Kentucky: Visiting Historic Bardstown

Downtown Bardstown Kentucky. photo.
Downtown Bardstown Kentucky. photo.

Bardstown, Kentucky: A Frontier Village and Stagecoach Stop

By Wynne Crombie
GoNOMAD Senior Writer

A Civil War re-enactor in Bardstown, Kentucky.
A Civil War re-enactor in Bardstown Kentucky.

A Civil War re-enactor in Bardstown. Ping, ping, ping …an inebriated Jesse James sprayed the murals at Talbott’s Tavern with gunfire.

As the story goes, he thought he was shooting at butterflies. If that wasn’t exciting enough to prompt a visit, add Daniel Boone’s stay at the Tavern in the late 18th century and Washington Irving’s stopover some years later.

The Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, Kentucky has had quite a history. Abraham Lincoln stayed there as a thirteen-year-old while his parents were resolving a land dispute.

My husband and I took the forty-five-minute drive from Lexington to Bardstown, Kentucky. It was only fitting that our first stop was the almost 350- year- old Talbotts Tavern. We had to have a look. Back in the late 1700s, the Talbott Tavern was strategically located near the end of the stagecoach road that led east to Philadelphia and Virginia.

The Bourbon bar at Talbott Tavern in Bardstown.
The Bourbon Bar at Talbott Tavern in Bardstown.

The Tavern has been in existence since the day it opened in 1770 and is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It is the oldest stagecoach stop in the U.S.

In those days, travelers arrived on horseback or buggies; now they arrive in automobiles and stop at traffic lights.

Stagecoach Painting

Talbotts guest bedroom in Bardstown Kentucky.
Talbotts guest bedroom in Bardstown.

Before beginning our exploration, we traversed the lobby and turned left into the Dining Room/Bourbon Bar. An old painting of the inn, complete with stagecoach and horses, graced the wall behind the bar. Next to it, a 21st-century TV flickered.

Lunch in the Bourbon Bar

And, just outside, the fifty-star American flag was displayed. We sat down for lunch at the Dining Room/ Bourbon Bar.

The bartender explained that the Talbott Bar is the world’s oldest Bourbon Bar. Such figures as T.R. Beam (Jim’s brother) owned and operated Talbotts at one time. T.R. later sold it to Tom Moore, a distiller (now Tom Moore Distillery).

Bardstown's Civil War museum.
Bardstown’s Civil War museum.

The menu features good ‘ole Southern tavern fare such as Kentucky Burgoon, Old Kentucky Hot Brown, and BBQ Pork Sandwiches. I opted for the Kentucky Hot Brown.

I was introduced to the world of eggs, cheese, and bacon (repeat)… all in one serving. Not to mention the turkey slices at the bottom.

A stone fireplace took up another wall. As with all early structures, the fireplace was a vital heating source. The mantelpiece had been carved out of wood.

Atop is an array of pewterware, and a second lithograph of the inn. The Tavern, a rare example of Flemish bond stonework, utilizes two-foot thick stone walls and heavy timbers.

Two separate fireplaces were used to cook the food. It originally had only two guest rooms on the second floor: one for men and one for women. Individual rooms for guests did not become widespread in the United States until the early 19th century.

The passage of time was evident as we stepped on the creaking floorboards. Rough-hewn wooden beams fashioned the ceiling. You can almost feel the people who so long ago tread on these very floorboards. We were sort of silent witnesses to history.

Fireplace at Talbotts Tavern.
Fireplace at Talbotts Tavern.

The walls upstairs are the original stone. The roof and most of the second floor was badly damaged in a 1998 fire. Talbotts reopened on November 9, 1999. The second level features glass cases displaying early artifacts including General George Rogers Clark’s unpaid bill.

Two separate fireplaces were used to cook the food. It originally had only two guest rooms on the second floor: one for men and one for women. Individual rooms for guests did not become widespread in the United States until the early 19th century.

A Devastating Fire

In March 1998, the Tavern suffered a devastating fire. The roof and most of the second floor were badly damaged. Some of the murals were damaged and have still to be restored. Extensive rebuilding was done. The Old Talbott Tavern reopened on November 9, 1999.

The receptionist told us that one item that has been lingering over the centuries is the presence of ghosts: especially that of Jesse James. There are still sighting reports of Jesse’s ghost from time to time.

My old Kentucky home!
My old Kentucky home!

Next door to the Talbott Tavern is the Old County Jail Bed and Breakfast. Built in 1819, it still has iron bars on the windows, thirty-inch thick walls, and heavy doors. As the receptionist mused, “It’s an interesting way, to do time.”

The Civil War Museum, just down the street, is a definite must-see. The War Memorial of Mid- America and the Women of the Civil War Museums are conveniently located next door. All three are located on Museum Row on East Broadway Street.

Looking at the Civil War uniforms (from both sides) that had played a part in the Civil War, I realized that people of 150 years ago were certainly smaller and shorter.

Especially interesting was the field surgeon’s white jacket with the still present splattered blood spots. Uniforms, battle flags, weapons, and period documents are all on display. An original embalmer’s table was also on display,

A Museum volunteer explained that camp life was filled with disease. Many of the big killers in Civil War camps were smallpox, measles, and dysentery. Many of the soldiers would build their latrines upstream but gather their water downstream.

Kids in doll shop window in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Kids in a doll shop window in Bardstown, Kentucky.

The adjoining War Memorial of Mid-America covers all of America’s wars, from the Revolutionary War onwards. You don’t think often of women in the Civil War, but here is a museum devoted to the subject. Women were spies, nurses, and soldiers in disguise.

In the mid-19th century, women were viewed as frail, passive and subordinate. However, about 250 women are thought to have served in the Confederate army disguised as men, with about 400 women serving in a similar manner in the Union Army.

Old Bardstown Village

A short walk downhill takes you to the Old Bardstown Village which contains log cabins built in Nelson County, Kentucky from about 1776 to 1820. If you’ve ever wondered what a frontier community looked like, you can see one here.

In addition to the frontier homes at Old Bardstown Village, you can visit shops such as the wheelwright’s shop, a forge, a stillhouse (distillery) as well as a replica of Brown’s Mill.

This frontier village represents one of the first westward movements of the nation. The log buildings are well over 200 years old. Federal Hill, where Stephen Foster wrote, “My Old Kentucky Home”, is also to be visited. However, if you are limited for time, it really doesn’t have anything you can’t see in other 19th-century homes.

Before leaving Bardstown, we took a walk along the Cobblestone Path, across from the Civil War Museum. Built in 1785, it was the main entry into Bardstown.

Read more about Kentucky:

Mary Todd Lincoln’s House in Lexington Kentucky

Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail

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