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
Where the world meets Kentucky.
The Frazier is a history museum located in the West Main District of downtown Louisville. An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, the Frazier documents and reinterprets stories from history using artifacts, exhibitions, and live daily interpretations by a talented staff of teaching artists. With the opening of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Welcome Center and The Spirit of Kentucky® exhibit in 2018, the Frazier became the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®.
History of the Museum
Founded in 2004 by local philanthropist Owsley Brown Frazier, the Frazier initially opened as an arms museum, but shortly thereafter expanded its focus to Kentucky, U.S., and world 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. 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 30,000 figurines, vehicles, and accessories representing some 170 different toy soldier and miniature 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. Another major permanent exhibition is The Spirit of Kentucky®, a visual guide to the history, craft, and culture of bourbon, featuring a covered bridge, a touch-screen library, 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 The Hunger Games; and Magnificent Mona Bismarck, 2018, which included dozens of midcentury garments designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy, and Emilio Pucci.
Interpretations and Performances
A talented staff of costumed interpreters known as teaching artists stages live daily performances 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 museum’s first floor 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 building. 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. Its construction was commissioned in 1897 by tobacco baron John Doerhoefer, who hired D. X. Murphy & Bros., the architectural firm that had designed the iconic Twin Spires at Churchill Downs, to draw the plans. 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.
Owsley Brown Frazier
May 7, 1935 -August 16, 2012
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
In addition to founding and serving as chairperson of the Frazier History Museum, Owsley Brown Frazier was a fourth generation descendant of Brown-Forman Corporation founder George Garvin Brown and a retired vice chairman of the company.
Frazier joined Brown-Forman in 1955 and trained in sales, personnel, and law, and in 1959 became assistant to the resident counsel. He was named company attorney in 1960. In 1964, he was appointed corporate secretary and executive director of personnel and corporate services and elected to the board of directors. He was elected vice chairman in 1983 and continued to serve in that role until his retirement from management in 2000. He remained a member of Brown-Forman’s board of directors until 2006.
In his role as vice chairman of Brown-Forman Corporation, Frazier’s responsibilities encompassed public affairs, stockholder services, community affairs, communications, and corporate services.
Frazier was also owner and chairman of Bittners, LLC, an interior and commercial design firm.
When Frazier retired from Brown-Forman June 1, 2000, he immediately began laying the groundwork to open the Frazier History Museum, which opened in the spring of 2004.
In addition to his responsibilities as vice chairman of Brown-Forman, Bittners owner, and history museum founder, Frazier amassed an impressive public service record, raising more than $300 million over a 30-year period primarily for educational institutions in Kentucky.
Following in the footsteps of his philanthropist mother, Amelia Brown Frazier, Owsley Brown Frazier’s extensive involvement in business, civic, and charitable organizations over the years gained him a reputation as a concerned citizen who put his money and his muscle to work on behalf of many good causes. At Brown-Forman, he spearheaded a drive for corporate involvement in such social problems as the need for better housing. The company’s Adopt-A-Neighborhood program has resulted in a total investment of more than $6.5 million from various sources for the construction and rehabilitation of more than 50 low-income houses in the California neighborhood of Louisville.
Frazier chaired a $75 million campaign on behalf of the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute to construct a new state-of-the-art facility. He also led an $18 million building campaign at the University of Louisville for a natatorium and swimming complex.
More recently Frazier donated $25 million to the University of Louisville in 2011, the largest single contribution in the university’s history, and is believed to be the single largest gift to any university or college in Kentucky.
In June 2000, the National Association of Athletic Development Directors presented Frazier with the Volunteer of the Year Award. Also in June 2000, he was awarded the Jefferson Cup by County Judge Executive Rebecca Jackson. Frazier received an honorary degree of “Doctor of Public Service, honoris causa” from the University of Louisville commemorating his significant philanthropic efforts for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He has a second honorary degree, a “Doctor of Humane Letters,” from Bellarmine University. Frazier was presented with the prestigious Sky Ranch Foundation Hall of Fame Pioneer Award in June 1999. Also in 1999, he was honored by the Black Achievers with their Distinguished Service Award. Frazier was named Voice Tribune’s 1999 Man of the Year and was awarded the most distinguished Gold Cup Award 1999 from Greater Louisville Incorporated.
Throughout the years, Frazier’s outstanding gifts of time and money have been recognized by the Louisville Rotary Club, The Lincoln Foundation (the Spirit of Excellence Award for humanitarian service to the community), the National Society of Fund Raising Executives, and the Fund Raising Executives of Metro Louisville (the 1998 Volunteer Fund Raiser of the Year award). In 1990, he received the Louisville Urban League’s Equality Award “in recognition of commendable contributions and leadership in the pursuit of equality and community betterment.” Frazier was the Arthritis Foundation’s Man of the Year in 1989 and the recipient of the Younger Woman’s Club of Louisville Citizen Laureate Award in 1986. In August 2001, Frazier was awarded the “Minerva Medal” from the University of Louisville, “In recognition of his untiring support and dedication to his alma mater.”
Frazier was a former executive member and director of Greater Louisville, Inc.; a director and member of the executive committee of the Kentucky Economic Development Corporation; and a director of the Louisville Housing Development Corporation. He also served on the boards of the Cathedral Heritage Foundation, Jewish Hospital Healthcare Services, and Frazier Rehab Center. He was chairman emeritus of Kentucky Country Day School. He was also past chairman of the Greater Louisville Economic Development Partnership, the Downtown Development Corporation, and Business/Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC), Washington, D.C.
From 1989 to 1997, Frazier served as a member of the Board of Directors of Liberty National Bank/Bank One, Kentucky. He also served on the board of trustees of the University of Louisville Overseers, including recent service as chairman of the board, and was director/chairman emeritus of the board of Bellarmine University.
Frazier was a member of the Pendennis Club, Louisville Country Club, River Valley Club and Ocean Reef Club (Key Largo, Fl), the Society of Colonial Wars in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and Beta Theta Pi and Phi Alpha Delta fraternities.
Born May 7, 1935 and a native of Louisville, Frazier attended Centre College and graduated from the University of Louisville with BSL and JD degrees.