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Curious Louisville: What Are Clifton's 'Chicken Steps?'

Most Louisville neighborhoods have architectural features that make them special. Old Louisville has its Victorian homes, Portland has its shotgun houses and Butchertown its cobblestoned alleyways.

And Clifton has The Chicken Steps.

The Chicken Steps are very steep concrete stairs connecting Vernon Avenue above with Brownsboro Road below. They are in a kind of obscure location, so if you don’t live in the neighborhood, you may not know the steps exist.

But that didn’t stop Curious Louisvillequestioner Lucas Adams from wanting to know more about them:

“My question is, and I’ve been wanting to know the answer to this question for many years, is why are they called the chicken steps,” Adams asked. “What is the history? Why were they put here?”

According to Joanne Weeter, a former Clifton resident and retired historic preservation officer for the city of Louisville, the answer about the name is actually pretty straight-forward. (Spoiler: it involves chickens.)

“Neighborhood lore would suggest that they’re called ‘The Chicken Steps’ because chickens used to roost on the steps,” Weeter said. “Area residents would raise chickens. The chickens needed a place to roost and they liked the steps — so a happy marriage was made between the steps and the chickens.”

Weeter also said the Chicken Steps are an eggcellent example of how humans often shape the land around them in unique ways.

“The Chicken Steps are sort of the epitome of what makes a cultural landscape a cultural landscape," Weeter said. “In other words, it shows the imprint of man or woman on a given topographical feature.”

Clifton is literally a “cliff-town,” filled with steep hills and some sudden drops, and people needed a way to get from point A to B.

For this reason, Weeter said, it’s likely residents would have built the steps pretty early on out of wood. She said the earliest record of the concrete chicken steps we see today is from 1972.

Sadly, on my visits to the steps, neighborhood chickens were no longer ruling the roost. But, their feathered legacy lives on and the steps still do a great job of fulfilling their intended purpose of getting people from point A to B.

You can listen to this story in the player above, download this story, or subscribe to Curious Louisville wherever you get your podcasts. And submit your own question at curiouslouisville.org.

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