Writer Kay Harrod’s wistful look back at South Frankfort’s long-lost Melodye Park, like so many of her writings, evokes a time when good things seemed to happen spontaneously, with little or no government intervention. The flight of fancy that Louis Horwitz brought to life alongside the Kentucky River near the place where Todd Street curves into Old Lawrenceburg Road wasn’t a public park, technically, and yet it truly was a park for the public, open to all at no charge. All that’s standing there now is the historical marker that tells how he crafted the little wonderland with his own hands and named it for his 2-year-old daughter, Melodye. The party lasted from the late 1930s until 1957.
It’s hard to imagine such a fantasy succeeding today. Chances are anyone with the wealth and inclination to reincarnate the cooperage tycoon’s vision would have to charge admission and hire round-the-clock security to keep out the criminal element. Park administration is virtually a government monopoly anymore. The city of Frankfort established its Dolly Graham Park, a playground/picnic area, not far from the site of Melodye Park. Elsewhere you’ll find Juniper Hill Park, with swimming, golf and picnic facilities; East Frankfort Park; the Leslie Morris Park on Fort Hill (a Civil War battlefield); Capitol View Park, featuring athletic fields alongside the river, and Cove Spring Park, a natural gem developed on the wooded site of the city’s first public water supply.
Horwitz’s gift to Frankfort would be difficult to re-create today because of changes in community lifestyle, public policy, business administration and legal liability. Known for hands-on devotion to the enterprise he put together in his spare time, he doted on the daughter of his middle years and adorned her eponymous playground with masses of flowering perennials that burst into glorious bloom each spring. Two shelters resembling Chinese pagodas invited boaters from near and far to stop off and watch movies or dance to the music of Jack Robb’s band. Other amenities included a swimming pool and fish ponds. He even built a floodwall after the disastrous 1937 flood, though it could not keep his pet project from being inundated again and effectively wiped out 20 years later.
Now it’s just a memory. His widow, Ina Horwitz, related some of the history in reminiscences she shared in “I Remember When,” a popular State Journal fixture of a few years back that invited readers to submit accounts of times past in their own words. She died in 2009. Daughter Melodye Horwitz Kinkead, now 68, regaled passengers on a recent boat tour with some of her personal experiences.
Frankfort is again trying to encourage riverfront development, something Lou Horwitz accomplished in his own way, probably without ever allowing himself to think of it as such. Jerry Graves, executive director of the Kentucky River Authority, hears the Melodye Park tale with a touch of poignancy because riverfront development is so elusive today. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department would have a daunting task just coordinating all the landscaping work that Horwitz undertook as a labor of love. A 21st century version of the park would also have to guard against the wanton vandalism that plagues recreational areas everywhere.
What a pity. We could have used a little reprise of Melodye Park’s innocent charm in this cynical age.