With a population of just 11,000, Bardstown residents love to add to their ranks, welcoming newcomers to join them for all the food and fun you can poke into a day, a weekend, or the duration of a vacation.
“It’s very picturesque,” says Dawn Ballard, vice president of tourism expansion and marketing for the Bardstown-Nelson County Tourist & Convention Commission. “It’s almost like stepping back into time with the soda fountain on the corner–there’s just a very Southern quaintness to it all.”
There are 277 buildings here on the National Historic Register, many located downtown. Bardstown also holds 30 annual festivals and events, like the Bardstown Bluegrass Festival, June 7 at White Acres Campground, (502) 252-9004; the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, www.kybourbonfestival.com, held September 16-21; and the Buttermilk Days Festival, (800) 638-4877, with music, dancing, and food, August 21-24.
The Nelson County town boasts a wealth of locally owned specialty and antique shops, boutiques, and bed and breakfast inns.
Museum row on East Broadway has a new addition, the Neal Spalding Native American Museum in the Old Bardstown Village. There, traditional Native American crops are grown, with testaments to Native American life from dream catchers to tepees on display. It’s open daily 10 a.m.–5 p.m. March through December.
Also new, the third weekend of each month is what’s called 3rd on 3rd, with special live entertainment, dining, and shopping opportunities on Saturday and Sunday, located, of course, on Third Street in downtown Bardstown.
Venues around the square are all within a short walk, or you can see local attractions by horse-drawn carriage or stagecoach offered by Around the Town Carriage, (502) 348-0331 by reservation, or vintage trolley tours that take guests year-round (but changing seasonal schedules) to the Bourbon Heritage Center at Heaven Hill Distilleries, www.bourbonheritagecenter.com. Trolley tickets can be purchased at the Tourist & Convention Commission at One Court Square.
While on the square, you may also want to find a true taste of Bardstown by arranging a visit to the historic Chapeze House, www.chapezehouse.com, (800) 704-4917, where Col. Michael Masters and his wife, Margaret Sue, host bourbon tastings, afternoon teas, and conduct the Kentucky Bourbon Cooking School.
About 35,000 people each year visit the J. Dan Talbott Amphitheatre at My Old Kentucky Home State Park, (502) 348-3502, www.parks.ky.gov/findparks/recparks/mo, to watch Stephen Foster–The Musical, www.stephenfoster.com, this year celebrating 50 years, and other live performances like this year’s Annie or The Civil War, a Lincoln Bicentennial Event.
Communications Director Johnny Warren says Stephen Foster–The Musical began in 1959 with a determined group of locals who conceptualized the production.
He also credits the timelessness of Foster’s music and its connection to the Commonwealth: Foster penned the official state song, My Old Kentucky Home, and other notable favorites like Oh! Susanna.
For more information on any of Bardstown’s events or attractions, visit Bardstown-Nelson County Tourist & Convention Commission online at www.bardstowntourism.com or call (800) 638-4877.
Plays at My Old Kentucky Home State Park
• Stephen Foster–The Musical, 8:30 p.m., June 7-August 15, Tuesday–Saturday shows June 7-28, then Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday shows through August 15. Indoor matinee, 2 p.m. Saturdays, June 14-August 9.
• A special July 4th celebration will be held for Stephen Foster’s 182nd birthday, with old-fashioned games and birthday cake at 6:30 p.m. An 8:30 p.m. Stephen Foster–The Musical performance follows, with fireworks after the show.
• Annie, July 1-August 16, 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, sponsored by Salt River Electric. Little Orphan Annie, Daddy Warbucks, Miss Hannigan, and all the beloved characters from this timeless musical, live on stage.
• The Civil War, a Lincoln Bicentennial Event, 8 p.m. August 18-23.
Ticket prices for the above performances: Adults: preferred seating $23, standard reserved $18, Sat. indoor matinee of Stephen Foster–The Musical, $13. Children: preferred seating $12, standard reserved ages 6-12 $10, age 5 and under free, or Saturday indoor matinee $10.
Show pass $50 to see all three musicals unlimited times. Senior and group rates also available. For more information, go online to www.stephenfoster.com
or call (800) 626-1563.
Live at the Park Concert Series
Performances by Goose Creek Symphony on June 16, Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone on July 7, Restless Heart on July 21, The Tommy Money Orchestra on August 4, and Josh Gracin on September 6. Season tickets $125; individual concert tickets vary.
Friday Summer Band Concerts
Free weekly band concert series on Fridays, June 6–August 29, featuring a wide variety of
musical tastes, from military bands playing Sousa
to folk groups and big-band swing. 7-9 p.m., Bardstown Community Park.
Shannon Leonard-Boone is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
The Bluegrass has a seemingly bottomless grab bag of sightseeing freebies. Many of them are located in Kentucky’s bigger cities, but its smaller towns boast their fair share of no-admission attractions, too.
Bowling Green’s freebies include the hardworking Kentucky Museum (Sundays) with its vast collections of Kentucky-related materials: furniture, diaries, newspapers, dolls, photographs, art, and more. Visit the monster slide and kiddie corral play area at Chaney’s Dairy Barn, or Basil Griffin Park where you can fish or go boating on the lake, feed the ducks, play disc golf, or romp at one of several playgrounds. Aviation Heritage Park, a memorial to Kentucky’s distinguished aviators, features a Vietnam War-era F-4D Phantom II plane.
Explore Georgetown’s Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky Inc., or head over to Sandy Hook to learn about Appalachian life at the Laurel Gorge Cultural Heritage Center through interpretive displays and volunteers dressed in period clothing.
In Lexington, there are twin treats–the Lexington History Museum (you’ll see antique typewriters from 1872 to 2002) and the Lexington Public Safety Museum, where you can share digs in the Old Fayette County Courthouse. Another gem, fitting for the Horse Capital of the World, is Thoroughbred Park, where seven life-size bronze horse statues cavort, providing horse lovers a great photo op and picnic stop.
Lexington’s Arboretum–the State Botanical Garden of Kentucky–encompasses herb, rose, fragrance, and perennial gardens, plus children’s garden, fish pond, and wetlands, or you can hike the 734-acre Raven Run Nature Sanctuary, where trails wend through meadows and woodlands and along streams in the scenic Kentucky River Palisades area.
Or in Union, see the nation’s first arboretum within an active recreation park setting at the Boone County Arboretum at Central Park, a 121-acre swatch with more than 2,700 trees and shrubs, plus paved walking path.
Explore the James A. Ramage Civil War Museum in Fort Wright, a 14-acre park, excavation site, and museum featuring Battery Hooper.
In Elizabethtown, see Lincoln artifacts and Civil War letters and telegrams at the Hardin County History Museum. Check out the Brown-Pusey House, an 1825 Georgian mansion that once lodged General Custer and his wife. Explore Emma Reno Connor’s personal collection of pictures, biographies, and prints at the Black History Gallery. At Swope’s Cars of Yesteryear Museum, fancy yourself behind the wheel of a runabout dating back to 1910–the oldest car in this sleek, vintage assemblage.
Radcliff lays claim to the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor, named for the famed World War II general; Saunders Springs Nature Preserve; Tioga Falls; and the self-paced Bridges to the Past walking tour.
Nearby in West Point is Fort Duffield, Kentucky’s oldest, largest, and best-preserved earthen fortification, the “Union Stronghold at the Mouth of Salt River.” The next hill over, visit the serene gardens of Fort Duffield’s Memorial Hill Cemetery, which pays tribute to the 61 soldiers who died building the fort. You can drive up or walk up, but either way be prepared for a steep incline. From either location, you’ll have a panoramic view of historic West Point looking across the beautiful Ohio River.
Frankfort for free
Tour Kentucky’s 1810 Beaux Arts-style Capitol and see murals of historic figures, the First Ladies Doll Collection, and, if your timing is right, Kentucky legislators in action. Stroll the Capitol grounds and check your watch at the Floral Clock, its 34-foot-wide face abloom with thousands of plants.
Explore Capital City Museum, Kentucky State Police Museum, and Governor’s Mansion. Take a quiet moment at Daniel Boone’s grave at Frankfort Cemetery and at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a sundial memorial to Kentuckians killed in Vietnam wherein the point of the gnomons shadow touches each veteran’s name on the anniversary of his death.
Outdoors, hike the Clyde E. Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary and Audubon Center with its ponds, forest, and gorge. See what’s happening at the Leslie Morris Park on Fort Hill, a historic Civil War park with interpretive center and scenic hiking trails. Take a peek at the live native plants and animals at the Frankfort Salato Wildlife Education Center, where you can also hike, picnic, and fish.
To find more freebies
Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 326-7465, www.visitbgky.com
Elizabethtown Tourism & Convention Bureau
(800) 437-0092, www.touretown.com
Frankfort Tourist Commission
(800) 960-7200, www.visitfrankfort.com
Henderson County Tourist Commission
(270) 826-3128, www.hendersonky.org
Kentucky Department of Tourism
(800) 225-8747, www.kentuckytourism.com
Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau
(800) 848-1224, www.visitlex.com
Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau
(800) 723-8224, www.paducah-tourism.org
Radcliff/Fort Knox Convention and Tourism Commission
(800) 334-7540, www.radclifftourism.org
Kathy Witt is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: Here is a list of yet more freebies!