The commonwealth is about to celebrate its 225th year of statehood, and you can mark the occasion by spending a night in lodgings that are steeped in the state’s colorful history.
KET’s The Local Traveler visited three beautifully restored inns in central Kentucky to sample their accommodations and learn about their unique stories.
Old Talbott Tavern
You won’t see too many stagecoaches rattling through this part of the world anymore, but you can stay at the oldest stagecoach stop still operating west of the Allegheny Mountains when you book a room at Old Talbott Tavern.
Built in 1779, this sturdy stone building in downtown Bardstown has hosted a number of famous and infamous travelers through the years, including Daniel Boone, a very young Abraham Lincoln, Gen. George Rogers Clark, Stephen Foster, Gen. George S. Patton, and the outlaw Jesse James.
“Jesse’s mother was married to a gentleman that lived north of town,” says Kathy Kelley, co-owner of the Old Talbott. “He would come here quite often [and] he would frequent the tavern. He had a few too many drinks one night, and ended up upstairs in the overnight room, and he shot bullet holes in the wall.”
Legend has it that James was shooting birds depicted in a mural on the bedroom’s wall. Kelley says it’s believed that exiled French King Louis Philippe and his entourage painted those murals during their stay at the tavern in the late 1790s.
Old Talbott offers six overnight rooms in the original building, plus 15 additional rooms next door in a building constructed in 1913. The tavern also has a restaurant that serves traditional southern favorites, including burgoo, walnut crusted fried chicken with a bourbon glaze, country ham, fried catfish, and chocolate bourbon cake.
If you prefer your bourbon in a glass, Old Talbott has you covered. The tavern’s bar, which has been called a top-10 bourbon bar in the world by Whiskey Magazine, has 150 bourbons that you can enjoy individually or in tasting flights.
With seven distilleries located in Bardstown, the Nelson County community has been dubbed the bourbon capital of the world. While in town you can tour the distilleries, shop in the downtown businesses, visit My Old Kentucky Home State Park, take in “The Stephen Foster Story” outdoor musical, tour the Civil War Museum, or ride My Old Kentucky Dinner Train.
For lodgings that are a little more “modern,” try the Boone Tavern Hotel in Berea. Opened in 1909, the inn was the brainchild of Nellie Frost, the wife of Berea College President William G. Frost. It turns out that Mrs. Frost grew so tired of personally hosting hundreds of college guests that she encouraged her husband to build a hotel to lodge them. Over the years Boone Tavern has received the likes of Henry Ford, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Dalai Lama.
Today Boone Tavern’s 64 rooms are eco-friendly and furnished with furniture and accessories made by Berea College students in the school’s woodcraft program. The inn’s restaurant is renowned for its spoonbread, which is a kind of a cornbread soufflé, as well as the bourbon pork chops, pan-fried trout and something called “Chicken Flakes in a Bird’s Nest,” a dish created by long-time innkeeper Richard Hougen.
“He served traditional food with a twist,” says Tim Jordan of Berea College media relations. “He actually spent time traveling through area, gathering old southern recipes, family recipes, and then he would twist and tweak them a bit. … Chicken Flakes in a Bird’s Nest is chunks of chicken in a cream sauce, served inside a nest made of shredded potatoes that are deep fried, set on top of some mashed potatoes.”
The inn stands as the hub of this thriving Madison County community that’s known as the folk arts and crafts capital of Kentucky. Visitors can peruse the offerings in dozens of shops that surround Boone Tavern and line the tranquil streets of Berea. The shops feature hand-crafted furniture, musical instruments, textiles, glassware, jewelry, quilts, and more. Many crafts available here are made by current students or graduates of Berea College, which accepts academically promising youth from Appalachia and charges them no tuition to attend.
The newest stop on this tour of historic lodgings is Harrodsburg’s Beaumont Inn, which is 98 years young. The Dedman family has operated the inn that entire time.
“I’m the fifth generation of my family to operate the inn,” says Dixon Dedman. He and his parents are the current proprietors at Beaumont. “Somebody from my family has been walking the halls since the 1870s.”
The three-story brick building adorned with six white columns was built just south of downtown Harrodsburg in 1845. For more than 70 years it served as a college for well-heeled southern women. Dedman says that after the school closed, many alumnae would return to visit their old campus and needed a place to stay. That’s when his family began to rent rooms and serve meals in the grand, Greek revival style building.
Now Beaumont (which means “beautiful mount”) features 31 guest rooms available in the main building and two adjacent buildings on the inn’s park-like 40 acres. Beaumont’s restaurant was named an American Classic by the James Beard Foundation in 2015. It serves traditional southern fare, including yellow-legged fried chicken, country ham that’s aged two years on the inn’s grounds, corn pudding, tomato aspic salad, and mock-scalloped oysters (actually chopped eggplant and clams).
The property also includes the Old Owl Tavern, which is part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. This cozy bar offers more than 100 bourbons, including whiskey distilled by the Dedman family. The Kentucky Owl Distillery operated for decades in northern Mercer County until closing several years before Prohibition. Dixon Dedman revived the family’s brand in 2006 and released their first bourbon in 2014.
While in Harrodsburg be sure to explore Old Fort Harrod State Park, which includes a replica of the first permanent American settlement in what would later become Kentucky; the nearby Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, America’s largest restored Shaker community; and the unique shops and cafes of Harrodsburg’s historic downtown district.