Duncan Tavern

A Day Trip to Paris, KY: Part 2

Duncan Tavern
Duncan Tavern

A Revolutionary War Patriot

Joseph Duncan, Revolutionary War Major and builder of Duncan Tavern, was born in Culpepper County, Virginia in 1752 to Matthew and Sarah Duncan.  Joseph served as a civilian armorer in the Illinois Campaign during the Revolutionary War, and around 1780, Joseph married Ann Marie McLaughlin. As with the majority of Revolutionary War Patriots from Virginia, Joseph received land in Kentucky Territory.  He made several trips into the territory before settling his family here around 1788.  In 1791, he was inducted into the Virginia Militia as Captain, and later attained the rank of Major.  

In 1792, Joseph began building what would become known as Duncan Tavern.  Joseph built his three-story, tavern of native limestone and hardwoods. 

“The old building contains cherry and yellow poplar woodwork, blue ash floors, limestone fireplaces and chimneys to match the outside walls and foundations, hickory laths under the horse hair or pig hair plaster, iron Carpenter locks and hand blown, bluish wavy windowpanes.”

Hopewell Museum

The Tavern Myth and Legend

In 1795, three years after Kentucky became a state, Joseph went to the Bourbon County court, requesting a liquor license for his tavern.  Permission was granted, and the tavern flourished, as it was a very convenient place for travelers to stay overnight.  By 1803, the tavern was known as “The Goddess of Liberty.”  As with many taverns, it was the place to be, a gathering place for the leaders of the time. Myth and legend has it that many historical visitors passed through its doors such as Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton, Peter Houston, Michael Stoner, John Edwards; one of the two first United State Senators from Kentucky (John Brown being the other), and Aaron Burr. While there is no proof of such famous visitors, one can be sure that many pioneers who dared to face the wilderness and frontier lands of Kentucky passed through those doors.

Around this same time, Major Joseph Duncan passed away, leaving Anne Marie a widow, with 6 small children. She continued to try to run the tavern for a while, while also raising her family.  Eventually, she turned the tavern over to John Porter of Virginia to run.  She built a small log cabin up against the tavern wall, moved in with her children, and continued to live next to her tavern while raising her children.  (Unfortunately, the log cabin she built is no longer standing.)

Saving Duncan Tavern from Demolition

Over the years that followed, the building became a boarding house, and later tenement apartments. By 1940, the building had seen better days, and was on the city’s list to be demolished. 

Julia Spencer Ardery and her Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Chapter came to the rescue, and saved the city’s oldest stone structure from demolition. 

DAR plaque
DAR Plaque

The building was purchased for $1, but came with the condition that it be repaired, renovated, and opened for educational purposes within one year. In 1941, the home opened, and has been the headquarters of the Kentucky Society Daughters of the American Revolution (KSDAR) ever since. 

back of Duncan Tavern
Back of Duncan Tavern

Touring Today

Today, the home is open Wednesday – Saturday at 1:30 for one daily tour.  On the day of our visit, we missed the tour, but we had toured the home three years earlier.  My daughter actually remembered the visit!  We took the necessary selfie photos to prove we had stopped by, and headed on down the road to the Coleville Covered Bridge.  

The tour is very worth your time and effort though.  So, if you are planning to visit Paris, make sure to time everything just right.  You don’t want to miss this one-of-a-kind American treasure.  I mean how often can you visit a historical home and say, Kentucky legends stood here too!  

There is also a genealogical library that is open to the public for a small fee.  It was actually in that library, just three years ago, that I learned about the DAR.  That visit set me on a path that led me here, writing history blog posts for others, and sharing the importance of historical education and the preservation of these invaluable treasures. 

I hope that this blog helps others better appreciate special places, like this one,

“…the finest example of a Kentucky eighteenth century early settlement building.”

-Daughters of the American revolution

(While you’re visiting, make sure to take a moment to appreciate the Bourbon County Courthouse, just across the street from Duncan Tavern. It is an architectural beauty!) 

Stay tuned for next week’s post on Coleville Covered Bridge, our third stop on our trip to Paris, KY!

In the meantime, Happy Travels! 

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