Clifton’s lost Civil War fort

Plus, have you heard of Louisville’s “Chicken Steps”?

An old map of Louisville, Kentucky, showing forts from the Civil War era.

This map shows the location of Fort Elstner, on a hill between “Brownsborough Turnpike Road” and the “Louisville and Lexington Turnpike Road.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Did you know: The Clifton neighborhood was once home to a Civil War fort?

It’s true. One home on Vernon Avenue was even built where a large cannon used to be housed, according to LOUtoday reader Brandi N.

According to neighborhood lore, Fort Elstner was located between Frankfort Avenue and Brownsboro Road, near the end of modern day Vernon Avenue. It was built from earth and timber and was surrounded by a ditch — soldiers would use a drawbridge to go in and out.

The fort featured cannons pointed down Brownsboro Road — imagine that view on your morning commute. Inside, it housed ~200 rounds of artillery shells, aka cannon balls. Over the years, a few of them have even been found buried in the area. It was named for George R. Elstner, a Lieutenant Colonel of the 50th Ohio Infantry who died in Georgia in August 1864.

Those cannons never fired a ball, at least not in battle. Fort Elstner was built from 1864 to 1865 — near the end of the war — and was never used in a fight. In all, there were 11 forts built around Louisville around that time, all built to protect Louisville in response to the Battle of Perryville, which took place ~80 miles away.

Fort Elstner was abandoned several years after the war, with children playing in its ruins according to one local history. Virtually none of the former fort remains visible in the area today.

A green street sign on a wooden post, pointing in the direction of a staircase. The sign calls the staircase, "the Chicken Steps."

Neighborhood residents think the name of the steps refer to the fact that people are “too chicken” to climb them at night.

Photo by LOUtoday

Bonus: Near the historic location of Fort Elstner lies another local landmark — The Chicken Steps. A pedestrian staircase leading folks from Brownsboro Road into the neighborhood above, the origin of the name has been lost to time.

One explanation suspects that the name came about after residents raised chickens in the area, roosting on the hilltop. Clifton residents also say people are “too chicken” to climb the steps at night, hence the name.