WHERE BOURBON BEGAN
Explore one of Kentucky’s most picturesque towns.
Sallie Ward was saucy and sassy, a brassy broad who loved nothing more than scandalizing polite society. This included once stripping down to her “birthday suit” in front of her motherin-law during a party hosted for Boston’s upper crust. Sallie’s 1849 marriage didn’t last, but this Kentucky belle’s notoriety did.
A FASCINATING HISTORY
How I wish I could have met Sallie! On a visit to Georgetown’s Ward Hall, considered one of the finest Greek Revival-style mansions in the United States, Ron Bryant, Ward Hall Preservation Foundation board chair, did such a fine job bringing Sallie to life, I missed her when I left.
As we toured the circa 1850s antebellum home described by a descendant as “a veritable palace, surrounded by a fairy garden,” I studied Sallie’s portrait (is that a twinkle in her eye?) and wandered up the graceful elliptical staircase to her bedroom. Bryant spun stories of this unapologetic (three-time) divorcee and her derring-do, which included riding a horse up the grand staircase at Louisville’s venerable Galt House Hotel.
Taking a guided tour of Ward Hall during its Open Houses, held the first two weekends of the month, is one way to delve into the fascinating history of one of Kentucky’s most picturesque small towns. Another way is to pick up a copy of the Historic Walking Tour and make a beeline to where bourbon began.
As I discovered, you’ll be standing at the site of one of the most disputed claims in Kentucky—that of the true birthplace of bourbon. According to legend, Georgetown’s Royal Spring Park is where, in 1789, Baptist minister Elijah Craig first distilled bourbon, raising more hallelujahs for his spirits than his sermons.
The self-guided tour takes you through Georgetown’s architecturally beautiful downtown, where main streets are trimmed with American flags and colourful hanging flower baskets. Victorian-era buildings are so well-preserved the town resembles a movie set.
Canopied storefronts frame goodies within art galleries specializing in equine art and photography. Boutiques include Birdsong Quilting and Crafts and Heirlooms & Gretchen’s—one of Kentucky’s only authentic stained-glass shops—where you can also take classes. A collection of equine portraits spied inside the Georgetown and Scott County Museum reminded me I was in the midst of Kentucky Horse Country.
I’m not a geocacher, but Georgetown’s two adventures—the Scott County Geotrot and Historic Buffalo Geotrail—had me reconsidering. The circa 1917 Sadieville Rosenwald School, one of the many state-of-the-art schools built across the South in the early 20th century for African American children, is on the former while the marriage location of train and bank robbing outlaws Frank and Jesse James’ parents is on the latter.
ABOVE: Ward Hall is an impressive 19th-century Greek Revival antebellum plantation mansion whose US$50,000 price tag was paid for in gold by its owner, Junius Ward.