Kentuckian Rosemary Clooney surely wasn’t thinking about the state’s beautiful historic houses when she recorded This Old House some 50 years ago.
Some of the houses might have been in disrepair then but they’re not anymore. Today they are more than just beautiful structures. They are places to visit, enjoy, and learn.
Communities, both large and small, throughout the state are realizing that Kentuckians are interested in the stories these houses have to tell.
Several of the homes offer period-dressed docents who guide and weave stories relevant to the history of the house. Others allow for self-guided tours with interpretive signage.
Federal Hill, better known as My Old Kentucky Home, in Bardstown has long been the most publicized home tour in the state. However, there are others with interesting, colorful stories about the families who lived there.
One of Kentucky’s most colorful politicians lived at White Hall in Richmond. Cassius M. Clay was an emancipationist who served as minister to Russia under President Abraham Lincoln. This 44-room Italianate mansion was built in 1799 and remodeled in the 1860s.
Kentucky’s 16th governor, William Owsley, lived in Lancaster in a beautiful Federal-style home called Pleasant Retreat. The home has been restored and visitors can view the Owsley family portraits as well as the original 1812 French wallpaper.
Liberty Hall in Frankfort was home to Kentucky’s first U.S. Senator John Brown. Listed as a National Historic Landmark, the home now interprets early American politics and everyday life in the state’s young capital city. The gardens that surround the home are open year-round.
Historians consider Riverview in Bowling Green as one of Kentucky’s finest examples of Italianate architecture. The home, built between 1857-1872, offers a look into the Victorian lifestyle of a prominent local family. The home is on the John Hunt Morgan trail.
Whitehaven in Paducah, built in 1860, is credited with being the only historic home in America that has been restored as an interstate tourist welcome center. The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and its second floor features memorabilia of Paducah native Alben W. Barkley, who served as vice president under Harry Truman.
The Conrad-Caldwell House in old Louisville’s St. James Court depicts the Victorian lifestyle of the upper class. The mansion is architecturally significant for its exterior stonework and interior wood carvings, parquet flooring, and beautiful stained glass.
Adsmore, a living-history museum, sits on a four-acre estate in the heart of downtown Princeton in western Kentucky. This elegantly Victorian home describes life as it was in the early 1900s. Adsmore is a year-round attraction that offers eight different interpretive settings throughout the calendar year.
Before visiting any of the homes, verify the hours of operation and days they are open.
304 N. Jefferson Street
Exits 12 or 13 Western Kentucky Parkway, or Exits 45 or 56 off I-24. Open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sunday 1:30 p.m.-4 p.m. Summer hours: June 1-August 15, Tuesday-Saturday; open 10 a.m. Admission $7 adults, $6 seniors, $2 children ages 6-12
Conrad-Caldwell House, Louisville
1402 St. James Court
Open all year; Wednesday–Sunday, and by appointment. Admission $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 students 18-under. (502) 636-5023
Federal Hill/My Old Kentucky Home, Bardstown
501 East Stephen Foster Road
Open year-round, Monday through Sunday. Admission $5.50 adults, $5 seniors, $3.50 children, groups $5.
Liberty Hall, Frankfort
218 Wilkinson Street
Open March 1-mid- December; Tuesday through Sunday, mid-December through February by appointment. Admission $5 adults, $4 seniors, $2 students 18-under
Gov. Wm. Owsley House, Lancaster
656 Stanford Road
Open all year; Monday through Friday, and by appointment. Admission $4 adults, $3 seniors, $2 students
Riverview, Bowling Green
1110 West Main Avenue
Open February 1-December 22, Tuesday through Sunday, and January by appointment. Admission $5 adults, $2.50 children
White Hall, Richmond
500 White Hall Shrine Road
Open April 1-October 31, Monday through Sunday, November 1-March 30, Wednesday through Saturday. Admission $6.50 adults, $3 children, groups $4. (859) 623-9178
1845 Lone Oak Road
Open 7 days a week, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day. Admission free, tours 1-4 p.m. daily
Gary P. West is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
Though grape growing seems but a fledgling industry in the Commonwealth, the nation’s first commercial vineyard was in Jessamine County. By 1860, Kentucky was the country’s third largest wine-producing state, before the Civil War and Prohibition took their toll. Then came tobacco, and finally, in the last few years, the need for alternatives.
“Grapes are now replacing tobacco as a viable crop,” says Dr. David Hall, Princeton cardiologist and vintner. “And it’s one that’s good for your heart.”
And since a 2000 state legislation ruled that precincts in dry counties can vote to allow a winery to serve and sell its product, wine-tasting opportunities are on the rise.
According to Jerry Kushner, owner of Broad Run Vineyards in Louisville, “In the wine business, you don’t gain customers, you gain friends.”
That being so, Kentucky is definitely spawning a lot of new friendships, as tidy rows of vineyards begin to meander over more and more rural hillsides.
Though central and northern Kentucky claim the majority of wineries, Hopkinsville in the west is home to Bravard Vineyards and Winery. And in the eastern hills, Highland Winery occupies an old mine company store in Seco. Tasting rooms also house history at Springhill Winery in an 1857 Bloomfield plantation home, site of a Civil War skirmish, and at Talon Winery & Vineyards outside Lexington, in an 18th-century farmhouse once owned by the daughter of Isaac Shelby, the state’s first governor.
Though fruit of the vine reigns supreme at wineries, creative diversification lends visitors some entertaining options.
Chosen by CNN TV as one of “16 Hidden Treasures of the United States,” Equus Run Vineyards in Midway proffers summertime “agri-tainment” under the stars with its Concerts at the Vineyards series. Begun six years ago, the popular events have grown from a folksinger and 25 guests on a deck into six or seven shows a season in a stone amphitheater that sells out every performance at 1,200.
“We take for granted how lovely our land is, nestled in among the horse farms along the Elkhorn Creek,” explains Maury Sparrow, Equus Run representative. “But it’s a great back-to-nature experience for a lot of people.”
Open for three years thanks to a dry-county vote, Smith-Berry Winery in New Castle offers changing art exhibits, outdoor concerts, and dinner from May through October on Chuck and Mary Berry Smith’s Henry County farm.
“We started a vineyard,” explains Chuck, vice president of the Kentucky Vineyard Society, “because we wanted to have a viable business for our kids if they want to come back to the farm.”
A 300-acre Fayette County former cattle and tobacco farm, Talon—which holds summer supper concerts and rents out a wedding barn—takes pride in supporting state agribusiness.
“Our goal is to be one hundred percent Kentucky,” says Talon vintner John Pitcock. “The last few years, we’ve bought only Kentucky fruit, and we use exclusively Kentucky white oak barrels made in a cooperage in East Bernstadt.”
Here, folks can view the vine-to-wine process on a tour led by Pitcock and volunteer to help with the September grape harvest in return for meals and a T-shirt.
“The beauty of wine is it’s a consumable,” says Kentucky Grape and Wine Council member Andre Brousseau, owner of Chateau du Vieux Corbeau in Danville. “People buy a bottle, drink it, and come back for more!”
You can stop and sip at these Kentucky wineries:
Acres of Land Winery, Richmond
(866) 714-WINE, (859) 328-3000
Barker’s Blackberry Hill Winery, Crittenden
(859) 428-0377, (859) 824-3451
Bravard Vineyards and Winery, Hopkinsville
Broad Run Vineyards, Louisville
Chateau du Vieux Corbeau, Danville
Chrisman Mill Vineyards, Nicholasville
Elk Creek Vineyards, Owenton
Equus Run Vineyards, Midway
(877) 905-CORK, (859) 846-9463
Felice Vineyards, Louisville
Highland Winery, Seco
Lovers Leap Vineyards and Winery, Lawrenceburg
(502) 319-7953, (502) 839-7952
River Bend Winery, Louisville
Sinking Valley Vineyards and Winery, Somerset
Smith-Berry Vineyard and Winery, New Castle
Springhill Winery and Bed & Breakfast, Bloomfield
StoneBrook Winery, Camp Springs
Talon Winery, Lexington
Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.