My Old Ken­tucky Home


Victorian Homes - - Contents - By Hannah Roberts

The Inn at Wood­haven has long en­joyed a place at the cen­ter of Louisville’s charm­ing South­ern cul­ture.

In the pre­vi­ous is­sue, we ex­plored the ori­gins of Mar­sha Bur­ton’s charm­ing Inn at Wood­haven—

from find­ing and restor­ing the orig­i­nal 1853 main house, to en­hanc­ing the in­nate Vic­to­rian charm through add-ons and care­fully cu­rated fur­nish­ings. The story of the Inn con­tin­ues to­day, of course, and Mar­sha of­ten rem­i­nisces about the var­i­ous ways she and the Inn have both grown and changed through­out the years. “Hard to be­lieve, but back when I started there was no In­ter­net, so we didn’t have a web­site un­til 1996,” she says. “I used to pay $300 a month for an ad in the tele­phone book—and now I haven’t used a tele­phone book in years!”


The most no­table change to the Inn’s land­scape is a lit­eral one: Rose Cot­tage, which was built in 1998. Mar­sha and her ar­chi­tect, Char­lie Wil­liams, used ar­chi­tec­tural de­tails from the Inn’s main house and car­riage house—in­clud­ing drip barge board from the car­riage house and the main house’s handrail trim. The el­e­gant cupola was in­spired by the car­riage house as well. “We had to go through many zon­ing hear­ings…and even an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig be­fore we re­ceived fi­nal ap­proval to build,” she says. “The pro­fes­sor as­signed to the dig—which was to check for any ev­i­dence of Na­tive Amer­i­can burial grounds— even looked like In­di­ana Jones.”

Rose Cot­tage’s dis­tinc­tive cupola drew its in­spi­ra­tion from the ex­ist­ing one on the Car­riage House.

The duo de­cided on an oc­tagon shape for the cot­tage, both be­cause it fit the space well and also be­cause it comes from a Vic­to­rian de­sign. The struc­ture fea­tures strik­ing 25-foot-high ceil­ings, a fire­place sit­ting area and loft read­ing area, a dou­ble whirlpool spa tub and even a king-sized bed. “Most peo­ple think it’s an orig­i­nal build­ing that’s been here since 1853 in­stead of 1998,” Mar­sha says. “It’s very pop­u­lar with ev­ery­one—es­pe­cially for cel­e­brat­ing spe­cial oc­ca­sions.”

Mar­sha likes to leave the fire­place go­ing year-round for am­bi­ence. She highly rec­om­mends the pri­vate wrap­around porch for sum­mer— which she makes sure to liven up with a new coat of paint each year. She also keeps things fresh for both new and re­peat vis­i­tors with the con­sis­tent in­tro­duc­tion of new Amer­i­can Gothic fur­nish­ings and other ac­cents that find a home in the cot­tage. All of this is in ad­di­tion to the cof­fee and tea, books and mag­a­zines, cook­ies and can­dies and other thought­ful ameni­ties Mar­sha keeps on hand to make ev­ery guest feel at home.

Mar­sha loves the tra­di­tions the Inn has made pos­si­ble, and looks for­ward to what­ever the fu­ture brings.


While the Inn draws vis­i­tors on its own merit, its Louisville lo­ca­tion lends it­self to a famed yearly pil­grim­age: the Ken­tucky Derby. Guests for the event come from all over the U.S. and abroad—an in­ter­na­tional af­fair that lands it­self on many a socialite’s bucket list. Much more than just a race on a May Satur­day, the Derby con­sists of two full weeks of spe­cial events. It kicks off with Thun­der Over Louisville, the coun­try’s largest fire­works show, with 700,000 peo­ple lin­ing the river banks to see it.

The “race” theme also car­ries over into the on­go­ing fes­tiv­i­ties, with nearly ev­ery sort of race imag­in­able. Hote­liers race ho­tel beds, restau­rant servers race with trays of wine, and The Belle of Louisville steam­boat even races the Belle of Cincin­nati. Mar­sha laughs as she re­counts the tra­di­tional drop­ping of rub­ber ducks into the Ohio River for the ben­e­fit event known as the “Ken­ducky Derby.” In her opin­ion, the Derby wouldn’t be as great an af­fair with­out the var­i­ous quirky events that sur­round it.

Louisvil­lians turn out in full force ev­ery April, de­vot­ing the month to get­ting their yards—and the en­tire city—ready for the year’s big­gest event. “No one cares that frost can some­times stick around un­til mid-may,” Mar­sha says. “We al­ways have those an­nu­als planted in time for race day.”

The Inn’s event guests—a group that has snatched up the space each Derby week for the last 15 years—tra­di­tion­ally ar­rive on Wed­nes­day and leave on Sun­day. And in ad­di­tion to book­ing the city’s best ac­com­mo­da­tion, they also plan their style in advance, with 15 “fabulous” hat boxes al­ways ar­riv­ing at the Inn ahead of the fes­tiv­i­ties. Mar­sha loves the tra­di­tions the Inn has made pos­si­ble, and looks for­ward to what­ever the fu­ture brings. “The best com­pli­ment,” she says, “is that 75% of my guests are re­peats, and some have been com­ing for the full 24 years I have been open.”

The most no­table change to the Inn’s land­scape is a lit­eral one: Rose Cot­tage, which was built in 1998.

Above. The com­mon room’s com­mand­ing stair­case serves as an eye-catch­ing way to lead guests to up­per rooms. Some of Mar­sha’s beloved Gothic chairs, which she has ac­quired from sources both lo­cal and global, wel­come guests in nearly ev­ery part of the...

Right. One of the many asides in the house, this van­ity setup of­fers guests an ex­tra bit of seclu­sion. Cheery stripes on a fun couch brighten an oth­er­wise muted dé­cor ar­range­ment. op­po­site. Mar­sha cre­ated the derby room as a whim­si­cal ode to the Derby....

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