When weddings are performed in the courtyard at Jailer’s Inn in Bardstown, proprietor Paul McCoy just happens to have a ball and chain on hand for the ceremony.
“I’ve offered it,” he says. “So far no one’s taken me up on it.”
The site served as the Nelson County jail from 1797 to 1987. With decidedly more lavish accommodations, it reopened as an inn in 1989, with Victorian, Colonial, library, and garden theme rooms, and a family suite. The “fun room” is decorated in jailhouse black and white with two original jail bunks and a waterbed. And in the back portion of the jail, where tours are given, there’s also a display of makeshift weapons confiscated from former inmates over the years.
Jailer’s Inn was in the Travel Channel’s top 10 spookiest destinations, and is visited by ghost hunters in search of paranormal activity, McCoy says.
Some jails have fascinating histories, like the Old Stone Jail in Trimble County, built in 1868. The jail’s first female jailer, Pearl Mahoney Williams, was pregnant with her 10th child when she brought in her first inmate, a man who had killed her husband, the former jailer, in a gunfight, says Trimble County Judge-Executive Randy Stevens.
Old Stone Jail is no longer open to the public, but it can still be photographed behind the Trimble County Courthouse in Bedford.
Constitution Square State Historic Site in Danville is where the first seat of state government was located and where Kentucky’s constitution was signed. It’s also the site of a replica log jail erected in 1942 to resemble the original 1785 jail, says park manager Brenda Willoughby.
Two of its most notorious inmates, and ultimately escapees, at the jail were Micajah and Wiley Harpe, known as the “Terrible Harpes.” They were ruthless career criminals, she says, and they were highly feared for their misdeeds.
“They were just robbing people and murdering people and stealing horses and anything they could take. That’s kind of our claim to fame with the jail,” says Willoughby.
For the past 15 years, those who enter the Jailer’s Home in Carlisle aren’t there to serve time, but to be served a four-course meal, one far removed from the stereotypical bread and water jail diet. The luncheon, held the second Thursday of each month, often includes a raved-over hot chicken salad, assortment of dips, entrees, and a tempting array of homemade desserts.
Carlisle-Nicholas County Tourism Chairperson Gladys Shrout says the building was used as a jail from 1857 to 1982 and includes a creepy dungeon below, with a dirt floor and inmate-scrawled graffiti on its walls. The dungeon is often used as a haunted house at Halloween, and is part of the complimentary jail tour.
After many requests to provide guests with recipes, an official Jailer’s Home cookbook is being compiled. Other special meals and teas are served on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and at Christmas for $16 each.
Shrout says volunteers keep the food and visitors coming, all with a sense of humor.
“They call me the warden,” she says, laughing.
Historic jails you can visit include:
Auburn Historical Society & Museum, 433 W. Main Street, Auburn, (270) 542-4677, www.logantele.com/~aubhis or www.visitlogancounty.net. Used as jail 1865-1920s. Open weekdays 1-4 p.m. Central Time or by appointment. Admission $4, seniors $2. Groups welcome.
Breathitt County Museum & Welcome Center, corner of Brown Street and College Avenue, Jackson, (606) 666-4159, www.breathittmuseum.com. Historic 1930s jail under renovation; reopening to be announced.
Constitution Square State Historic Site, 134 S. Second Street, Danville, (859) 239-7089, www.parks.ky.gov/findparks/histparks/cs. Self-guided tours free, or $1.50 per person for guided groups of 10+. Open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Garrard County Jail Museum, 103 Stanford St., Lancaster. (859) 792-2241. By reservation only.
Jail House Pizza, 125 Main Street, Brandenburg, (270) 422-4660. Built in 1860 and used as a jail until 1974. Opened in 2007 as a restaurant. Open 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday; noon-11 p.m. Saturday; 1-9 p.m. Sunday.
Jailer’s Home, 120 E. Main, Carlisle, www.carlisle-nicholascounty.org. Monthly luncheon reservations: (859) 749-7986, (859) 289-5174, or (859) 289-5592. Luncheon 12-2:30 p.m. second Thursday each month, $15 includes tour.
Jailer’s Inn, 111 W. Stephen Foster Avenue, Bardstown, (800) 948-5551, www.jailersinn.com. Open 2-6 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Room rates vary. Jail tours to the public are $4 adults, $3 children 6-12, under 6 free.
Old Stone Jail, 300 S. Buckman Street, Shepherdsville, (502) 921-0161, www.bullittcountyhistory.org. Self-guided tours weekdays 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
Old Stone Jail, 30 Hwy. 42E, Bedford, (502) 255-7196. Not open to public, but photos welcome.
Simpson County Archives & Museum, 206 N. College Street, Franklin, www.simpsoncountykyarchives.com, (270) 586-4228. Used as a jail 1879-1986. Open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, and groups by appointment. Free.
Shannon Leonard-Boone is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
There is never really a bad time to visit Mammoth Cave National Park. The temperature inside the cave is a constant 54 degrees, no matter when you’re there, but on the surface it’s another matter. And even though the caves are the hook in attracting visitors, it’s often the things on top that are most memorable.
Aboveground visitors have four seasons of reasons to come to this 53,000-acre playground.
This time of year is the perfect time to visit to avoid long lines or families with school-age children.
Fall and early winter tend to expose the landscape, now void of lush greenery, but still hanging on to bits and pieces of leftover color on trees reluctant to give it up.
There are those who come to Mammoth Cave–a World Heritage site authorized as a national park by Congress in 1926–who would rather spend their time trekking over easy-to-follow trails than touring what is recognized as the grandest of all caves.
The park boasts some 1,200 species of wildflowers and more than 80 different species of trees, and there’s still a good chance, even this late in the fall, that visitors can see flowers in bloom.
“Many people think the park is at peak beauty,” offers park public information officer Vickie Carson. “Without all the thick vegetation, you can see all of the hillsides, river valleys, and sinkholes.”
It can also be noted that at this time of year, hikers don’t have the worry of certain insects like ticks and chiggers.
With more than 60 miles of hiking and riding trails in the park, it’s no wonder visitors can find one to their liking, but it is always advised to stay on the marked trails. Park maps with marked trails are available. Those interested in shorter, educational treks with park rangers can catch the Three Springs Hike or the Slavery Walk.
The Three Springs Hike goes for about half a mile, lasts more than an hour, and includes a stop at the Three Springs Pump House. At one time, it was the main source of water for the old Three Springs community and the Mammoth Cave Hotel.
The Slavery Walk is less than half a mile in distance and emphasizes contributions made by slaves in the area, including the first guide at the park in the mid-1800s. The Old Guide Cemetery is part of the tour. This hike lasts more than an hour.
Park officials are quick to point out that during the “slower time of the year,” visitors, both aboveground and belowground, will have more one-on-one time with the park rangers leading the way.
The park’s scenic beauty acts as a magnet, attracting those who enjoy hiking, horseback riding, camping, boating, biking, and fishing.
A new Visitors Center is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2009. It will replace the present facility, built in 1964.
The Mammoth Cave Hotel continues to be a hub of activity at the park, offering dining, meeting space, and a fun gift shop.
Manager Greg Davis points out that the hotel’s main lodge rooms have been renovated, and for convenience bike rentals are now offered.
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave, KY 42259
I-65 South from Louisville, Exit 53 at Cave City
I-65 North from Nashville, Exit 48 at Park City
Mammoth Cave is on Central Time.
Mammoth Cave Hotel
Located just across the walking bridge from the Visitors Center. Open year-round; 42 rooms in main building, 20 terrace rooms, 10 historic cottages, and 20 woodland cottages.
* Proper shoes and clothing. In cold weather, layering is better.
* Map of trail, ID card, and cell phone, though remember that many cell phones donï¿½t work in the park.
* Water and snack; binoculars are good for birding; and, of course, a camera.
* Make sure someone knows where you are hiking.
* Stay on marked trails. Although it is often tempting to stray out a bit, remember that unfamiliar trails are often lined with sinkholes, cliffs, ponds, creeks, or other potentially dangerous elements of the terrain.
Roots in the Cave
November 8-9. This is a genealogy weekend featuring the families and their descendants who gave up their land for the creation of Mammoth Cave National Park. No registration fee is required. There will be three cemetery walks during this weekend only, plus genealogy workshops. For more information, call Mammoth Cave Hotel, (270) 758-2225.
December 6, 2 p.m.-4 p.m. Musicians and vocalists perform in the cave, utilizing the cave’s acoustics. This has become a holiday tradition for local and area residents to take part in song and stories. Admission is free.
Gary P. West is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.