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      The Samuel Culbertson Mansion
Louisville's Most Historic Inn

1432 South Third Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40208
502.634.3100;  866.522.5078 toll free
inn@culbertsonmansion.us

     
Samuel Culbertson at the Kentucky Derby (about 1940)

Samuel Culbertson (far right) at the Kentucky Derby in 1934, when he was President of Churchill Downs.
From left to right: Colonel Matt Winn, "Mr. Kentucky Derby" and General Manager of Churchill Downs; Churchill Downs Attorney, Maurice L. Galvin; Kentucky Governor Ruby Laffoon (served 1931-1935); Daniel E. O'Sullivan, resident manager of Churchill Downs; US Postmaster General James Farley;  former US Senator and former President of the Kentucky Jockey Club, Johnson N. Camden Jr.; and Samuel A. Culbertson.
(By the way,
Cavalcade won the Derby that year.)

from the Samuel Culbertson Mansion Collection of original family photographs

Samuel Alexander Culbertson began as a classic late 19th / early 20th Century tycoon capitalist. In 1884, at age 22, he became the youngest cashier officer of any bank in the country.  But then, it was his daddy's bank. Aside from making money, he is also known for his contributions with the group establishing the Louisville Park System and number of other philanthropic activities.

It is an irony that two of Samuel's  nephews, Glover & Percy, were essentially written out of Samuel's father's will in 1892, save for $100 each, the reason being that they were engaged in the activity of horse racing.  Sam would have to keep his interests in that field a secret until after his father's death, but he would then jump into it in a big sort of way.

He became associated with the group that purchased Churchill Downs in 1902, including Col. Matt Winn, Mayor Charles Grainger & others. From 1919 until 1928, after a stint in the US Army (he enlisted at nearly 60 years of age as a private near the end of WWI), Culbertson served on the Churchill Downs Board of Directors. He became President of Churchill Downs and the American Turf Association in 1928, and Chairman of the Board from 1937 until his passing in late 1948.  If you are familiar with the famous Kentucky Derbies of War Admiral, Gallahadion, Count Fleet, Gallant Fox, Whirlaway and Citation, you remember the Kentucky Derby era when Samuel Culbertson was at the top of it all..  But it is with the Derby won by Burgoo King in 1932 that we best remember Samuel Culbertson, for it is then that he started one of the Derby's most famous traditions by conceiving and commissioning the very first "Garland of Roses," with all of it's unique symbolism, to annually adorn the Kentucky Derby champion. 

In the early days, the Derby was nothing like the extravagant affair we know today. Along with Colonel Matt Winn, Samuel played the pivotal role in bringing the Derby to the prominence that has been growing ever since. Some of the first Derby Balls were held in this house in our third floor ballroom. We have talked to people who still remembered the affairs. Third Street was all but impassable. Crowds gathered on the street and sidewalks near the house to hear the strains of music which emanated from within.


 

In his memoirs of 1945, Col. Matt Winn remarked on Samuel Culbertson:  "The Beau Brummell of our organization maybe I should extend the territory to include the entire City of Louisville is Samuel A. Culbertson, the Chairman of our Board.  Sam is the descendent of one of the oldest and most famous families in Kentucky.  In his earlier years, he divided his time, spending part of it in Newport, or at Tuxedo, another part in New York City; the rest of it in Kentucky.  Sam's hair long since has turned to silver, but he is still very active in club and social affairs, and is the perennial cotillion leader."
                             
Down the Stretch, Matt J WInn as told to Frank G Menke 1945

  
Sam_portrait.jpg (5427 bytes)


1935

Mr. Culbertson's life is well summed up in testimonials
from local newspapers at the time of his passing:

From the Louisville Times, December 13, 1948:

     "If anyone ever looked his part, it was Samuel A. Culbertson.  He was a man of wealth, a member of upper financial and social circles, a conservative in politics, an upholder of the conventions and proprieties.   And any stranger would have guessed it at sight of him.  Tall and straight, keen of eye, perfectly tailored, perfectly mannered, too, though not austerely, his hair a distinguished grey which seemed premature long after it wasn't, Mr. Culbertson was the beau ideal portrait of what he was to all of those to all of those who have grown up in this community within this century.  They were glad that age dealt so gently with one who played so ably the part he looked.  Another is gone of whom it has to be said that Louisville will never seem like Louisville without him."

 

From the Courier-Journal, December 12, 1948:

     "A chivalrous gentleman of the old school...was Samuel A. Culbertson, former president of Churchill Downs.  ...Tall and erect, the handsome white-haired Culbertson was known for his generosity and chivalry.
     "In former days his tallyho carriage bound for the race track provided a spectacle for pedestrians. The carriage was drawn by four high-stepping horses and attended by a coachman, footman, and a small Negro boy, 'Tiger,' whose job it was to open the door.
     Never Wore a Topcoat
     "Always a meticulous dresser, Culbertson also was an impressive figure when he attended services at Warren Memorial Presbyterian Church.   He wore spats, white gloves, and a derby.
     "But although he was very fond of the church's pastor, Culbertson liked the service to be over promptly at noon because his dinner was served shortly afterward.
     "Culbertson's bearing and attire were impressive, but one of his idiosyncrasies was that he never wore a topcoat.  Even in the coldest weather he refused to wear one.
     "Culbertson was born in New Albany August 15, 1862, but after 1897 he spent all his years on the Kentucky side of the Ohio.
     Sons models for Book
    
"He married Louise Craig of Pewee Valley who died 10 years ago at their summer home in Manchester, Mass.  A friend once remarked:
    'They should be a very happy couple. They are the handsomest pair in Louisville, have the handsomest sons, and live in the handsomest house.'
     "Their sons were models for the 'Two Little Knights of Kentucky' in Annie Fellows Johnston's 'Little Colonel' series ...
     Parties were famous
     "Mr. and Mrs. Culbertson were noted for their formal and elegant dinner parties and the dances they gave in the in the ballroom on the third floor of their Third Street home.
     "Culbertson became chairman of the board of directors of Churchill Downs 10 years ago and continued in that post until his death.
     "He was never known to bet on the races, but he was proud of the pageantry of the Derby.  Almost reverently, he witnessed presentations to Derby winners.
     "Until recently Culbertson walked to his office in the Kentucky Home Life Building.  He was a director of the Citizens Fidelity Bank & Trust Company, Federal Chemical Company, and American Turf Association, holding company for Churchill Downs....He was a director of Speed Museum and for several years was chairman of the board of trustees of the Warren Memorial Presbyterian Church...."

 

From the Courier-Journal, December 13, 1948:

     "...There is hardly a tradition of the community in which his life and memories were not rooted.
     "Mr. Culbertson will be remembered for the distinction of his manner and appearance as well as for the loyal part he took in keeping intact the institutions with which Louisville is most widely identified.  In a way, he was himself an institution.  And it is noteworthy that the account of his long and serene life accurately described the zest of his participation to the last in the affairs that had multiplied so greatly around him.  Far past man's allotted span he remained active.
     "It is good to think of this as a community which so endears itself to its dwellers that they are loathe to let go of even a little of its flavor and associations." 


 

A Who's Who of an Era of Derby History:  A Meeting of the Directors of the American Turf Association, 1930s.
 
Frazier Le Bus, Arthur B Hancock, Henning Chambers, Samuel A Culbertson, C Bruce Head, Samuel H Stone, Edward J Hughes
Charles Bidwell, Stuyvesant Peabody, Maurice Galvin, Colonel Matt Winn, Johnson N Camden
                                                                      from Down the Stretch

More on Samuel Culbertson

More photos of Sam Culbertson

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 The Samuel Culbertson Mansion
1432 South Third Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40208
(502) 634-3100;  (866) 522-5078 toll free
Fax (502) 636-3096
inn@culbertsonmansion.us
 


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