early 20th century had a stigma attached to them which were carried over from earlier tales of unwanted children and orphans whose lives were squandered in workhouses. Images of abandoned and neglected children sent away to labor until they reached adulthood fresh in peoples minds. Contrary to some public opinion, one such place in eastern Jefferson County Kentucky was the antithesis of what had come before.
The history of Ormsby Village dates back to 1912, when the city of Louisville organized the Parental Home and School for neglected children. The Parental Home was later merged with the Louisville Industrial School of Reform (formerly known as the House of Refuge) and became known as the Louisville and Jefferson County Children’s Home. It was thought that locating facilities away from the cities in a rural setting would be beneficial to the children, while the new interurban electric rail lines made the use of a rural site practical. The city of Louisville and Jefferson County Fiscal court purchased the old family farm from Ormsby’s heirs. The 400-area property was bounded by LaGrange Rd., Whipps Mill Rd., and Dorsey Ln. near present day Lyndon Kentucky. Soon after the purchase a bipartisan Board of Managers was appointed by mayor George Weising Smith and county judge William Kreiger. In honor of the history of the land, the new location was renamed Orsmby Village.
The new home put into practice some of the modern ideas in juvenile care to be found anywhere in the United States. It advocated the separation of juvenile facilities and treatment from those of adults, and a rejection of work exploitation in favor of education and recreation. The campus contained an administration building, central dining hall, kitchen, a maintenance building, a school and a hospital. For residential purposes 14 cottages with a capacity for 40 children each were constructed. There were athletic fields, a swimming pool, poultry yards and a dairy. The historic Ormsby family house on the property, Bellevoir, built between 1864 and 1867 by Hamilton Ormsby, was slightly remodeled and became the residence of the superintendent.
Soon after a home for African-American children called Ridgewood was established with a separate entrance off of Dorsey Lane. The majority of the children at Ormsby village were dependents whose parents could sadly no longer care for them. Children who committed mild form of delinquency were also admitted. At the height of its operation in the 1930s over 400 children called Ormsby, Ridgewood and the downtown Sunshine Lodge for pre-adolescents home.
The total population began to decline after the end of World War II when economic conditions began to improve. Segregation of the population ended in the early 1960s, and all facilities merged into Ormsby Village. As the population continued to decrease the school was closed with the young residents attending public schools while still living on the campus.
In 1968 the Board of Managers was dissolved and control of the facility went to the Metro Social Services Department. The name was changed to the Ormsby Village Treatment Center that same year, now serving only delinquent children. The remaining Ridgewood buildings were leased to the state and renamed Lynnwood.
By 1975 Ormsby Village closed its doors for good. During November of 1981, many scenes for the movie STRIPES starring Bill Murray were filmed in the empty facilities. Towards the mid 1980s many of the buildings were turned over to use as county Government buildings and the remaining property was repurposed as community gardens. Afterwards the grounds became home to the Kentucky Railway Museum for several years. In 1987 Jefferson County sold most of the land, which would later be developed as Hurstbourne Green and the remaining buildings were razed soon after. Today all that remains of Ormsby Village is the Bellevoir mansion and memories.
Many former residents have fond memories of their time at Ormsby. Former resident, James Settle wrote a book about his time at Ormsby Village titled “The Beanery: A Village Named Ormsby”, published in October of 2003.
– Contributed by Jay Gravatte