The Sun Shines Bright on My Old Kentucky Home

Federal Hill is the centerpiece of My Old Kentucky Home State Park. The house has been restored to its mid-19th century appearance and young women guides, dressed like Scarlett O’Hara, lead tours.

Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill, the home of Judge John Rowan, became a part of the Kentucky State Parks System on February 26, 1936. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill, the home of Judge John Rowan, became a part of the Kentucky State Parks System on February 26, 1936. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built between 1795 and 1818, Federal Hill, the home of Judge John Rowan, became a part of the Kentucky State Parks System on February 26, 1936.

Just outside Bardstown, the house and estate had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations, spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendent sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Federal Hill is a Georgian style mansion that originally had 13 rooms. The number 13 is repeated throughout the house, supposedly to honor the 13 colonies at the time of America’s independence from Great Britain. The front of the home has 13 windows, and there are 13 steps to each floor of the house.

Completed in 1796, the rear wing of the house contains a kitchen, two bedrooms, and a smokehouse. The first floor has a dining room, parlor, and library. The second floor has bedrooms, and the third floor contained the nursery. The house is built of brick and has six large rooms that are 22 feet square. Ceilings are 13½-feet high. The floors are made of yellow poplar and the walls are 13 inches thick.

Madge Rowan Frost sold Federal Hill with the express wish and condition that the Commonwealth of Kentucky preserves the estate as a state shrine or historic site. Frost also gave the state the Rowan family heirlooms in perpetuity to help furnish authentically the home. The furnishings are some of the best examples of American furniture in the nation.

Federal Hill is a Georgian style mansion; law office used by John Rowan. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Federal Hill is a Georgian style mansion; law office used by John Rowan. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John Rowan (1773-1843), who built Federal Hill, was born in York, Pennsylvania, and in 1790 moved to Bardstown. He studied law in Lexington under the tutelage of George Nicholas, Kentucky’s first attorney general. He soon became one of Kentucky’s foremost defense lawyers. Rowan is also remembered for killing Dr. James Chambers in an 1801 duel fought over a disagreement as to who was the expert in classical languages.

Rowan served as secretary of state in 1804, and was elected to Congress (1807-1809). He served in the Kentucky General Assembly, the Kentucky Court of Appeals, and as United States Senator (1825-1831). He married Anne Lytle in 1794.

The Rowan home hosted many famous individuals. Aaron Burr, Henry Clay, and other important political and social figures enjoyed the hospitality of the Rowan mansion.

Stephen Collins Foster of Pennsylvania, a Rowan family relative, is credited with immortalizing Federal Hill in his hauntingly beautiful song “My Old Kentucky Home Good Night.”

Written in 1853, the words and music have touched the hearts of generations of Kentuckians. The song did not become associated with Federal Hill until the Civil War. Soldiers who saw the house and knew the song began to refer to Federal Hill as “My Old Kentucky Home.” Soon other people began referring to the mansion as the house that inspired one of Foster’s most beloved melodies.

Federal Hill’s popularity as a state park grew quickly. In 1957 the citizens of Bardstown and Nelson County formed the non-profit Stephen Foster Drama Association to produce an outdoor musical based on the life of the composer and as a tribute to “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Author Paul Green wrote the play and on June 26, 1959 the Stephen Foster Story opened in a newly constructed outdoor amphitheatre. The first season of the production was an unqualified success with over 70,000 people attending.

Kentucky’s longest-running outdoor drama features colorful period costumes, lively choreography, and more than 50 Foster songs, including his most famous ballad, My Old Kentucky Home.

In its 54th year, the musical is Kentucky’s Official Outdoor Drama.

Camping
Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home in the 39-site campground. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and rest rooms, and a dump station. A grocery store and a laundry are nearby across the street from the park. Pets are allowed if restrained. Closed for season from November 1 to March 31.

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,  We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home, For the old Kentucky Home far away. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,
For the old Kentucky Home far away.
© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

My Old Kentucky Home State Park

Address: 501 E. Stephen Foster Avenue, Bardstown, KY 40004

Phone: (502) 348-3502

Camping Fees: $21; reservations recommended

Website: parks.ky.gov

Please Note: This is Part 6 of an ongoing series on Kentucky/Bourbon Country

Worth Pondering…

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,

Weep no more, my lady,

Oh! Weep no more to-day!

We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,

For the old Kentucky Home far away.

—Words and music by Stephen Collins Foster, 1853

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Bourbon Country Runs Straight Through Here

Our final two stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail were Maker’s Mark Distillery and Barton’s 1792 Distillery.

Maker’s Mark Distillery

Maker's Mark Distillery is located on scenic 850-acre grounds framed by magnolias and sugar maples. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Maker’s Mark Distillery is located on scenic 850-acre grounds framed by magnolias and sugar maples. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next we headed down the winding roads to the home of Maker’s Mark Distillery a National Historic Landmark nestled in the rolling hills of Marion County. Any bourbon tour would be incomplete without a stop at Maker’s Mark who has been producing its bourbon whiskey (they spell it “whisky” in honor of the company’s Scottish roots) since 1840.

There are plenty of signs along the way to get you there in time to dip your own souvenir bottle in their signature red wax.

The distillery is located on scenic 850-acre grounds framed by magnolias and sugar maples.

Amidst the picturesque setting you’ll visit an antique fire engine in the fire department, the original owner’s Victorian house, a road toll house, a quart house (believed to be the nation’s oldest remaining retail whiskey store), barrel warehouse, still house, and Visitors Center.

Many of the structures at Maker’s Mark date back to the early 1800s but it wasn’t until 1958 that the first bottle with the signature red wax seal appeared on the shelves.

Originally created as a diversion channel to prevent flooding, beautiful Whisky Creek flows slowly throughout the grounds of the Maker’s Mark Distillery. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Originally created as a diversion channel to prevent flooding, beautiful Whisky Creek flows slowly throughout the grounds of the Maker’s Mark Distillery. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the gift gallery you can buy a bottle (if you’re 21 or older) and plunk it in the dipping booth, creating a customized red wax sealed bottle that you can sign and date.

Robert Samuels brewed his first batch in 1780 for personal use. Samuels’ grandson, T.W., erected the family’s first commercial distillery on the family farm in 1840. The name Maker’s Mark comes from the tradition of fine English pewter; makers only put their mark on their finest pieces.

Enjoy this can’t-miss stop and its picturesque grounds, Whisky Creek, and educational tour.

This 19th-century distillery, the oldest operating, on its original site, beautifully restored by T.W. Samuels, Sr. and still making bourbon and hand-dipping bottles.

No longer complimentary, tours and bourbon tasting is $7 per adult Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. and Sundays 11:30-3:30 p.m.

Directions: From Bardstown, south on SR-49, east on SR-52 through Loretto, and take a slight left on Burkes Springs Road

Address: 3350 Burkes Spring Road, Loretto, KY 40037

Phone: (270) 865-2881

Website: makersmark.com

Barton’s 1792 Distillery

The last stop on our Bourbon Country tour was Barton’s 1792 Distillery.

Twenty-eight warehouses are home to hibernating Bourbon barrels on the grounds of Barton’s 1792 Distillery. The 192-acre distillery is on the site of the historical Tom Moore Distillery, established in 1879. Located within the city limits of Bardstown, the distillery extracts water from the same limestone springs its founder used to make bourbon more than 100 years ago.

The distillery has 28 aging warehouses, but the most famous is Warehouse Z. Located on the western bluff—a prime spot for summer sun and air circulation, which aid the aging process—Warehouse Z is where 1792 Ridgemont Reserve, the official toasting bourbon of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, matures.

The last stop on our Bourbon Country tour was Barton’s 1792 Distillery. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The last stop on our Bourbon Country tour was Barton’s 1792 Distillery. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ken Pierce, who developed 1792’s flavor, gives most of the credit to the location of Warehouse Z.

The distillery’s flagship brand pays tribute to the year Kentucky gained statehood. Rye recipe bourbon, 1792 Ridgemont Reserve is handcrafted in small batches, aged 8 years, and bottled at 93.7 proof.

Complimentary tastings are offered during the distillery’s free tours, on the hour 9:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Saturday. Since hours change seasonally it’s wise to phone ahead.

Address: 501 Cathedral Manor, Bardstown KT 40004

Phone: (502) 331-4879 or (866) 729-3722 (toll free)

Website: 1792bourbon.com

Please Note: This is Part 5 of an ongoing series on Kentucky/Bourbon Country

Worth Pondering…

We could say that people who eat grits, listen to country music, follow stock-car racing, support corporal punishment in the schools, hunt ‘possum, go to Baptist churches and prefer bourbon to Scotch are likely to be Southerners.

—John Shelton Reed

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There’s Only One Bourbon Country

Few things are uniquely born in America. There’s jazz and country music, of course. The Fourth of July! And—there’s bourbon.

Bourbon Country imageThe Scots have their scotch. The Italians and French have wine and Russians have their vodka. In America, we’ve got our bourbon—the only alcohol that is a distinctive product of the United States. Bourbon was designated America’s Native Spirit by a 1964 act of Congress.

The amber liquid calls Kentucky home and a half-dozen or so distilleries in the state open their doors to visitors year-round for intoxicating tours and programs.

Kentucky takes pride in that, especially considering 95 percent of this corn-based, caramel colored sipping icon is distilled, aged, and bottled right in the state’s Bourbon Country. It’s big business for the Bluegrass State. But more than industry, bourbon is a culture, a history, and heritage built by generations of Kentuckians from as early as the late 18th century.

It began in the 1700s with the first settlers of Kentucky. Like most farmers and frontiersmen, they found that getting crops to market over narrow trails and steep mountains was a daunting task.

They soon learned that converting corn and other grains to whiskey made them easily transportable, prevented the excess grain from simply rotting, and gave them some welcome diversion from the rough life of the frontier.

Since then, generations of Kentuckians have continued the heritage and time-honored tradition of making fine Bourbon unchanged from the process used by their ancestors’ centuries before.

Jim Beam Distillery, Clermont (Tasting Room) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Jim Beam Distillery, Clermont (Tasting Room) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So how did it get the name Bourbon?

One of Kentucky’s original counties was Bourbon County, established in 1785 when Kentucky was still part of Virginia.

Farmers shipped their whiskey in oak barrels — stamped from Bourbon County — down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. The long trip aged the whiskey, with the oak wood giving it the distinct mellow flavor and amber color.

Pretty soon, whiskey from Bourbon County grew in popularity and became known as Bourbon whiskey.

Today, Bourbon is a signature industry that helps create 9,000 jobs, generates more than $125 million in tax revenue each year, and is a growing international symbol of Kentucky craftsmanship and tradition.

Bourbon tourism is skyrocketing too, with nearly 2.5 million visitors from all 50 states and 25 countries to the world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour in the last five years alone.

Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States. Only whiskey produced in the State of Kentucky can be called labeled Kentucky Straight Whiskey.

Tennessee Whiskey is not considered bourbon.

While the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour has no beginning or end, it’s probably best to plan your trip based on the location of the campground or RV Park that you use as your base.

Shepherdsville is a perfect and convenient place to lay your head after so much bourbon education making it an Official Trailhead of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

We started in the Louisville/Shepherdsville area

Using Grand-ma’s RV Camping in Shepherdsville (I-65, Exit 116) as our home base we headed the toad toward Bardstown.

Thanks to its distinctive aroma, any distillery tour is a treat for the senses, full of aromatic copper and steel tanks, vanilla scents, and caramel bouquets.

Be forewarned: Most tours involve walking and stair-climbing, so make sure to wear comfortable shoes.

Take the legendary Kentucky Bourbon Trail through the heart of Bourbon Country and stop in on seven of the state’s distilleries including Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Bourbon Town Ranch, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve.

Pick up your own personal Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passport at a participating distillery. Collect stamps at all seven distilleries and you’ll receive a free T-shirt commemorating your journey.

Tour Bourbon Country and experience the bourbon making process, view the facilities and amazingly beautiful surrounding landscapes, and stick around for an after-tour bourbon tasting.

Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since 1776, the people of Bardstown have been making Bourbon. Beautiful Bardstown is a historical treasure nestled away in the Kentucky countryside. There are shops, fine restaurants, trains, museums, and of course the distilleries that have made Bardstown famous the whole world over.

Bardstown is called the “Bourbon Capital of the World”—in part because the area’s water supply boasts very high limestone content and low iron making it a perfect ingredient to distill bourbon.

Begun in 1992 as a Bourbon tasting and dinner, The Kentucky Bourbon Festival has grown into an event that attracts over 52,000 people from 41 states and 12 countries (2012 stats).

Each September, the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival (September 17-22, in 2013) in Bardstown is a six-day event that attracts tens of thousands.

Please Note: This is Part 2 of an ongoing series on Kentucky/Bourbon Country

Worth Pondering…

The house smelled of brisket and bourbon. That’s the music I grew up on.

—Billy Crystal

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The Top Five Best Adventure Travel Tours in North America

Please note that the following post is written by guest author, Peter Smith.

The national parks of Banff, Jasper, Olympic, and Yellowstone will take your breath away, as you immerse yourself in great outdoors, discovering a world that is as diverse as it is spectacular. Pictured above Moraine Lake and the Valley of the Ten Peaks in Banff National Park. (Source: grandamericanadventures.com)

There’s no need to travel abroad to see dense rainforests, explore lava fields, or kayak with orcas. North America is full of amazing sights waiting for adventure travelers to discover them. Learn about the five best tour destinations in the U.S. and Canada.

Adventure travel is the best choice if you prefer mountain biking or hiking to the comforts of a luxury resort. You can explore some of the most beautiful areas in North America by taking a tour deep into the wilderness. There’s no need for expensive international air travel if you are willing to stay on the continent for your adventure vacation. Consider one of these thrilling tour packages for your next trip into the wild.

Exploring the High Sierras

The northern region of California is home to the High Sierra mountain ranges. These rock formations were shaped by the movement of glaciers, creating peaks like the Matterhorn and Dunderber.

Rugged and unspoiled, Northern New England and Canada’s Maritime Provinces reveal their unique charm, rich history, and hidden secrets. (Source: grandamericanadventures.com)

Fans of hiking can take expeditions deep into valleys with their packs on the back of llamas. These nimble pack animals browse as they travel and can carry up to 80 pounds. Some tours also involve fly fishing activities in the thousands of rivers and creeks running through the mountains. Travelers can catch rainbow trout and cook it over an open fire for dinner.

Head North

Your options for great Canada and Alaska holidays include plenty of amazing hikes and kayak trips. Visitors to British Columbia can paddle through the coastlines around the Great Bear Rainforest. Five days of sea kayaking will give an unparalleled view of this newly protected temperate rainforest. You can also see the best parts of Alaska from the back of a kayak.

See the Volcanic Ridges of Tropical Hawaii

You don’t have to camp and hike through temperate forests on every vacation. Hawaii has plenty of adventure travel for people who prefer tropical climates. Book a tour to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the lava flows and black sand beaches.

The relatively small size of the Hawaiian islands make it easy to spend the day snorkeling or hiking within just a few miles of a luxury resort. This is one of the reasons it is considered to be the best destination for family adventure holidays in USA.

Climbing in New England

Trace the roots of American music along the mighty Mississippi and experience the unique cultural landscape that gave birth to the Blues, Country, and Rock-n-Roll. (Source: grandamericanadventures.com)

New Hampshire and Maine are home to steep mountain ranges that provide challenging climbing and hiking adventures. The White Mountains are the perfect vacation spot if you want to learn the exciting sport of ice climbing. You can explore sheer and smooth walls of ice and learn to ascend them with minimal equipment. Fans of winter travel should book a snowshoeing excursion through these mountains as well.

Backpacking the Appalachian Trail

Anyone living on the East Coast can easily find a tour starting on the section of the trail nearest to their home. This cuts down on travel costs and time when you only have three or four days for your vacation.

Many adventure travelers enjoy starting a long backpacking trip in Tennessee. They see wonderful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains as they travel north into Kentucky and Virginia. Southern treks are also popular when started in Maine or New Hampshire.

Everyone can find an adventure travel package that meets their needs if they look in the right places. There’s no need to spend a lot of money or leave the country just to have an exciting new experience. Canada and the USA are home to hundreds of natural attractions for the adventurous traveler to explore.

AUTHOR BIO
Peter Smith has been covering Canada and Alaska holidays and family adventure holidays in USA destinations for a variety of blogs and websites. He has spent many weeks hiking and biking in North America.

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