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30 Mar 2014

Bardstown, Kentucky, Pick Your Pleasure!

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March 30, 2014 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  Warehouse Barrels


By Renée S. Gordon

“Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.”

–W.C. Fields

Bardstown, Kentucky, 47 miles from Louisville, is best known as the Bourbon Capital of the World™. In 2012 it was designated the “Most Beautiful Small City in America,” it is listed as one of the “Ten Most Haunted Cities in America,” and as one of Kentucky’s earliest settlements, it is rife with historic sites and attractions. Bardstown has such a stunning variety of things to offer that it is ideal for the “Renaissance Traveler,” one who wants immersive experiences that are uniquely interesting.

The heart of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail runs through Bardstown and no featured distillery is more than 60 miles from the city. Maps and information on the trail are available and visitors should obtain a KBT Passport at their first destination and have it stamped at each stop. Upon completion of the trail passports can be surrendered and your passport and a T-shirt will be returned.

The trail was inaugurated in 1999 and there are eight distilleries on the official trail, including the Evan Hill Experience featured last week, and each one offers a tour customized for their facility. After visiting them all you come away with an excellent overview of both the modern industry and its history.

Heaven Hill Distillery and Bourbon Heritage Center is the largest family-owned and operated independent distillery with 17 percent of the world’s bourbon in its inventory. The Heritage Center retraces the history of bourbon through state-of-the-art exhibits. Walking and trolley tours are available.

Barton’s 1792 Distillery was founded in 1879 on 192 acres of land. Ridgemont Reserve, the official toasting Bourbon of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival is stored in Warehouse Z. The World’s Largest Whiskey Barrel is situated near the entrance and provides a wonderful photo op.

Willet Distillery is owned and operated by the Willet family who settled the area in 1792. The distillery was erected on family land in 1936. They produce craft and boutique Bourbons using a copper pot and heirloom recipes.  Tours are offered daily and include the distillery, grounds and a keepsake glass.

Maker’s Mark is easily recognized for it’s iconic red seal. The distillery continues to use the founder’s original recipe and guided tours highlight the evolution of the process. Tours end with visitors sealing their own bottles if they so choose.

Woodford Reserve, the oldest distillery and smallest, boasts the sole triple distillation process and copper pot still, the Double Oaked Experience, in the country. Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select has been named the “Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby.” Tours are on a first come first served basis.

“Four Roses” was trademarked in 1888 in Louisville. In 1910 the current distillery, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in the Spanish Mission Style. Four Roses was granted permission to continue production of “medicinal” Bourbon throughout prohibition. Tours are scheduled daily on the hour.

When Jacob Beam sold his first barrel of bourbon in 1795 he had no way of knowing that Jim Beam would become the number one selling bourbon in the world. In October 2012 a 9,300-sq. ft. replica 1930s stillhouse opened as a visitor’s center and the building features the spiral staircase from Beam’s original stillhouse. Shuttle tours are available.

Wild Turkey traces its origins to 1855, but it was not until 1869 that the Ripy Brothers established a distillery on Wild Turkey Hill. Hourly tours are offered daily.

Please be aware of the following. In order to be listed on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail or the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, a venue must be a member of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. Each distillery offers tastings and, while tours are open to anyone, you must be 21 to participate in the tasting. A small tour fee is charged for most tours.

The premier Bardstown event is the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival held this year from September 16-21, 2014. The festival is an outgrowth of a Bourbon tasting and dinner held in 1992 and now includes numerous specialty activities, music and dining. The highlighted events include Bourbon, Cigars and Jazz, Kentucky Bourbon Breakfast, Master Distiller’s Auction and Culinary Art: Bourbon-Style Cooking School.

To complete your Bourbon Trail experience there are two additional sites that should be visited, the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History and the Kentucky Cooperage.

The Independent Stave Company has been making barrels in the Kentucky Cooperage since 1912. The Cooperage makes barrels for several of the large distilleries and during a, free, 40-minute tour visitors can watch the entire barrel-making process.

Spalding Hall is the perfect place to leave the Bourbon Trail and pick another pleasure. The building was constructed in 1826 to function as St. Joseph College and Seminary. After the October 1862 Battle of Perryville, the Sisters of Charity treated wounded Civil War soldiers there. Those who could not survive the 32-mile journey were buried in the Bardstown Cemetery. Union soldiers were later moved to the National Cemetery in Lebanon. Today two museums share the lower level.

The Bardstown Historical Museum interprets the history of the city and the region. Highlights of the exhibits are Native American artifacts, Jesse James’ hat and colonial tools.

The Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History recounts the story of whiskey from the pre-Colonial Era onward. The collection belonged to Oscar Getz and he opened the museum in 1984. The museum is organized thematically with every conceivable space filled with posters, dioramas, memorabilia, rare artifacts, documents and photographs. Significant exhibits include prohibition-era whiskey prescriptions, a recreation of Lincoln’s tavern and his liquor license, a still and Carrie Nation’s hatchet. A gem of the collection is what is believed to have been George Washington’s still. The still was in the possession of descendants of his slaves, and in operation, when the government confiscated it in 1939.

The Bardstown area holds a significant place in the religious history of the country and to memorialize that history the city has created a “Holy Land Tour.” The route showcases early religious institutions and sites of varied denominations and ethnicities.

There is much speculation regarding the first Catholics in the region and although the Boone family was Catholic no records exist as proof that Daniel was. It is known that there were Catholic settlers among the first settlers in 1774. In 1785, 60 families emigrated from Maryland for religious freedom and economic opportunity. Within 10 years, there were 300 Catholic families and their Catholic slaves.

In 1808, Pope Pius XII established the country’s first inland diocese, the Diocese of Bardstown, from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and from the Alleghenies to the Mississippi. Three years later, French Bishop Benedict Joseph Flaget arrived and moved into a log cabin near Bardstown. His original cabin, now a museum, is situated on the grounds of St. Thomas Parish.

The Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral, the first cathedral west of the Alleghany Mountains, was completed in 1819. Architect John Rogers designed the church with walls four bricks thick totaling more than 1 million bricks of Kentucky clay. The interior columns are wooden and the Italian stained glass windows are the third set of windows, replacing the original clear ones. The walls and ceiling are original and the wall paintings were a gift of Francis I. Of particular note are the canvas medallions depicting the deaths of the apostles, the 3,000-lb limestone altar painted to look like marble and the two sets of steps, one for each gender, leading to the upper level.

Union Church has a singular religious history. Samuel P. Jones, an itinerant peddler, bequeathed money in 1804 for the purchase of land and a cemetery, for the use by any denomination or ethnicity that believed in the “crucified Christ,” on the northernmost street in Bardstown. The 1812 church served as a building for religious groups without a home until they could raise funds to purchase a site. At times more than one group shared the facility simultaneously.  It is the first brick and the oldest surviving church in the city. The sanctuary is on the second floor. In 1866, Union became an African American Baptist Church and was renamed First Baptist. The only person buried there is Samuel Jones.

St. John A.M.E. Zion Church was constructed in 1867 after the Bardstown Colored Methodist Church and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church joined together in 1866. The current church was built in 1893. A marker in front of the church provides information on Bishop Alexander Walters who was a founder of the NAACP. Walters was born in the Talbott Tavern where his mother was the cook.

Bishop Flaget was tasked with providing education for the Catholic families upon the formation of the Bardstown Diocese as well as providing for the aged, infirm and orphaned of the community. Six pioneer women volunteered to dedicate their lives to these good works and in 1812 the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth was established. The Sisters took their first vows four years later. Catherine Spalding (1793-1858), who moved to the area from Maryland in 1799, is credited with being a co-founder of the order. She served as Superior from 1813 until her death.

The Sisters founded Nazareth Academy, Presentation Academy, St. Vincent Orphanage and St. Joseph Infirmary. During the Civil War they provided medical care for all soldiers and in modern times they have been recognized for their work with HIV/AIDS patients, disaster victims and the poverty-stricken. In the 60s, they joined the Civil Rights Movement as nurses to wounded marchers and as participants in freedom marches.

As women joined the sisterhood they brought with them their property, sometimes in the form of slaves. These enslaved individuals erected the first structures, raised crops and cooked and cleaned. A monument created by Ed Hamilton, memorializing the contribution of the enslaved, was placed on the campus in 2012. The bronze plaque is inscribed with a bas-relief pioneer slave family and the names of 28 slaves found listed in documents. An inscription from the Gospel of Matthew on the memorial reads, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

A Heritage Center is housed within the visitor center on the campus and features a handwritten note from Abraham Lincoln commending the Sisters for their Civil War service. Other edifices of particular note are the 1825 motherhouse and the 1854 St. Vincent de Paul church. William Keeley designed the Indiana Limestone church using native materials.

The world’s largest crucifix was crafted by local welder, Herbert Cleveland, and placed outside St. Thomas Cemetery in 1986. The stainless steel, abstract, sculpture stands 60-ft. tall.

No matter which pleasures you have chosen you will need to sample the numerous culinary options in Bardstown. They are as varied as the trails the city has to offer and fine dining can enhance the experience. Mammy’s Kitchen, the Rickhouse Restaurant and Lounge and Café Primo are all easily accessible and have imaginative menus using fresh produce.

The most elegant dining choice is a gourmet meal aboard My Old Kentucky Dinner Train. This is southern hospitality at its finest. Information and reservations are available online.

In part two we will explore historic, musical and haunted trails but you can pick your pleasure now by accessing the website to plan a vacation in bountiful Bardstown.

I wish you smooth travels!



Whether you are traveling around the corner or around the world the savvy traveler is always on the lookout for ways to make travel easier. Last month was National Snack Month and reusable Pack’Ems were a featured item. The colorful, reusable, bags are available in large and small and are equipped with the patented VELCRO brand Press-Lok. They are environmentally friendly, being, BPA, PVC and phthalate-free, and are gusseted to increase the amount they hold and make them freestanding. Pack’Ems are part of the larger award-winning Booginhead product line used by Alicia Keys and Jessica Alba.

If you are thinking of a family day trip from Philadelphia, think Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and the National Aquarium. Visit the new “Blacktip Reef” exhibit and watch the reef sharks and Calypso, a 500-lb. sea turtle, cavort. The aquarium offers immersion tours, “Dolphin Encounter,“ Sleepover with the Sharks” and a guided “Veterinarian Tour.” Special packages are available that combine admission with hotel and Amtrak transportation.

Morey’s Piers & Beachfront Water Parks, in the Wildwoods, NJ, will celebrate the opening of the 2014 season on April 12th and 13th. The following weekend will mark the debut of the Wave Swinger, that soars 50-ft. above the ocean. Morey’s Piers is a complex including two waterparks, Ocean Oasis Waterpark and Beach Club and Raging Waters Waterpark with more than 100 rides and attractions on 18-acres. Visitors can have Breakfast in the Sky or indulge in Xtreme Rides.

On Saturday, April 5, the AIDS Fund will host the 15th Annual Black-Tie GayBingo presented by PECO. The proceeds will fund HIV/AIDS services in the Greater Philadelphia region. A highlight of the event will be the awarding of the Ferrara Family Volunteer Award given in recognition of an exceptional commitment as an AIDS Fund volunteer. This year’s award will be presented to 17-year old African American twins Kevin and Keisha Diggs who have been volunteers since 2000.

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