Welcome to Bardstown,
Kentucky: Home Away From Home!
Abe: Welcome to Bardstown, Kentucky,
one of the "100 Best Small Towns in America" -- and Mary's home
away from home.
Ulysses: How's that? I thought Mary was born
in Washington, D.C., and lives in Virginia.
Abe: You are right, Ulysses, but Mary's family
for five generations back all hail from Bardstown, Kentucky. Mary's
great-great-great-grandfather, William Johnson IV moved here from
the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, in the early 1800's and settled
in Nelson County, Kentucky. Bardstown is the county seat. Bardstown
is the home of many of Mary's cousins all of whom came to her book
signing at the Bardstown
Civil War Museum.
Bardstown was established by a land grant
to an early pioneer named William Bard in the 1770's. Bard laid
out his town in a series of ordered streets and blocks centered
around a courthouse in theTown Square. The first courthouse, made
of logs, was built in 1785. The present brick courthouse is the
third to stand in the Square. It was built in 1892, replacing the
1790's stone courthouse. Some of Mary's ancestors including her
great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather worked in the courthouse
For many years into the mid-1800's, Bardstown
was the end of the stage coach line from the east. Beyond that were
unmarked trails leading into the frontier. Bardstown is very proud
to have the Old Talbott Tavern, an inn that has been serving meals
and offering sleeping accommodation since 1779. In fact, it is the
oldest stage coach inn west of the Alleghenies that is still in
continuous operation in the United States. In 1785, Patrick Henry,
Governor of Virginia (Kentucky was still part of Virginia then),
granted the tavern a license to operate. A copy of this hand-written
document is on display in the Tavern.
famous people came to Bardstown and stayed at the Old Talbott Tavern,
including Louis Phillipe, Duke of Orleans who arrived on October
17, 1797. While this exiled prince was in his upstairs suite, he
painted the walls of his room with a huge mural of a French garden.
Unfortunately, the murals have suffered damage twice. In the 1870's,
outlaw Jesse James stayed overnight at the Tavern. After an evening
of drinking, Jesse took a dislike to the murals so he used them
for target practice, leaving a number of bullet holes in the artwork
and the walls underneath it. In March, 1998, a devastating fire
broke out behind the walls in the kitchens. Most of the interior
of the Talbott Tavern was destroyed including some of the murals
-- and Jesse's critique. The Tavern was restored and reopened for
business in November, 1999, though the murals are still being carefully
restored. One mural is considered beyond repair. Photo:
Mary and me outside the famous Old Talbott Tavern. The wing on the
left of the picture is its oldest section dating back to 1779.
Other notables besides a prince and an outlaw
have stayed at the Tavern, including explorer George Rodgers Clark,
nature artist John J. Audubon, members of the Abraham Lincoln family,
World War II hero General George Patton, and former President Jimmy
Carter in 1979. Today, the Talbott Tavern serves a delicious lunch
and dinner menu, including such traditional Kentucky dishes as burgoo
(a hearty stew), Kentucky Hot Brown (an open-face turkey sandwich
smothered in melted cheese and brown gravy), and chess pie (a type
of custard pie). Mary and Marty joined Mary's cousins for lunch
at this old inn before her signing. Mary told me the sweet corn
fritters were delicious.
Old Kentucky Home:
most famous site in Bardstown is "Federal Hill," a house built in
1818, that is now known as My Old Kentucky Home. Photo:
Mary and me at the Visitors' Center of My Old Kentucky Home.
It became legendary when a composer named
Stephen Foster visited his cousins, the Rowan family, in Bardstown
in 1852. Though Foster's visit was brief, he was inspired by this
stately dwelling and its surrounding grounds. One afternoon he played
a new tune on his flute for his cousins. Thus, was born the immortal
ballad, "My Old Kentucky Home." Though Foster wrote over 200 songs
in his short lifetime, including "Oh, Susannah!," "Beautiful Dreamer,"
and "Old Folks At Home," it is his tribute to the romance of the
Old South that has become his most famous composition.
The song is now the Official State Song of
Kentucky. Every year on the first Saturday in May, "My Old Kentucky
Home" is played at the opening of America's most famous horse race,
the Kentucky Derby. On that Spring afternoon, thousands of voices
lift to sing the haunting refrain:
"Weep no more, my lady. Weep
no more today.
For we will sing one song for the Old Kentucky Home,
For the Old Kentucky Home far away."
One particular lady who did
not weep, but instead enjoyed her visit to My Old Kentucky Home
was Queen Marie of Romania in November, 1926. She was hosted to
a special luncheon in the home's dining room, and afterward she
was entertained by a selection of Stephen Foster's songs, including
"My Old Kentucky Home."
image of the house that is My Old Kentucky Home was selected in
2000, as the design on the back of the quarter representing Kentucky.
This quarter will be released at the end of this year. Photo:
Postcard showing the beautiful My Old Kentucky Home. This is the
view that will be on the back of the Kentucky quarter.
Since we were in a hurry to
get to lunch, we did not have time to tour the house, though Mary
has been there several times in the past. But we did drive by for
a quick photo op. Then it was off to lunch at the Tavern followed
by the book signing at Bardstown's Civil War Museum.
Signing -- The Civil War Museum:
The Civil War Museum houses an impressive collection of Civil War
artifacts, many of them relating to the Western Theater of the War
-- battles that took place in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi,
Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri. Many of the items in the collection
have been donated to the Museum by private collectors and by families
whose ancestors fought in the War.
The Bardstown Civil War Museum Logo
from its brochure.
Among the collection are five rare flags,
including the flag from General John Hunt Morgan's 2nd Kentucky
Another unusual item is a silver flask engraved
with a Confederate flag and dated November 7, 1861. It was presented
to Confederate General John Breckinridge by the citizens of Lexington,
Kentucky. General Breckinridge became the commander of the famous
Kentucky Orphan Brigade. The regiments that made up the brigade
were Confederate soldiers who were unable to return to their homes
in Northern-occupied Kentucky, until after the end of the War, hence
they were called Breckinridge's Poor Orphans.
Photos: From a brochure
from the Bardstown Civil War Museum showing some of its displays.
the Civil War Museum has only been open since 1996, its attendance
has grown annually. Earlier this year, it received excellent coverage
in THE CIVIL WAR ILLUSTRATED TIMES Magazine. In 2000, the Bardstown
Civil War Museum was rated one of the best Civil War Museums in
the United States.
was a quiet Tuesday afternoon at the Museum when we got there, but
then Mary's cousins, uncles, and aunts arrived, and the lobby soon
became very lively. All of us had a wonderful time, and the two
hours passed too quickly.
Six States in Eight
At four o'clock in the afternoon, Marty loaded
us into the car, and we began our long trek back home to Burke,
Virginia, by way of Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
In eight days,
we had traveled through six
states (Virginia, Tennessee,
Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and a corner of North Carolina), signed
over 100 books,
met three REAL daughters, and
Marty drove over 2,000 miles.
We were glad to sleep in our own beds.
Stop -- Return to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania!
Our next trip will be a short one.
Robert E.: Thank the Lord!
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