Melodye Park is an enigma to most who live in Frankfort now – a piece of land lying beneath Murray Street and Lawrenceberg Road – covered in vines and brush with few tell-tale signs that anything ever existed there.
Who could guess that it was the site of Frankfort’s first city park, an extravagant spot that drew thousands of visitors from the late 1930s until the 1950s, built by Louis Horwitz, who named his creation after his daughter.
A pulloff at the end of Todd Street bears an historic marker that barely hints at the true story behind what many now know only as a mystical place in time.
Aboard the city’s historic pontoon, Melodye Horwitz Kinkead brought Frankfort’s first city park back to life Wednesday night as she rode leisurely up the river surrounded by friends who were invited to make the journey with her.
The trip was arranged by friend and Capital City Museum Board member John Baughman who, along with his wife, Carol, joined the cruise.
Boat Capt. Rodney Simpson and museum tour-orator John Downs told stories of Frankfort’s early beginnings. Simpson slowed the boat at the banks where the former park began to appear.
While Downs shared a few stories, the girl – Melodye Horwitz, now grown and married to Lexington attorney Shelby Kinkead – provided information not known to the captain or the guide.
Beside her, two scrapbooks provided pictures of the park’s glory days where hillsides were filled with flowering tulips and thousands of rose bushes and two Chinese pagodas along with hundreds of statuaries.
Kinkead, with her cousin, Brenda Tipton, beside her, became a living testament for those bygone days.
Louis Horwitz, a native of Cleveland, came to Frankfort in the 1930s on a business trip checking on the cooperage plant he owned along with his partner, Carl Schneider of Louisville. It was that trip when he fell in love with the Kentucky River.
Once in Frankfort, he purchased a boat, called a Criscraft Cruiser, and explored the river, eventually building a dock and a “garage” for his boat that ran parallel from where Cliffside Restaurant stands today.
That garage became a luxurious houseboat where he made his home.
It was an elaborate dwelling with paneled oak walls and rich colors created by its carpet and drapes. It was filled with ornate furniture, including a baby grand piano and a maid who kept everything pristine. Iron railings were around the walls and porches.
It had electricity, city water and telephones – a modern home by any description, especially for the 1930s. In fact, it had its own post office address – 511 West Second St.
Horwitz was introduced to his wife, Ina Dailey, of Swallowfield, by Frankfort businessman Maurice Scott, owner of Scott’s Furniture. Dailey, 20 years younger than her husband, married “the love of her life” and gave birth to their only child, Melodye.
Kinkead says of her adoring father, “I was more like a grandchild to my middle-aged father.”
Kinkead had a brother, now deceased, by Horwitz’s first marriage.
“Arthur was 20 years older than me and we never spent any real time together once daddy came to Frankfort,” said Kinkead, now 68.
But Kinkead says her brother did write a book “Been There Done That” about their father and his life.
The houseboat was the home where baby Melodye began her life and where a butler would attend to her father’s needs, even serving his meals on the awning-covered porch with its view of the river and stairway leading up the bank.
Kinkead said when she began to walk, the family moved to a home in Montrose Park, but still spent many days on the houseboat.
Melodye and her cousin Tipton, just a year older, would play in the dirt among the beginnings of the park, as her father worked on his dream.
“Lou Horwitz was as much a father to me as anyone could be. I was with them so much it felt like I was his daughter,” Tipton said.
Frankfort resident Trudi Laing worked for Horwitz as one of his five secretaries.
Laing wrote in a letter to Frankfort historian Russ Hatter in 2004, “He was one classy fellow; he knew how to throw a party and really had a way of making every party a gala event.”
“Horwitzana” was a name Laing coined for her adventures with her boss.
“Horwitz always dressed in the summer for yard work,” she wrote. “He often wore shorts and sometimes his underwear would slip below his shorts (hang below his pant legs).
“We stopped downtown and he was going into the bank. I looked at his get-up and said, “You’re not going into the bank looking like that are you?’
“He looked into the mirror and said, ‘You’re right,’ and he reached down and picked up his straw hat and went into the bank with his colors flying in all directions.”
From many accounts, although he was extremely successful in business, Horwitz was an uncomplicated, unpretentious man with a true zeal for life and people.
According to Kinkead, he treated his employees like family, taking the secretaries home at lunch in a limousine he owned and picking them up afterwards for their return to work.
“After he delivered the secretaries he would pick me up at Murray Street School where we went home for lunch and then return me as he picked up the secretaries,” Kinkead said.
The daughter said he was a loving husband and father, doing everything he could for those he knew.
“He was the dad who took my friends and I to all the football games, no matter where they were, when we were in high school and before any of us could drive.”
Holly Perry Sparrow, Kinkead’s lifelong friend, says Horwitz was a favorite father, always happy and fun to be around.
The owner and hands-on manager of Frankfort Cooperage on Warsaw Street would turn his family’s barrel-selling/making business into a public trading enterprise on the American Stock Exchange as International Containers and extend it into European countries like Scotland, the Netherlands, England and others.
After the 1937 flood, he built a floodwall on the riverside encompassing his property that cost him approximately $15,000.
But as Kinkead told the group, that flood was supposed to be the flood to end all floods in Frankfort – a 100-year occurrence.
“I’m sure daddy believed that as well.”
In a matter of time, the landscape took a miraculous turn into a beautiful park that captured the imagination of residents and visitors from the waterways.
Horwitz wanted to share his vision with family, friends and residents of Frankfort. His wife wrote it was his hobby. Melodye saw it unfolding as his passion for people.
In essence, Horwitz created Frankfort’s first public park, built with his own personal money.
No one was ever charged a cent for anything they enjoyed.
Hatter says Horwitz never allowed anyone to sell anything: not a hotdog, not a soft drink and definitely no souvenirs.
He even paid five employees to be on the property at all times.
The park became a nine-year project for Horwitz, who estimated that beside the floodwall, it cost an additional $60,000 to build and maintain, not including his own personal time.
According to Ina Horwitz, who passed away in 2009, Melodye Park was originally called Highview Park, until Horwitz changed its name after his daughter was born.
“Down at Frankfort, a man who made a barrel of money on barrels has built a nine-acre park on the Kentucky River and named it for his now two-year old daughter and opened it up for all Franklin County to use without charge,” the late Joe Creason reported in a story for the Courier Journal.
Creason further explained that Horwitz’s cooperage business supplied barrels for distilleries around Frankfort and the state, and that the little girl, his boat and the park were all called Melodye.
It was not uncommon on weekends to see a thousand visitors in the park coming from Louisville, Evansville and Cincinnati.
Boaters would often come and dock for a week to spend time and enjoy the scenery and the activities.
Those nightly events included movies under one pagoda and dancing under another. A large kitchen, along with a huge stone picnic table on the grounds, provided opportunities for business and church socials.
Chairs and tables filled another area and were surrounded by short rock walls.
As for the music, it came from Frankfort band leader Jack Robb and could easily be heard wafting across the river because of the numerous speakers placed in the park. Horwitz also had the speakers attached to his radio and victrola when live music was not available.
Hundreds of lights dotted the landscape, looking like a million fireflies to those on the river.
The park included a swimming pool, with high and low diving boards and bath houses with showers, restrooms, picnic tables and boat docks.
Creason wrote of its red, white and blue paint that also colored the landscape.
It had fish ponds, two large Chinese Pagodas, a man-made waterfall with a bridge for crossing, stone walks across the grounds and steps leading from the streets above the park. There were gardens filled with boxwood, roses, peonies, tulips and poppies along with plenty of interesting statues.
Horwitz also shared his love of roses on lots he owned behind his house on the corner of Iroquois and Seminole Trails in Indian Hills.
Goldfish filled the man-made ponds, and various animals were housed for children’s enjoyment.
A painted iron fence surrounded the property from above, but the gates were never closed. There was parking for 85 cars.
The park existed in its prime condition until 1957 when another flood overflowed the floodwall and the property’s banks.
Even though Horwitz worked to undo the damage and restore the property, it became a project where the river ultimately won.
“Things aren’t forever,” he told his wife.
A SOUTH FRANKFORT PLAYGROUND
For those who grew up along the river and in South Frankfort, though they never knew Louis Horwitz, who died in 1974, nor his daughter, who by then had finished college and was married, they knew the area that provided a playground and place to explore.
Jerry Graves, executive director of the Frankfort River Authority, says he grew up and played on the river all his life.
“I knew Melodye Park because my friends and I would swing over the river on the ropes that were there,” Graves said.
“I’m not sure how many times, because it turned out to be really scary for me,” he said.
“But Melodye Park is definitely a reminder of what opportunities are to be had with river development. It must have been something for people to go there, and it’s a shame we haven’t already created more interesting opportunities on the Kentucky River running through Frankfort.”
Frankfort Insurance Agency owner Kenny Goins grew up on Todd Street.
Kinkead’s friends aboard the pontoon recalled their days of roaming the park when they were in high school with her and talked about the many features that made it memorable.
Those high schools days are being celebrated this weekend with the 50th reunion of the Frankfort High School class of 1962. Memories, a long time from their youth and the heyday of Melodye Park, will be recalled.
A heron, much like one that can be seen in a waterfall picture of the early park, stood on the banks last week where the famous park was located.
“That concrete you see there,” Kinkead said pointing to large chunks, “is the remains of the floodwall.”
Also to be seen from the cruising history pontoon was confirmation of the terracing and concrete steps.
But the once grand attraction – Melodye Park – now only lives large in its namesake’s memories and pictures.
Correction: The original version of this story misspelled the names of Brenda Tipton and Kenny Goins. The story has been changed to reflect the correct spellings.