Promoting the understanding of our past to create a better future.
“With a greater knowledge of history, we can fully appreciate the great difficulties and the great opportunities that lie ahead. By reconnecting with our past, we can renew a sense of who we are, what we stand for, and where we are headed.”
— Owsley Brown Frazier, Founder
The Frazier History Museum is where the world meets Kentucky.
Located on Museum Row in the Bourbon District of downtown Louisville, the Frazier documents and reinterprets stories from history using artifacts, gallery talks, and live daily interpretations by a talented staff of costumed actors known as teaching artists. With the opening of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Welcome Center and The Spirit of Kentucky® exhibit, the Frazier became the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, a project launched in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.
History of the Museum
Founded in 2004 by local philanthropist Owsley Brown Frazier, the Frazier started as a museum of historical arms, but later expanded its focus to local, national, and global history. The museum houses of one of the largest collections of toy soldiers and historical miniatures on permanent public display in the world, The Stewart Collection. Subjects of permanent exhibitions include historical arms and bourbon whiskey. In 2018, the Frazier became the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®.
The Permanent Collection
The permanent collection features a wide array of historically significant arms and artifacts of American, American Indian, Asian, and European origin, most of which were donated by Mr. Frazier. Arms of notable provenance include Teddy Roosevelt’s “Big Stick,” Custer’s pistols, and Geronimo’s bow and arrows. Other rare and noteworthy objects include a surplus grave marker from the Battle of Little Bighorn, a first edition copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and the arrest warrant issued for Mary Todd Lincoln.
With over 25,000 figurines, vehicles, and accessories representing some 130 different makers, The Stewart Collection at the Frazier constitutes “one of the finest collections of rare historic toy soldiers on permanent public display in the world today,” according to Old Toy Soldier. The Frazier’s other major permanent exhibition is The Spirit of Kentucky®, a visual guide to the history, craft, and culture of bourbon, whose features include a vast digital library of research content and a bottle hall with hundreds of bourbons.
Among the Frazier’s most notable temporary exhibitions have been Diana: A Celebration, 2012 – 2013, which showcased gowns, jewels, and mementos that belonged to Diana, Princess of Wales; The Hunger Games: The Exhibition, 2017, which featured the Girl on Fire dress and other original props and costumes from the dystopian film franchise; and Magnificent Mona Bismarck, 2018, which included dozens of midcentury garments designed by couturiers Cristóbal Balenciaga and Hubert de Givenchy.
Interpretations and Performances
A talented staff of costumed actors known as teaching artists stages live daily interpretations in the Frazier’s Brown-Forman Theatre, covering a breadth of material that dates from the Middle Ages to the 1930s. Subjects range from legends of Norse mythology and English folklore to the beheading of Anne Boleyn. Other performances bare witness to combat, sharing firsthand accounts of the Hundred Years War from Joan of Arc’s diary and the Peninsular War from a sharpshooter’s memoir.
Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Welcome Center
In 2018, the Frazier partnered with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association to build the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Welcome Center. Located on the first floor of the Frazier and open to visitors free of charge, the KBT® Welcome Center is the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® tour. A professional concierge service is on hand to help visitors plan trips to bourbon distilleries throughout the state and navigate the hot spots of Louisville’s burgeoning bourbon, culinary, and nightlife scenes.
Interior and Layout
The Frazier has three floors of exhibit space totaling 7,500 square feet. Visitors enter through the Cube, a glass vestibule at 825 West Main that abuts the Gateway Garden, a courtyard between the Frazier and the neighboring brick structure. Facilities on the museum’s first floor include the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Welcome Center, the Museum Store, the Marshall Charitable Foundation Education Center, and the Brown-Forman Theatre. Offices for museum staff are located on the fourth floor and in the basement.
Facilities for Rent
The museum rents out select spaces for weddings, meetings, and other private events. Spaces for rent include the Gateway Garden, a linear courtyard populated with native Kentucky plants; the First Floor Great Hall, an atrium with a sweeping terrazzo staircase; and the Rooftop Garden, which has seasonal blooming flowers and looks out across the Ohio River. Other rental spaces include the Classroom, the Champagne Parlor, the Speakeasy, the Order of the Writ, the Boardroom, and the Fourth Floor Loft.
Building and Architecture
The museum occupies the “Doerhoefer Building,” a Chicago-style commercial structure of 100,000 square feet. A tobacco baron named John Doerhoefer commissioned its construction in 1897. To draw the plans, he hired D. X. Murphy & Bros., the architectural firm that had designed the iconic Twin Spires at Churchill Downs. Established in 1898 and built with yellow-buff brick and cast-iron, the building spans four Main Street fronts before rounding the corner of 9th Street with an oriel topped with a cornice roof.
The Bourbon District
The Frazier is a proud member of Louisville’s Bourbon District, a unique walkable experience with eight distillery attraction located in the heart of downtown. The Frazier’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Welcome Center serves as the starting point for both the Bourbon District and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®. We at the Frazier are devoted to sharing our love of bourbon and our commitment to drinking responsibly.
The Frazier Museum is a member of the Smithsonian Affiliate Membership Program and the American Association of Museum (AAM) and participates in a reciprocal membership network through the North American Reciprocal Museum Program (NARM).
Mission & Vision
Ignite the human spirit with thoughtfully crafted stories to spark curiosity about who we are and our connection to the future.
To be a compelling destination about Kentucky's culture, heritage, and its relationship to the world.