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Christmas Past at Kentucky’s Historic Mansions

Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea

Christmas Past at Kentucky’s Historic Mansions

Some people just can’t get in the holiday spirit without a healthy dose of Christmas past. If this applies to you, tour some of Kentucky’s historic mansions and relive a bygone era of holiday grace and elegance. For even more authentic Christmas ambiance, visit these magnificent homes during their annual candlelight tours when costumed
guides exude Southern hospitality as they welcome you inside.

Adsmore House & Gardens
Adsmore House & Gardens, a living-history museum in Princeton, is always decorated as though the prominent Smith-Garrett family that once lived there could return at any moment.

During the holiday season, the grand Greek Revival house replicates Christmas 1901, the first Christmas the family spent in their new home. A towering 10-foot Christmas tree stands in the parlor adorned with colored glass beads and reproduction Victorian ornaments.

“It is a breathtaking sight, and we hear many oohs and aahs when we open the parlor door,” Executive Director Ardell Jarratt says.

The dining room is set for a holiday feast with Limoges china and glittering silver and crystal. Christmas music plays on the graphophone in the library, and upstairs there is evidence of some last-minute gift-wrapping. It’s easy to imagine the house filled with laughter and the joy of the season.

Federal Hill—My Old Kentucky Home
My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown, one of the most cherished historical sites in the Commonwealth, commemorates the connection between the Rowan family that once lived at Federal Hill Mansion and their celebrated cousin, Stephen Foster. According to legend, a visit to the grand Georgian-style house inspired Foster to compose My Old Kentucky Home, the state song, in 1853.

During the holiday season, the house is a study in understated antebellum elegance, so don’t look for a soaring Christmas tree here. You will only find a small tree unobtrusively set on a table. That’s because Ron Bryant, park manager, insists on historical accuracy in the home’s holiday decorating. He says that during the pre-Civil War years, Kentucky homes were adorned in a relatively simple style using what was found in nature, like holly and pine cones. Bryant says the house doesn’t need over-the-top Christmas decorations to have an aura of holiday magic. At Christmas the house “looks like you are stepping into a Courier & Ives print,” Bryant says. “It truly looks like a picture postcard.”

With its newly renovated interior featuring period wallpaper, carpets, and drapes, there’s no better time to visit Federal Hill.

Waveland, another state historic site, is a Greek Revival mansion six miles south of downtown Lexington. It was built in 1848 by Joseph Bryan, a grandnephew of Daniel Boone.

Like Federal Hill, every care is taken to accurately portray how the family celebrated the holidays. For instance, stockings are not hung from the mantel. This would have been a fire hazard, so stockings were hung along the backs of chairs. On Christmas morning, the children eagerly dug into the stockings looking for apples, oranges, and peppermint candy.

The mansion has many fine antiques, including statesman Henry Clay’s tea and coffee service and a 260-year-old chair crafted by Daniel Boone’s father.

A candlelight tour of Adsmore, Federal Hill, and Waveland will not only put you in the Christmas spirit, but enrich your knowledge of bygone holiday traditions once held by Kentucky’s most well-to-do families.


Adsmore Museum
304 North Jefferson Street
(270) 365-3114
Admission: Adults $7, seniors $6, children $2, under age 6 free.
Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 11 a.m.–4 p.m., Sunday 1:30 p.m.–4 p.m.
Candlelight tours: December 7, 6–9 p.m., admission is $7 for everyone.

Federal Hill Mansion
501 E. Stephen Foster Ave.
(800) 323-7803 (go to Parks tab,
Recreation, then My Old Kentucky Home)
Admission: Adults $5.50, seniors $5, children $3.50, under age 6 free.
Hours: 9 a.m.–4:45 p.m.
Candlelight tours: every Friday and Saturday, November 23–December 8, 5:30–8:30 p.m

Waveland State Historic Site
225 Waveland Museum Lane
(859) 272-3611 to Parks tab, Historic, then Waveland)
Admission: Adults $7, seniors $6, students any age $4.
Hours: Monday-Friday 9 a.m.–4 p.m, Sunday 1–5 p.m.
Candlelight tours: December 8–9, 6–9 p.m.


The Stephen Foster Music Club hosts a self-guided tour of area homes, both old and new, that are decorated for the holidays.
(502) 384-4877 or (800) 638-4877
Admission: $15. Hours: 3-9 p.m.
Home Tours: December 7

by Tracey Teo

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Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea

Showcase for artisans and travel oasis

Lynne Horine deftly wields an ice pick as she demonstrates how she makes openings in a gourd. Two onlookers watch in rapt attention as she explains how she will bind together pine needles into coils that she will use to decorate the final product—a sturdy yet attractive basket. As she explains her craft, appreciative onlookers file past to view her at work, chat with her, and admire several baskets on display.

It is a scene played out regularly at the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea. Horine, a Bedford resident, is one of many talented artisans who demonstrate their work throughout the year at this remarkable facility.

The Center was built by state government and opened in 2003 on a hilltop overlooking I-75. Its double mission is to showcase the creative talents of Kentuckians and serve as a hospitality travel center.

The building itself is a tribute to Kentucky’s cultural richness, with exterior walls composed of Kentucky-quarried limestone laid by Kentucky stonemasons. The interior space features exposed wooden beams and skylights, providing a light, airy atmosphere for the thousands of products available for sale, for just about anyone on your gift list.

“We have over 4,000 different items for sale, ranging in price from less than a dollar to one-of-a-kind more expensive items,” says Victoria Faoro, the Center’s executive director.

The lobby of the 25,000-square-foot building features rotating exhibits that highlight some aspect of Kentucky’s artistic heritage. Last summer, the Center hosted a Kentucky Arts Council traveling exhibit dedicated to Kentucky luthiers—makers of stringed instruments. The display included examples of the signature dulcimers of one of Kentucky’s best-known luthiers, the late Homer Ledford.

As you enter the main shopping area, you are struck by the vast variety of products. Last summer, a collection of paintings, quilts, and other works all depicting flowers was arrayed along one wall.

Gwen Heffner, who curates exhibits for the Center, says the grouping is no coincidence.

“Each year, we have three special gallery exhibitions that feature works from a wide variety of artists focused by a theme or idea,” she says. Repeat visitors enjoy returning to the Center to see how the displays continually change.

Any crafts outlet could be expected to offer for sale quilts, pottery, and jewelry. But the Center also proudly displays handmade soaps, books by Kentucky authors, and CDs by Kentucky performers.

It’s a collection that continually grows. Four times a year, a committee reviews new products from Kentuckians seeking to be represented in the Center.

Artisans such as Lynne Horine demonstrate their skills every Friday and Saturday throughout the year from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Other demonstrations might include chairmaking, woodcarving, arranging dried botanicals, oil painting, jewelry making, and many others.

Visitors will also find a full-service café that offers hot entrées, grilled items, sandwiches, and desserts.

The Center has full rest-stop services, ATM, and U.S. Mail drop box. The lobby includes a display offering travel brochures and a booth manned by representatives of the Berea Tourism Commission.

Since the Center opened four years ago, “We’ve seen a tremendous amount of traffic that we would never have thought about coming into the city of Berea,” says Belle Jackson, executive director of the Berea Tourism Commission.


Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea
975 Walnut Meadow Road
I-75, Exit 77
(859) 985-5448
Open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is no admission charge. The Center is closed on New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, early on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. For a schedule of special events and crafts demonstrations, visit the Web site, click on What’s Happening, then Calendar.


Berea bills itself as Kentucky’s folk arts and crafts capital. More than 40 craftspeople maintain galleries and workshops here. The community also features more than a dozen antique shops. For general travel information, visit the official Berea Tourism Commission site at

The Berea Arts Council maintains a gallery featuring the work of local artisans and schedules a variety of events throughout the year. More information is available at

Berea’s best-known inn and restaurant is Boone Tavern, operated by students of Berea College. The restaurant emphasizes Kentucky cuisine, including mouth-watering spoonbread. For more information, visit

Just 15 miles south of Berea is Renfro Valley, an entertainment and shopping center offering the best in country and gospel music. Shows are scheduled Friday nights, Saturday afternoons and evenings, and Sunday mornings. For more information, visit Renfro Valley’s Web site at

In addition to the entertainment complex, the Renfro Valley community is host to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum contains memorabilia, instruments, and artifacts from some of the state’s great musical stars, from Boots Randolph to Ricky Skaggs. To find out more, visit

by Jim Carroll

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