Sample the Spirit of Bardstown

Bardstown was recently named Most Beautiful Small Town in America by USA Today and Rand McNally—and it’s easy to see why.

Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral built in 1816-1819 was the first Catholic cathedral west of the Allegheny Mountains.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral built in 1816-1819 was the first Catholic cathedral west of the Allegheny Mountains. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the second-oldest city in Kentucky, Catholic roots, and bourbon production were the first features to put Bardstown on the map.

The Diocese of Bardstown was formed in 1808 along with the Dioceses of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

Bardstown is mentioned in the book 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, and Downtown Bardstown encompasses all of the author’s reasons.

For bourbon connoisseurs, whiskey is to Bardstown what wine is to Napa Valley.

Consider this: In 1999, there were about 455,000 barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky warehouses. As of February 2012, the number topped 4.7 million. Plus, of the approximately $1 billion in distilled American spirits exported annually, Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey make up about 70 percent.

Bourbon has been in Bardstown’s blood—literally and figuratively—since the town was chartered in 1790.

Spalding Hall: Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History & Bardstown Historical Museum

Spalding Hall is home to the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History and the Bardstown Historical Museum.

Spalding Hall (circa 1826) first served as St. Joseph College and Seminary, then as a hospital for both North and South during the Civil War. The Sisters of Charity ran an orphanage for boys around the turn of the century. Finally the Xaverian Brothers established St. Joe Preparatory School (1911-1968).

The Old Courthouse on the Circle © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Old Courthouse on the Circle © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Presently the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History and the Bardstown Historical Museum occupy the main floor of Spalding Hall.

Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History displays a 50 year collection of rare artifacts and documents concerning the American whiskey industry dating from pre-Colonial days to post-Prohibition years.

The museum includes liquor memorabilia of Getz and other distillers from the 1700s to today, exhibits on President Washington, Abraham Lincoln, authentic moonshine stills, antique bottles and jugs, medicinal whiskey bottles, unique advertising art, prohibition prescriptions, Carrie Nation’s hatchet, and novelty whiskey containers.

The Bardstown Historical Museum contains items relating to 200 years of area history. You will find Indian relics, Lincoln documents, pioneer papers, John Fitch land grant, a replica of his first steamboat, Stephen Foster memorabilia, a new Trappist monks’ exhibit, gifts of Louis Phillippe and Charles X of France, Civil War artifacts and guerrilla Jesse James hat and wine bottle, St. Joe Preparatory School mementos and much more.

You can’t sample the bourbon at the museum, but you can one floor down at The Rickhouse which has 100 bourbons from which to choose. Old Talbot Tavern also has a bourbon bar.

The historic Spalding Hall is located in the heart of Bardstown on 114 North Fifth Street and Xavier Drive with easy access off the Bluegrass Parkway and HIghways 31E and 62.

Old Talbott Tavern

The old stone reminder of Bardstown’s beginnings still welcomes visitors to the bustling downtown area. Since the late 1700s, the Old Talbott Tavern, on Court Square, has provided shelter, food, and drink to Kentucky travelers.

The Old Talbott Tavern is said to be the oldest western stagecoach stop in America as the westward expansion brought explorers from the east into Kentucky.

The Old Talbott Tavern was built in 1779. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Old Talbott Tavern was built in 1779. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s not hard to imagine a stage coach pulling up beside the Old Talbott Tavern with its walls of thick Flemish Bond stone and deep inset windows. Established in 1779, the tavern still serves as a place of reprieve and drink for travelers. Influential Americans such as Abraham Lincoln, Gen. George Rodgers Clark, Daniel Boone, and Jessie James are said to have found rest at the friendly tavern, which is considered one of the oldest stagecoach stops in the country.

In April of 1792, Daniel Boone was subpoenaed to give his deposition at the stone tavern. At this time the courthouse was not used because it was under construction.

In the old dining room, visitors can enjoy Kentucky classics such as a Kentucky hot brown (hot turkey over hot toast and smothered in a buttery sauce), fried green tomatoes, and southern fried chicken.

In the bourbon bar visitors can enjoy live entertainment, snacks, and an expansive list of spirits.

Address: 107 West Stephen Foster, Bardstown, KY 40004

Phone: (502) 348-3494 or (800) 4TAVERN (toll free)

Website: talbotts.com

Please Note: This is Part 7 of an ongoing series on Kentucky/Bourbon Country

Worth Pondering…

One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One Beer.
—John Lee

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