Kentucky Derby Museum Reflects On Decade Since Devastating Flood

by | 07.29.2019 | 12:25pm
The Kentucky Derby Museum after being flooded in 2009

Kentucky Derby Museum is reflecting on the growth it has seen 10 years after a destructive flood. On the morning of August 4, 2009, Louisville, Kentucky experienced record-breaking rainfall, with more than eight inches of rain per hour reported in some areas.  Kentucky Derby Museum was one of the locations taking a direct hit, and was left with $5.5 million dollars in damage. The Museum was ravaged by water on two floors, soaking the first floor exhibit area and devastating the lower level offices and collections storage. 

Camcorder rolling, one staff member documented the shocking scene of 10-12 inches of water pouring into the Museum's lower level.  Millions of dollars in damage and dozens of precious artifacts were at risk. Nearly 28,000 non-collection related items were lost, 2,500 items from the library and research office were destroyed, more than a dozen employees lost everything in their offices and five employees lost their cars to the flash flooding. One saving grace was 37 damaged items from the Museum's collection were restored in Chicago by a world-renowned art conservation company. 

The cleanup was an astounding task, and Kentucky Derby Museum ended up overhauling approximately 90% of its exhibits. A year-and-a-half renovation was completed in just nine months. The Museum was shut down during that time, but it still operated a gift shop and conducted tours of Churchill Downs.

The week leading up to the anniversary, Kentucky Derby Museum employees are available for interviews to share their accounts of what happened that day.


“We were virtually an island with no way out. With the water levels so high, we knew it would take a while for the water to recede. As the afternoon went on, the water started to recede and around 3:00 pm, LMPD informed us they could start escorting people out safely.” – David Sweazy, Director of Facilities

“Sloshing around and avoiding floating carpet tiles (among other things)! I remember after we finished with the collections, walking to the balcony off the front of the Museum to look out and see what all the fuss was about. About that time a tow truck went barreling down Central and the waves coming from that picked up our Facilities van and sent it floating a good five feet over from where it was originally. I knew then, we had lived through something a little different than we had anticipated when we got up that morning.” – Carla Grego, Membership Manager

Ten years after the devastation, Kentucky Derby Museum has seen record growth. Admissions have soared 73% since 2009. Highlights during the last ten years include a $2.9 million investment in the 2015 unveiling of The Greatest Race, our 360° immersive media experience. The Museum expanded its tour options for guests, giving them more to explore. The largest renovation project since the damaging flooding was finished in November 2018. This $6.8 million project added over 11,000 square feet of brand new space and the renovation of an existing 5,000 square feet. This project created new event space, exhibit areas, and a floor of administrative offices and meeting rooms.

Kentucky Derby Museum has additional pictures of the flood damage as well as current exhibit photos and video of the flood. Restored collections items can also be seen in person. 

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