10:27 PM / Thursday February 2, 2023

7 Apr 2014

Bardstown, Kentucky, Pick Your Pleasure! (Part Two)

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
April 7, 2014 Category: Travel Posted by:

By Renée S. Gordon

“We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home, For the Old Kentucky Home far away.”

–Stephen Foster 1852  “My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night”

Virginia Gov. Patrick Henry gave a 1,000-acre land grant to David Bard in the late 1700s and in 1780 David’s brother William Bard laid out Bard’s Town and it was named the Nelson County seat four years later. The city, originally part of Virginia, was chartered in 1788 and was renamed Bardstown in the 1820s. It is the state’s second oldest city and in February of 1983 the Bardstown Historic District encompassing more than 200 significant buildings, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

Bardstown’s Visitor’s Center is located inside the Nelson County Courthouse. This architecturally splendid 1892 wood-trimmed, red brick, Richardson Romanesque, structure replaced one dating from 1790. Designed by Mason Maury and William J. Todd, it was completed for $33,000. It stands in the town square with three highways radiating from its location. During construction stones from the original were placed in the foundation. Here you can obtain maps and guides detailing information on the trails, attractions, dining options, events and accommodations available.

International visitors come to Bardstown to tour Federal Hill, the estate that is generally believed to have been the inspiration for Stephen Collins Foster’s plantation melodies in general and “My Old Kentucky Home” specifically. There is no tangible evidence that Foster visited but the owners were his cousins and oral history places him there. The estate was registered a National Historic Site in 1971.

Contrary to popular belief Foster was not southern but was born in Pittsburgh in 1826. In 1950 he married Jane MacDowell and launched a professional career as a musician and composer. Three years later he moved to New York. Foster sought to humanize the image of the slave and requested that the singers of his compositions not mock them in performances. He also refused to allow degrading images of slaves to be used as decorations on his sheet music. A childhood friend, Charles Shiras, an ardent abolitionist and activist, probably influenced his views on slavery. Shiras and Stephen collaborated on more than one musical project in adulthood.

Foster is widely regarded the first truly American composer and a pioneer in publishing. Due to the lack of performing fees and the inability to adequately monitor publishing sales Foster died in 1864 in New York’s Bellevue Hospital with $.38. During his career he penned 286 songs and earned a total of less than $16,000.

“My Old Kentucky Home” (MOKH) was designated the state song by the Kentucky Legislature on March 19, 1928 and has been performed at the Kentucky Derby as the horses leave the paddock by the University of Louisville Marching Band since 1936.

Fifty-eight years after its adoption, visiting Japanese students, paying homage to the state, sang the song, with its original lyrics, in the Kentucky General Assembly. African American State Rep. Carl Hines objected to the racial references in the song and sponsored a bill resulting in the updating of the lyrics.

Most people are unaware that the song was originally titled “Poor Uncle Tom, Good Night.”  It was written to be sung in the language of the slave and to express his viewpoint. It was often performed in productions of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and aroused audience sympathy for the enslaved.

Tours of MOKH State Park begin in the Visitor Center and proceed to Federal Hill, the 1818 mansion that was the home of the Rowan family. John Rowan, a lawyer, moved to Bardstown from York, PA and eventually became a senator. A seated bronze statue of Foster by Abbie Godwin is just off the path.

The red brick Georgian home was largely constructed using enslaved labor incorporating the number 13, for the 13 original colonies, in aspects of the architecture. When built there were 13 rooms, the walls are 13 inches thick, there are 13 windows across the front, 13-ft. ceilings and 13 steps between each level. A freed African American completed the ornate, interior, woodcarving. The home interprets the 1840s and approximately 75 percent of the furnishings are Rowan heirlooms.

The plantation acknowledges the slave laborers. A will dating from 1840 lists 32 slaves ranging in age from 12-32. An exhibit in the Visitor Center displays tools used by a freed worker.

The state park presents “My Old Kentucky Home,” an outdoor musical based on the life of Stephen Foster and featuring his most popular songs. This is the 55th season and performances take place from June 14- August 16, 2014.

Bardstown’s Museum Row is a trail of venues that includes Old Bardstown Village, a recreation of a 1790s pioneer village, The Native American Museum, War Memorial of Mid America, the Civil War Museum of the Western Theater, the Wildlife/Natural History Museum and the Women of the Civil War Museum. The museums are strung out along Broadway like the pearls that they are. Museum admissions are good for two consecutive days because there is so much to see.

The Civil War Museum of the Western Theater is ranked one of the top five Civil War museums in the country and it is fully deserving of this designation. The focus of the displays is a presentation of the human story behind the war and this is accomplished through the creative use of artifacts, dioramas and interpretive panels. The galleries are chronological and begin with the events that lead to the war including slavery, Harper’s Ferry and the southern call for states’ rights. The main displays feature 100 percent authentic objects. Many of the artifacts were purchased in Europe, where some southerners relocated after the war, 85 percent of the objects are privately owned and are on loan and 5 percent are on loan from the State of Kentucky. This museum is a must visit!!!

Old Bardstown Village is adjacent to the Civil War Museum and is handicapped accessible. The village tour showcases structures built in the 45 year period from the American Revolution until 1820. The buildings include the blacksmith shop, log cabin, stillhouse, and a dogtrot cabin. One of the highlights is the Bean Tavern run by relatives of the infamous Judge Roy Bean. There is a Native American display in one of the cabins as well as a stand alone Native American Museum within the village that tells the story of the indigenous tribes found throughout the US.

A short walk up Broadway takes you to an 1840s building that houses the Women in the Civil War Museum. This totally unique museum’s galleries focus on the largely overlooked roles of women in the war. Along with keeping the home fires burning, this was the first war in which women served as nurses, women functioned as spies and several hundred women, both black and white, engaged in actual combat, some alongside their husbands and others dressed as men. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Julia Ward Howe, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth are also honored for their ideological contributions. Their stories are told through photographs, documents and clothing.

The Mid America War Memorial Museum adjoins the Women in the Civil War Museum and showcases the history of the men who fought in America’s wars from the Revolution to 21st-century combat. The museum is dedicated to Bardstown’s General Hal Moore whose heroism was the basis for the movie “Once Were Soldiers.” Highlights of this awesome collection are an original Revolutionary War uniform, an original Bowie Knife and Alvin York’s Colt 45 ACP pistol. Take special note of the stained glass windows throughout the museum.

Bardstown is a “spirited” city. It is one of the nation’s 10 most haunted cities and has three of its most haunted locations within steps of each other. Best of all they are open for tours and you can even spend the night in several of the sites.

The town grew up around the 1779 Old Talbott Tavern, an early stagecoach stop. The stone, Flemish bond, tavern housed an inn that had one room for females and one for males in the loft. Andrew Jackson, Daniel Boone, William Quantrill, Jesse James, Stephen Foster and Abraham Lincoln visited Talbott Tavern and Andrew Walters was born there. Ghost sightings and occurrences are frequent and the most notable specter is that of Jesse James.

Talbott’s offers fine dining daily with the addition of live entertainment on the weekends. Five rooms, named after historic figures, are available as a bed and breakfast. Rooms are decorated with antiques and include modern amenities.

The Jailer’s Inn B&B is located next door to the inn on the site of the original 1719 jail. In 1819 a married couple had a loud argument and the husband was jailed for failure to control her. She burned the jail down. The two story current jail was built shortly thereafter with 30-inch limestone walls. In 1874, a law was passed requiring the jailer and his family to live on the ground floor. A rear jail was added in 1874.

Tours include the detox cell, felony room and the dungeon rooms upstairs that had shackles and rings in the floor. The courtyard was used for executions and on display is the black hood placed on the condemned prisoner. Other displays feature weapons made by the inmates, photographs and newspaper clippings. The James Brothers were visitors because they were related to the jailer’s wife and Dillinger was secretly held overnight so his gang would not find him. The jail was closed in 1987. Accommodations are available in suites in the jailhouse and in a cell. All rooms have modern amenities.

Across the street is the site of the former slave auction block and one of the oddest antebellum stories. The Roane family fell on hard times in 1857 and was forced to sell some of their slaves to meet the mortgage. An enslaved nursemaid who was carrying Sally Roane, the white great grandchild of Patrick Henry when she stepped up on the block, declared herself the property of the baby. The auctioneer sold them both. A family friend in the crowd recognized the child and raised the funds to purchase them.

Wickland, known as “the house of three governors,” is an 1826-28 Georgian mansion designed by John Rogers for Charles Wickliffe. The plantation had as many as 53 slaves. A lawyer, he served as governor as did his son and grandson. The 13-room mansion has 14.5-ft. ceilings and 16-inch baseboards. The most spectacular architectural features include a staircase that is continuous to the third-floor and the double parlor. The house was added to the NRHP in 1973.

Anna, a free black woman, was a seamstress and dyer of blue cloth. She married an enslaved man named Nick and when she heard he was to be sold down river she made an agreement to purchase his freedom for $400. She paid the money but Nick’s master died and his heir claimed ownership and demanded an additional $400. Anna worked another four years, paid the owner and then sued to have her money returned. Charles Wickliffe was her lawyer and she won in lower court.

Spirits of Wickland tours are regularly scheduled and they are complete with twin spiritualist guides and the opportunity to ask questions of the spirits. There are a number of ghosts but the two who visit most frequently, Waleta and Antoine, were both slaves. Waleta was the plantation cook and she speaks of daily life. Antoine is a young boy and he gives health readings.

Bardstown, Kentucky is a gem hidden in plain view. It is accessible, affordable and astonishing. Make plans to visit and enjoy southern hospitality with a “spirited” twist.

I wish you smooth travels!



On Wed., April 9, 2014 at 1 PM Franklin Square will open for it’s eigth season. SquareBurger will be returning as well as the food venues and attractions that make it a great family destination. The historic Franklin Square will be open daily until December 29th, celebrating all the holidays with special events and filling the summer with activities. First up, the Great Egg Hunt on April 20th. Information is available online.

I dislike walking barefoot and so I was delighted to learn about a great alternative. Nufoot incorporates everything you need in a slipper and takes up a negligible amount of space in your handbag or suitcase. They are water-resistant, anti-microbial, have four way stretch, non-skid bottoms and are seamless so they do not irritate diabetic feet. They are available in fun colors and make quite a fashion statement. Check them out.

Rhode Island’s internationally recognized culinary scene will be showcased Thursday, April 24-Sunday thru April 27, 2014 at the Eat Drink RI Festival in downtown Providence. Participants include award-winning chefs, farmers and bartenders. Special events will be presented daily culminating with The Grand Brunch, held at the in Providence Biltmore Grand Ballroom. Complete information can be found online.

The annual Alexandria, Virginia Historic Homes & Garden Tour will be held April 26, 2014 from

10 AM-4 PM in Old Town Alexandria. The tour will showcase both privately-owned and historic homes April 26th-May 3rd. Alexandria’s tour is a part of Virginia’s, 80-day, statewide Garden Week featuring more than 250 gardens, homes and landmarks. Information is available at and

  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Leave a Comment

Recent News


Office of Economic Opportunity debuts virtual educational series to advance pathways toward generational wealth

January 30, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email  PHILADELPHIA – The Department of Commerce, Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) is advancing...

Suburban News

Black History Month events in Montgomery County 

January 30, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email Here is a listing of this year’s upcoming events. All will be held...


Pennsylvanians encouraged to use myPATH to file 2022 PA tax returns

January 30, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email With the opening of tax filing season, the Department of Revenue is encouraging...

Color Of Money

Preparing for tax season: Three tips to keep your documents organized

January 27, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email BPT Taxes can be a daunting task. Some people are so anxious that...


What is DME and why it matters if you have diabetes

January 27, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email BPT Whether you have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, or are a...

Food And Beverage

What’s Cookin’? 7 Bean Stew

January 27, 2023

Tweet Share Pin Email Tweet Share Pin Email Related Posts What’s Cookin’?: 7 Bean Stew What’s Cookin’?...

The Philadelphia Sunday Sun Staff