The first residents of Davis Bottom were primarily African American families. Some were Union Army veterans who had enough money to buy or lease property. But Davis Bottom, from the start, was also home for a number of European immigrants and white families from rural counties in Kentucky. During the late 1800s, most residents worked as domestic servants, waiters and cooks, or as laborers for construction companies, railroads and horserace tracks. The Cincinnati Southern Railway, whose tracks bordered three sides of Davis Bottom by the 1880s, employed many local residents on train crews, and in two nearby facilities – a passenger station and a freight depot. In the early 1900s, some residents also began working for dozens of tobacco companies located in and around Davis Bottom. Despite economic challenges, this working-class community has remained a diverse, strong and tight-knit neighborhood for almost 150 years.
Today, the neighborhood is facing its greatest challenge with construction of the Newtown Pike Extension, a roadway and urban redevelopment project that is transforming Davis Bottom. In advance of construction, scholars have conducted extensive research on the archaeology, architecture, history and oral history of the community. This academic research, combined with the “living memories” of residents, is preserving rare information about some of the people who helped make Lexington the commercial heart of the Bluegrass Region.