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In Your Backyard | Namesake behind Atherton High School

John McDougall Atherton was an entrepreneur who specialized in real estate, where he owned several downtown properties and a bourbon business.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Tucked away in the Hayfield Dundee neighborhood surrounded by homes is J.M. Atherton High School, but who is John McDougall Atherton?

WHAS11 is uncovering the history of JCPS schools and the notable Kentucky namesake's whose stories you might not know.

Atherton was born on April Fool's Day in 1841. He attended Georgetown College and studied law at the Louisville school.

The Larue County native was an entrepreneur who specialized in real estate, where he owned several downtown properties and a bourbon business. 

"John McDougall Atherton was a distiller, and at one point he was actually the biggest distiller of whiskey in the country for several years. He was very, very civically minded," Sarah Coffman, a social studies and Spanish teacher at Atherton High School, said. 

In 1924, Atherton was an all-girls school. Then, 26 years later, the school decided to become co-ed. In 1962, officials built the building the school is in now. 

At the time, you could not name a school after someone alive.

"So to name [the high school] after Mr. Atherton who was very much alive, [the school] had to suspend their own rules to accomplish that. But they did. And here we are," James Cundy, JCPS archivist, said.

A lot of notable names have walked the halls of Atherton. 

"So the first one that comes to mind, everybody knows Jack Harlow is from Atherton," Coffman said. "He loves Atherton, which we all do."

Congressman John Yarmuth, journalist Hunter S., Thompson, author Sue Grafton, musician Brigid Kaelin, the VP of LinkedIn and the man who wrote the Seinfeld theme song all attended Atherton.

"Atherton is the most dedicated school I have ever seen to its students," Coffman said. "We include everyone that we possibly can, in whatever way is best for them and whatever way is going to make those students achieve better and be successful."

That's why the high school's motto is "what you do makes a difference."


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