The striking figure of Captain Mary Miller, the first female steamboat captain, greets visitors in the lobby of the Portland Museum. A few strides in, guests meet up with a life-size replica of the giant Jim Porter, who stood nearly eight feet tall when he operated a tavern here in the heyday of steamboat traffic on the Ohio River.
There’s no shortage of history in Portland, and much of it is preserved at the Portland Museum, housed in an 1852 Italianate residence on Portland Avenue.
The museum is currently in transition after its longtime director, Nathalie Andrews, retired at the end of 2017. Katy Delahanty, a member of the museum’s board of directors, says the eight-member board is working to find a new director and bring new life to the organization.
“The Portland Museum is a neighborhood museum,” says Delahanty. “It was really isolated from the community even though it’s a repository for its history. There are archaeological finds, there are Audubon paintings, artifacts that community members have donated.”
The museum continues to operate thanks to grants and donations, and currently is open by appointment only. The board is hoping the new director is someone who would be historically minded and passionate about Portland.
“Now we have some pretty great things that’ll be happening,” says Delahanty. “The National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Metro (Louisville) grant are being used to help do a book arts feasibility study, which means we’re trying to see if the community is interested in there being a book arts center here in Portland.”
Among the items in the museum’s possession are 19th century printing equipment, including cases of type, printing machines, and catalogs of information. Volunteers rescued the equipment and moved it to the museum in hopes that it can be used in educational programs and workshops on the printing arts.
Delahanty, an artist and activist, also serves as outreach director for the Louisville Visual Art Association, based on Lytle Street. She’s part of the legendary Delahanty family, which boasts a number of judges, and is the granddaughter of Dolores Delahanty, a well-known social activist and political leader.
“This place is essential, as much as the community might not know it,” she says. “If we didn’t have this, it would just disappear. Nobody would know what happened. There are so many endless possibilities this place could have. It could be anything and everything that helps support the community.”