Local Author Tom Morton Writes Book Chronicling St. Matthews History

Writer / Annette Skaggs
Photography Provided

So what does a retired teacher & musician do to keep his or her mind and hands occupied during the day? Well, if you are someone like Tom Morton, you help to write a book. Not just any book, but a historical chronicle of what life was like in Louisville’s St. Matthews neighborhood from the turn of the century till the 1970s.

When IUS history professor John Findling came to the St. Matthews Historical Society to talk about and promote his latest book titled “Louisville Postcards” and their shared interest in philately (stamp collecting), Mr. Morton struck up a conversation with the author about his curiosity of the area of which he had raised his family of four and worked for the past few decades. Over several meetings and discussions, the idea was eventually turned into a storyboard.

Mr. Morton talked about his life and some of the process and revelations that he and his co-author went through to achieve the final copy of their shared work.

The lure of a new position with General Electric for the patriarch of the Morton family was the catalyst for a move to Louisville from Pennsylvania. Young Tom and his family found themselves in a quiet subdivision near Southern High School in Okolona, complete with lots of kids to pal around with and a new adventure.

Tom eventually moved to Maryland to go to school and make his way into the world but eventually found his way back to Okolona. It was shortly after his return to Louisville that he married and began raising his family in the Clifton area while employed with the Kentucky School for the Blind as a music teacher, band director and typesetter.

After a while the Mortons found themselves in St. Matthews off Cannons Lane which made it easy for Tom to get to the other jobs that he held at the time, including working with a Catholic parish as a music typesetter and later, a teacher for kids K-12 and adults while also substituting in their music groups.

As the family grew, the Mortons eventually moved to another St. Matthews home and have remained there ever since.

While Tom is not teaching any longer, he is still very involved in and around the Louisville community and can be found lending his enthusiasm and talent at a number of places. For instance, he is an avid volunteer for Actors Theatre and serves on the board of Bunbury Theater. He has even been in one of their shows “A New Mrs. Claus.” Seems that Tom was a natural to be in that show, as he is a Santa Claus look-a-like. While he doesn’t perform at the malls like other Santas he’s been seen at events like the Flea Off Market.

And before you think that Tom isn’t doing anything musically, you’d be wrong. He loves to attend the Jam Sessions that fill the Butchertown Social with fun and excitement on Friday evenings with the Louisville Folk School.

Once the aforementioned storyboard was submitted to the editors at Arcadia Publishing, the real work began with the research and writing of the book.

The authors set out to retrieve as much documentation, treasures, and stories as they could find among the libraries, businesses, churches, historical societies, and residents. In the process of culling thousands of pieces of information as it pertained to St. Matthews, work began on assembling the look and feel of the book.

It is quite a trip through time when looking at the information that was presented and shared with Morton and Findling. It was in the 1950s that St. Matthews was made into its own legal entity. Also, the Mall of St. Matthews is one of the first malls in America, having been built in the 1960s.

It is no secret that the St. Matthews area has a wealth of architecture, both past and current, such as the former Bacons Department Store that now houses Drake’s and Waylon’s Feed Store. And did you know that there was a White Castle at the corner of Lexington, Shelbyville, Chenoweth and Frankfort Aves that had been there since the 1920s? Unfortunately, because of the inability to build a drive-in, the building was relocated, but Eclipse Bank stands there now. The Vogue Theater was built in 1939 and flanked by a Kroger and the now-defunct Taylor Drug Store. While building changes happen, there was a constant that the authors found in their studies: family roots, such as the Ochsners who have owned their eponymous garage on Shelbyville Rd for almost a solid century and is still going strong.

So within these nuggets of information and the assemblage of said over the course of 15-18 months they completed the draft and submitted their work to the publisher. About six months later “St. Matthews”, as part of the “Images of America” series, was born.

Printed as a lovely hard-cover, the book focuses on the St. Matthews neighborhood of Louisville. Strewn throughout its pages are meticulously procured and curated artifacts of history, both tangible and orated. The authors often held or looked at pieces of history that dated back to the 1800s.

Hard to believe that an area of town that was once mostly farm land when it was established in the late 1700s has developed into one of the most vibrant and sought after neighborhoods of Louisville to raise a family or to do business in. And by the looks of things, it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Morton enjoyed the time that he had in writing “St. Matthews” and the wealth of information that he learned from doing so and is very proud of how it turned out.

While we may not be graced with another book from Mr. Morton we may see him around at the theater or even on television. Morton is an actor, too. Truly a man of many talents and Louisville is all the richer for his being here.

If you would like to purchase “St. Matthews”, please check out local bookseller Carmichael’s Bookstore. Copies were also seen at Lotsa Pasta as well as Half-Price Books, Books-A-Million and Barnes, and Noble. You can go through Arcadia Publishers too.

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