Once I begin the research of each place we visit on our adventures, I end up finding out that the place is the oldest this or the oldest that… the oldest town, the oldest row house. The same is true of The Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, KY. Its place in history stands as the oldest western stagecoach stop in America still in use today. Quite a claim to fame, right? Read on to learn its other claims to fame and about our Saturday visit to downtown Bardstown!
Bardstown, KY was settled in 1780, making it the 2nd oldest town in Kentucky, but before it was settled it was known as Salem. It was in Salem that a man by the name of Hynes built his “hotel” in 1779 at the crossroads of Post roads North, South, East, and West. This stagecoach road led east to Philadelphia and Virginia and west to the great unknown, making Hynes Hotel a perfect stop for every stagecoach along the road. The travelers could grab a bite to eat and drink, stay the night, and switch out their horses for the next leg of the trip.
“The thick Flemish bond stone walls, the deep window casings, heavy ceiling timbers and built-in-cupboards strongly remind one of the Warwickshire Inns in England. The cooking was done in two fireplaces in the rear of the original section. Traces remain of the staircase to the loft where men were housed in one room of two rooms, and women in the other. The practice of giving individual rooms to guests was not introduced into the United States until about 1805.” –talbotttavern.com
A Tavern with Many Names
Because of its very long history, the tavern has had many names along the way including: Bardstown Hotel, Chapman’s House, the Shady Bower Hotel, the Newman House, the Old Stone Tavern, and the current name Talbott Tavern.
The Talbott Family
While the tavern may have gone through several owners, it was in 1886 that George McManus Talbott purchased the tavern, then named Newman House.
George McManus Talbott was born in Bardstown, KY in 1855 to John Cotton and Naomi McManus Talbott. In 1885, George married Ann “Annie” Elizabeth Spalding, also born in Bardstown.
George and Annie lived in the tavern while running the business. Over the next several years, George and Annie had 12 children (3 sets of twins), all born in the tavern. Unfortunately, but all too typical for the time, they lost 7 of their children to disease and flu, leaving only 5 to reach adulthood.
In 1912, George passed away at the age of 57. Annie and her older children decided to stay and continue running the tavern, but decided to change the name from Newman House to Talbott Hotel in honor of George.
In 1916, Annie sold the Talbott Hotel and restaurant to T.D. Beam (Jim Beam’s brother). It was then the tavern’s name was changed one more time to Talbott Tavern.
The tavern has had other owners since T.D. Beam, and today the tavern belongs to the Kelley family; Kathy, John, Jim, and Tina. The family has had partial to full ownership since the 1960’s.
Flemish Bond History
“Flemish bond along with English bond is one of the two common brick bonds used in Colonial Virginia before about 1790. Its use in Virginia began with the earliest settlers and was popular in brick structures from the 17th century until the late 18th century. Flemish bond consists of courses of alternating headers and stretchers. The headers in one course are aligned with the center of the stretchers in the next course above and below. Each alternating course begins with a header at the corner. For corners of buildings, closers (bricks cut to a smaller width) are laid in alternate courses next to the quoin header (a brick at a corner which acts as a header on one side of a structure and a stretcher on another). Flemish bond was often favored for its decorative appearance. In especially grand Flemish bond structures headers were glazed for contrast. This brick bond was commonly used on grand structures and Government buildings. Its use persisted on formal buildings in traditional Hanover County, Virginia until the 20th century.”
Many Names and Many Visitors
Because of its location, the tavern has had many famous visitors throughout its history. Some stayed the night and some stopped to dine, but all passed through the doors of this historic spot.
- Daniel Boone
- General George Rogers Clark (Founder of Louisville) – operated a military base out of the stone tavern during the Revolutionary War, storing provisions and munitions in the cellar of the tavern
- Andrew Jackson – enjoyed the warmth of the fire in the central room
- William Henry Harrison
- Abraham Lincoln – at the age of 5 stayed in the tavern with their parents while they fought a dispute over their Harrodsburg land. The family lost the dispute causing then to move to Indiana. See my four part series on Lincoln and his family in my July posts to learn more!
- Henry Clay
- Lewis and Clark
- John Fitch – inventor of the steamboat
- Washington Irving
- Exiled French King Louis Phillippe
- “he, his two brothers, and other members, desiring to see the New World, arrived at [the] Tavern on October 17, 1797. During their stay, one or more of the entourage is belied to have painted the murals which were uncovered in 1927.” – Talbott Tavern website
- John James Audubon
- Stephen Foster – stayed at the tavern while on his way to his cousin John Rowan’s home. It is there that he may have written “My Old Kentucky Home.”
- General George S. Patton – dined at the tavern frequently while stationed at Ft. Knox, just 40 miles from Bardstown
- Queen Marie of Romania
- Jesse James – is famed for having put the bullet holes in the mural walls of the inn. The story is told that he was staying in the mural room one evening, and after having a few too many drinks in the tavern, he “saw” birds flying in the trees of the murals and shot at them.
The photos above show the mural room as it is today. We took these photos the day of our visit. The square photo on the left shows a bullet hole just above the mantel, and the photo on the right has a bullet hole directly in the center of the photo.
A Tavern Built in Phases
“The eastern end of the building was first erected with its two-footed walls of solid stone. Later a western wing of brick, and the connecting wing with verandas, was added. This brick section was added sometime in the early 1800’s. It is in this portion of the building that Alexander Walters was born. Walters, one of the co-founders or the NAACP, was borne in the kitchen area to his mother, who was a slave. It has been said that she went right back to work after giving birth. The final addition of the building, was done in the 1960’s, is the most western part of the property. It originally housed a drug store.”
— Talbott Tavern
History Almost Lost
On March 7, 1998, Kentucky almost lost Talbott Tavern due to an electrical malfunction under the rear lobby stairwell. The fire burned for nearly six hours as firefighters fought the blaze. The situation was worsened when the fire hydrants in the area were not enough and a water main down the block had to be utilized to provide enough water.
After the fire was put out and the debris was cleaned up, it was a relief to learn that the “bones” of the tavern were in good shape, and a rebuild would be possible. The roof and most of the second floor were devastatingly damaged, including the Louis Phillippe murals. The first floor was damaged also, but mostly by smoke and water.
The restoration took $1 million and the tavern reopened in November of the same year. The community came together to raise funds to help with the restoration.
The mural room has yet to be restored.
Talbott Tavern Today
Today the Talbott Tavern is going strong. Just 6 years ago, the Kelley family purchased the Oakley Building next door. After renovations, they opened the space as the Talbott Inn. Now, the Talbott Tavern has six rooms and the Talbott Inn has 15 rooms available for overnight stay. Each room is named for a historical figure that passed through the doors. In addition, the restaurant is still going strong, as well as the bourbon bar (see more below).
On this particular Saturday afternoon, it was a gorgeous day and I wanted to do a quick road trip to get out of the house for a bit. I automatically thought of Bardstown, because it’s not too far away from us. I thought it would be a great day to visit some of the downtown shops, see if I could find a new Kentucky themed shirt, and then take a few photos of the tavern for this post.
It was not our first trip to Talbott Tavern. I remember visiting as a kid. The Jesse James story always stuck with me. So, when my daughter was old enough to start day trips (I decided she was ready at the age of 2!), the Tavern was one of our stops. Since then we have visited and had dinner in the tavern on several occasions, but I wanted to swing in and take some updated photos. I didn’t think I had taken any photos since the fire.
We arrived in downtown Bardstown to find that the road was closed for a festival. A small car show was taking place and all the shops were open for business. This was an added bonus to the day as we are always up for a street festival! My daughter and I took our time looking at the cars, browsing through the shops (no new shirt to be found), and stopping in at the corner drug store for an ice cream.
From there we wandered over to the tavern. We snapped a few new shots and headed in the front door. If you have never been to the tavern, you can walk right in, walk over to the stairs, and head right up to the Jesse James room without anyone asking what you’re doing. We took our photos of the Jesse James room, checked out the artifacts in the display cases, and wandered through the open meeting rooms. My daughter found a checker game set out on a table for guests. We pulled up a seat and played a game of checkers. The view from the second floor overlooked the downtown square. Because of the festival, a stage was set up in front of the Visitors’ Center and a band was playing. We sat playing our game of checkers while listening to music and finishing off our ice cream. It’s these types of events that make our trips so memorable. If we had stayed at home for the day, I never would have gotten my daughter out of her room and she surely wouldn’t have engaged in a game of checkers. I played that game for as long as I could! There we were playing a simple game of checkers in the tavern where so many historic figures had been. Maybe little Abe Lincoln, on the evening they stayed at the tavern, sat with his Momma at the age of 5 and played a game of checkers too. One will never know, but I like to think that he did. It makes the experience even more special.
Once our game of checkers was finished (I won by the way!), we headed out of the tavern, snapped a few pictures of the Old County Jail next door, along with the other historic buildings around the town square, and headed back towards the car. It was already 5 and time to head home for dinner.
We have never stayed the night at the tavern. While doing my research, I read that some people believe the building is haunted. Needless to say, my daughter would be all too happy to stay and find out, but I’ll have to pass on that experience!
We have eaten in the restaurant several times. The menu reminds me of the The Owl Tavern‘s menu from last week’s post. You can find fried chicken and the Kentucky hot brown on their menu too. It’s a very southern, down-home cooking, type of menu and everything we’ve ever ordered there has been delicious. You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.
If you are a big history buff like me, you must make a stop and enjoy a meal like so many travelers have over the past 200+ years. You won’t regret it!
If you are a true Kentucky bourbon connoisseur, you should stop at the Bourbon Bar too. Talbott Tavern is also said to be the world’s oldest bourbon bar! There are over 200 different bourbons available and live entertainment occurs on Friday and Saturday evenings. Make sure to check it out!
Please make time to stop in the shops along the main road. I love these local businesses so much, we stop in every time we are in the area. Show them a little love while you are there!
Bardstown, like Harrodsburg, is so full of history and charm. We will publish more posts about the town and its other historic spots in the future. Stay tuned!
Until next time, Happy Travels!