Sam Stone Bush, then owner of the property, built Tophouse, so named from its highest position of the three Little Loomhouse cabins, in 1896. It, like Wisteria, was constructed from the native oak trees growing on Kenwood Hill with woodcut at a local sawmill.
Tophouse, as well as Wisteria, was built for use as a summer home for well-to-do Louisville families who wanted to escape the heat of the city. Until 1939 when Tate acquired the property for her home and weaving activities, it was probably rented out for the summer months. In the cabin’s exterior is constructed of board and batten siding with a second story gable. Describing the property’s appearance when Tate first started using it for her experimental weaving group she wrote, “the road was bumpy, the roof leaked and the porch was about to fall in.” The only thing that interfered with the weaving was the leaky roof, so that was mended. A new porch was built so that we can weave and enjoy the woods at the same time. An open porch on two sides of the cabin was glass-enclosed in the late 1950s to allow more space for looms. This enabled weavers to work throughout most of the year. A wood stove provided the only heat. Tophouse from that time on has always been used for loom weaving. Both the Little Loom and larger floor looms were housed there.
Weaving classes, individual weavers, and visiting weavers were all headquartered there. Almost from the very beginning of Tate’s forty-year residency, Tophouse was also used for displays. Both in-house and visiting displays emphasized new patterns and innovative ideas. The surrounding grounds adjacent to Tophouse were also the scenes of many open house events throughout the years. During World War II years when most of Tate’s weaving activities had to be curtailed, she rented Tophouse to a defense worker and his family. This brought in much-needed revenue. Also, she felt it was the patriotic thing to do during this period of housing shortages.
The very existence of Tophouse was endangered in the 1960s and again in the late 1970s. By this time developers had acquired much of the land on the hill above the cabins and begun to bulldoze trees and land in order to build houses. Although one developer cast envious eyes on her property, Tate was successful in holding on to her land. However, the damage done by the builders in destroying the natural drainage of the hillside uprooted trees on Possum Path, causing massive mudslides, as well as excess water to seep down to Tophouse and on to Wisteria. The cabins had to be closed for a time.? The situation was finally alleviated when the city spent over $100,000 to build a retaining wall on Possum Path, but this did not come about during Tate’s lifetime.
When the Lou Tate Foundation took over the property in 1979, shortly after Tate’s death, Tophouse was in very bad condition. Officers of the Foundation decided to make the renovation of this cabin its top priority so that weaving activities could be continued. A grant from the City of Louisville in 1983 enabled this restoration to go forward. Sally Moss and Bob Douglas were the two persons most directly involved in carrying out this project.
Today, Tophouse remains the headquarters for most of the weaving activities. Its years of service to the cause of keeping hand-weaving alive are a reason for pride.