Trains, a Roman Goddess, and the Hindoo Stakes
The City of Covington, Kentucky, consists of a series of neighborhoods, each one with a unique history and character. In fact, there are 19 neighborhoods in all. Our listing at 501 E. Southern Avenue sits within one of them-the historic neighborhood of Latonia, which became a part of Covington in 1909. Latonia has many historical highlights so here are just a few of them…
Riding the 19th Century Spa Craze: Throughout much of the 19th century, hot springs and mineral springs were considered “the thing” to relieve a wide range of health ailments from gout to cancer. People also visited them to relax and socialize. Mineral springs were discovered in Latonia in 1829 and a resort called Lettonia Springs (named after its owner, Ralph Letton) was soon established. This popular resort had a three-story hotel with a ballroom. Wealthy families from surrounding regions came to the mineral springs to escape the summer heat and various epidemics (like cholera and yellow fever!), and partake in its healing properties. The resort operated until 1891, when its doors closed forever.
Train Is A Comin’: For innumerous historic locales, a driving force of change was the arrival of the railway. Latonia is no exception and rail lines arrived beginning in 1854. The Louisville, Cincinnati, and Lexington Railroad intersected with the Kentucky Central Railroad in Latonia. These lines became part of the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) railroad network in 1881 and 1890 respectively. Their former rights-of-way cross the middle of town, and the present-day tracks are owned by CSX Transportation. As to be expected, the arrival of the train positioned Latonia as a desirable spot for industry. And with the bloom of industry, came a bustling main street and growth of adjacent residential areas. Latonia, with a population of about 1,500, incorporated in 1896.
Derby Winners and Also-Rans: In 1882, a group of investors created the Latonia Agricultural and Stock Association and began construction of a horseracing track about 6 miles south of present-day downtown Covington. Latonia–or Latona–was a Roman goddess,mother of Apollo and Diana, and mistress of Zeus. The name also plays off of nearby Lettonia Springs (the Greek word for Latona is Leto). The Latonia Racetrack opened in June 1883 and quickly became one of the world’s premier thoroughbred racing spots. Its biggest attraction was the 1.5-mile-long Latonia Derby, also known as the Hindoo Stakes. Hindoo was a famous thoroughbred champion who won 30 of his 35 starts, including the Kentucky Derby, the Travers Stakes, and the Clark Handicap. Notable winners at Latonia Racetrack included Broadway Jones, Gallant Knight, and Upset. In 1927, Handy Mandy also beat Man o’ War’s record for a 1.5-mile distance.
In its hey dey, the Latonia Racetrack was more popular than Churchill Downs and it attracted the good as well as the bad from all levels of society. From Alice Roosevelt–American writer, prominent socialite, and the eldest child of Theodore Roosevelt–who visited the track often with her fiance Nicholas Longworth, down to the seedier underbelly of society including bookies, hookers, conmen, and petty thieves. The racetrack remained very prosperous until the Depression, when it began to decline. During this time, the owners of the track decided to invest more of their resources into Churchill Downs, which they also operated. Latonia Racetrack was closed in 1939. However, in 1959, it was reopened in Florence, Kentucky and the name was changed to Turfway Race track in 1982. The Latonia Shopping Center along Winston Avenue (Kentucky Route 16) now occupies most of the original racetrack site.