Report #16 from Abe & Ulysses: Aug. 6, 2001



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 as lawyers.

Old Talbott Tavern:
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.

Many 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.

My Old Kentucky Home:
The 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."

Kentucky State Quarter:
The 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.

Book Signing -- The Civil War Museum:
Ulysses: 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 Cavalry, C.S.A.

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.

Though 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.

It 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 Days:
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.

Next Stop -- Return to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania!
Our next trip will be a short one.

Robert E.: Thank the Lord!


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