New Albany’s Samuel Culbertson and Churchill Downs Indiana famous family’s connection to the Kentucky Derby The Kentucky Derby is known worldwide as “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” But did you know that the Derby has a strong connection to New Albany, Indiana’s famous Culbertson family? We asked Jessica Stavros, Site Manager of the Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site to fill us in on the “Kentuckiana” connection.
Famous Derby traditions we know today began when Samuel Alexander Culbertson, youngest son of wealthy New Albany philanthropist, William S. Culbertson, was president and Chairman of the Board at Churchill Downs. Those traditions include the Winner’s Circle, the Julep Cup, the Starting Gate, the Infield, and of course, the Garland of Roses – first officially commissioned by Sam Culbertson in 1932.
Perhaps Sam’s most enduring legacy comes from the time he spent at this most famous Louisville landmark. He became Churchill Downs’ fifth president in 1928. With his friend and partner Colonel Matt Winn as Chairman of the Board, the two would usher the track into success and prosperity for the next twenty years, now considered the “Golden Days of Racing.” Ten years into this partnership, Winn and Culbertson switched roles, with Winn as President and Culbertson as Chairman of the Board, a position he held until his death.
Sam and his wife, Louise, are rumored to have held the city’s first Derby party, although such a claim can be difficult to substantiate. Perhaps most poignant about his time at the track, however, was that, although he was well-known for loving the pageantry of the ponies, he never once placed a bet.
After his tenure at Churchill Downs, Sam continued in finance as the Director of Citizens Fidelity Bank and Trust Company, located in Louisville’s first skyscraper, the Columbia Building. He walked two miles to and from each day, was considered generous and chivalrous. No matter what the weather or temperature, he refused to wear a topcoat. Sam Culbertson passed away on a cold December morning at age 86 and is revered as a true gentleman.
Visit Culbertson’s homes
Every home Sam Culbertson ever lived in is now open to the public. New Albany’s Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site is a museum dedicated to the family. The Culbertson West in New Albany is an event and rental space, and the Culbertson Mansion Bed and Breakfast Inn provides lodging in Louisville.
To learn more about Samuel Culbertson and the entire family, visit the Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site. Tours are available weekdays throughout the year and on weekends April through December. Extend your stay in New Albany and shop and dine. Click here to learn more about the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs.