Chronological History of the Little Loomhouse, Home of Lou Tate
1860’s (Late) Beoni Figg acquired a tract of land from the Phillips family. R. Figg had a charcoal business and started a limestone quarry on Kenwood Hill. He built a cabin (known today as Esta) as an office, as well as quarters for his caretakers. The cabin originally consisted of just two rooms with vertical split log siding. The outside wooden stairway leading to the second story was built, according to one of Figg’s daughters, to prevent the caretaker from entering the business office.
1876 Due to business reverses, the cabin was sold to Charles W. Gheens, the husband of Figg’s daughter, Mary. It was converted to a summer home for his family.
1890’s (Late) Sam Stone Bush, Secretary of the Kenwood Residential Company, acquired the cabin from the Gheens family and remodeled it again. During one of these remodelings the siding was changed to the board and batten style. Bush also built the other two cabins, Wisteria and Tophouse. All three cabins were used for summer homes. Bush would go on to develop the trolley system that connected Louisville’s South End with the Downtown area.
1898 Etta Hest, an artist, purchased Esta and originated the tradition of it as a center for cultural life in southern Jefferson County. She established an annual Strawberry Festival for artists, writers and teachers. The Hill sisters, noted kindergarten and music teachers who had a summer cabin up Kenwood Hill, wrote the Happy Birthday song which was first sung in Esta.
1907 Mary Wulff, a writer and artist, bought the cabin complex and continued using them for community oriented events. An early Sunday school class held in Esta led to the founding of St. Mark Lutheran Church on Southside Drive. Mrs. Wulff held special gatherings to which she invited Kentucky artists, poets, and writers, as well as neighboring residents who had built summer log cabins on the hillside. She always included children in these parties. Lou Tate once said her first acquaintance with Esta was during such a visit. It was during Mrs. Wulff’s time that the cabin was named Esta, which is said to be an old Norse saying meaning, “May God’s presence be in this dwelling.” The name still is visible on the cabin’s door.
1934 Eleanor Roosevelt commissioned Lou Tate to weave linens for the White House while her husband was in office. On White House letterhead, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote the following, “What would you charge to make a luncheon set consisting of a runner for the middle of the table and twelve mats and twelve napkins, with just a little “R” woven on them in white.”
1935 Eleanor Roosevelt paid Lou Tate $16.75 for one luncheon set in white with an “R” in the center.
1938 Lou Tate’s mother purchased the cabin complex and property from Mary Wulff’s estate as a retirement home and space for Tate’s weaving business. Sadly, Lou Tate’s mother died shortly thereafter. Tate inherited the property and lived and worked there for the rest of her life. She utilized the cabins as a gathering place for weavers and those interested in learning to weave.
Eleanor Roosevelt paid a visit. As she entered Esta her foot went through a loose board. After noticing a number of other boards, which had been initialed, she asked for paint and a brush and added her name. This bit of history has long ago disappeared.
1939 Lou Tate begins fellowship program to teach weaving to students at the Little Loomhouse. The students were sponsored by Eleanor Roosevelt.
Lou Tate started an experimental weaving group, The Kentucky Weavers Guild, and started publishing the Kentucky Weaver Magazine. She also began collecting contemporary hand-woven textiles in addition to her collection of traditional woven coverlets, which were exhibited both nationally and internationally.
1944 Lou Tate began working with the Eleanor Roosevelt and the American Red Cross to incorporate Lou Tate’s Little Loom as part of a rehabilitation program for hospitalized servicemen and women.
1970’s Spinning was added to the teaching curriculum at the Little Loomhouse. Lou Tate used the cabins for many open houses, as well as formal classes and workshops. She also taught college extension courses in the greater Louisville area and surrounding states and did research on early American coverlets for universities.
October 19, 2009, The Kentucky Historical Society completed the project of installing a Historical Marker at the corner of Kenwood Dr. and Kenwood Hill Rd. honoring Lou Tate, The Little Loomhouse, and the Happy Birthday song.
Today Esta Cabin is used to illustrate some of the Little Loomhouse history. The first floor has a historic display featuring the life and career of Lou Tate as well as examples of weaving and spinning artifacts and equipment.
During an architectural convention in Louisville, KY, Frank Lloyd Wright stole away in order to visit the Little Loomhouse. His observation prompted him to describe the Victorian summer homes in these words, “Three board and batten cabins set in the dignity of nature under the mighty oaks of Kenwood Hill” This observation holds true in 2005. The next couple of pages will take you on a journey of the rich history of the unique place called the Little Loomhouse.
Fourth Historic Structure Reconstruction