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This view of Dick DelPizzo’s replica looks west from the railroad tracks over the 700 block of Front Street, with Main Street behind. (photo Courtesy Louisville Historical Museum)

Replica is gift of Dick DelPizzo

By Bridget Bacon, Museum Coordinator

Don’t miss the Louisville Historical Museum’s replica of original downtown Louisville, complete with the streets, buildings and yards, just as it would have looked during the period of about 1895 to 1920.

For creator Richard “Dick” DelPizzo, who grew up in a house on the 1100 block of Main Street in Louisville, the replica is a gift to his hometown that he came to know like the back of his hand, having explored its streets and surroundings in the 1940s and 1950s. Museum visitors viewing the replica may be surprised at both what has changed in downtown Louisville and what has not changed.

Richard “Dick” DelPizzo (photo Courtesy Louisville Historical Museum)

I asked Dick what in his background and experience led him to have the skills to make a replica of a town with such a high level of detail. He explained that although he had never built model buildings before, he did have a background in house construction. Like many other young men who attended Louisville High School, he was taught by an excellent industrial arts teacher, Ralph Harmon. In college, he had held a part-time job in construction, and he also had a number of male relatives in Louisville who were in construction, some of them even building their own houses. When he was just 23 years old, Dick built his first house. Dick’s career was spent at Rocky Flats, but in his home life, he continued to enjoy woodworking, a hobby that prepared him well for making the replica. Above all, Dick points to having grown up in Louisville and being exposed to a can-do attitude embedded in the culture of the town. Building houses and getting things done was a way of life in Louisville, he says.

In addition to needing the skills to make the model of the town, Dick found that he would have to consult many different authorities to ascertain what the buildings used to look like. One important source was the Sanborn Map Company; it made three fire-insurance maps of the Louisville business district, in 1893, 1900 and 1908. Dick also talked to older residents who had grown up in Louisville in the early decades of the 1900s. He consulted historic photos from the collection of the Historical Museum, and he also viewed 1948 County Assessor photos of buildings and sketches of their exact layouts at that time.

The Louisville Historical Museum, 1001 Main St., is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. www.louisvilleco.gov.

But Dick himself already knew most of the historic buildings quite well from his own exploration of the town as a kid. As he tells it, he and his friends would regularly walk down to Steinbaugh’s lumber and hardware store on Front Street to see what was happening there, take in a Sunday matinee at the Rex Theatre (the building Waterloo is moving to this summer), order a fountain drink at Bungalow Drug (where the City Hall parking lot is now), or get an ice cream cone at Celeste Romano’s tavern (the previous Waterloo restaurant location, which will remain in operation as a music venue).

Dick used a radial arm saw from his home workshop to achieve the effect of wood siding on buildings. He also used small handsaws, dental picks and other small tools to achieve the appearances he wanted, and found that he could use the reverse side of Masonite to give the effect of shingles. (However, only a small fraction of the replica is made from manufactured materials.)

Dick would eventually spend 600 to 800 hours making his meticulously crafted replica and a finished wood case for it, and the citizens of Louisville owe him a debt of gratitude for his wonderful gift. By experiencing the model that he has created of his hometown, we can perhaps imagine what small-town life in Louisville was like for earlier generations.