Sitting quietly on the corner of US 60 and KY 1681, in between Midway and Versailles, Kentucky, is a building so full of history, that one would think it would be on a list of historic places to visit.
But, it’s not.
This particular building is privately owned, housing (from what I can tell) an insurance agency, so its history is not publicized widely, and it is not found on a Kentucky tourism “things to do” list. (At least not that I’ve seen.)
Your question then might be, why are you writing a blog post about a place that can’t be toured? My first reason… the history of this building is so deep and crosses over so many Kentucky historical figures that I couldn’t pass up the chance to share that information with my fellow history lovers. My second reason… I hope that by sharing the history, its story won’t be lost or forgotten. My fear is that the building’s history could be lost and if that happens, the building could go too.
So, even though the Offutt-Cole Tavern cannot be toured, here is its history for history’s sake. May its story continue to be told, may it always be appreciated, and may the building continue to stand for generations to come.
Before Kentucky was a State
There is a recurring theme to most of my posts. The oldest historic places in Kentucky are, without a doubt, my favorite. Those historic places always take us back to the beginnings of Kentucky, when Kentucky was a county, not a state. The Offutt-Cole Tavern takes us back to that same time in history.
Let’s travel back to 1738 when a future land surveyor was born.
Hancock Taylor was born in Orange County, Virginia in 1738, to Zachary Taylor (1707-1768) and Elizabeth Allerton Lee Taylor (1709-1753).
Now, jump to 1774. In April 1774, Hancock Taylor (along with John Floyd, James Douglass, Isaac Hite, Thomas Preston, and Daniel and Francis Smith) was appointed deputy surveyor of Fincastle County for the Ohio Land Company of Virginia.
Hancock and three of the other men set out from Smithfield, VA, and began their trip down the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers, sketching out their surveys all along the way. They reached the Falls of the Ohio on May 28th. While there, twenty-eight surveys were done covering 40,000 acres of land, including a large part of the present-day city of Louisville.
On June 3rd the four men split into two groups. Taylor moved on to survey the area of Harrodsburg, followed by the Frankfort area and finishing in the present-day Midway area on July 1 where he met back up with the other group.
Now, this finally brings us back around to the Offutt-Cole Tavern. It is believed that Taylor and his fellow surveyors used the original log portion as a base camp while completing surveys in the future Midway area. While I could not find information on who may have built it, this is the first time the use of the building is noted. It is believed that Hancock may have found the structure when he arrived in the area, and it is also believed that the original log structure is the oldest in Kentucky. (The reason for this belief is the double-hipped stone chimney found in this cabin. This particular chimney is similar to those built in Williamsburg, Virginia during the 1750s, and there are no other chimney designs similar to this found in Kentucky today.)
Unfortunately, Hancock Taylor and another surveyor were killed on July 23, 1774. While on the Kentucky River, the two men came upon Native Americans and ended up in a frontier conflict. Hancock was shot with an Indian rifle and died shortly after.
Uncle of a President
In 1744, Richard Lee Taylor, Hancock’s younger brother was born in Orange County, Virginia.
On August 20, 1779, Richard, then Lieutenant Colonel of the American Revolution, married Sarah Dabney Strother.
In 1781, their first child, Hancock Stother Taylor was born.
In 1784, their second child, Zachary Taylor was born. Zachary Taylor would go on to become the 12th President of the United States, making Hancock Taylor his Uncle.
Around 1784, Richard received a land grant for his service in the Continental Army. The land grant was for property near the future Louisville, Kentucky.
They arrived at the Falls of the Ohio, built a brick home they named Springfield, and lived on the plantation that surrounded their home until their deaths.
Today, the property has become the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery and the home is privately owned.
Major John Lee
After the death of Hancock Taylor, records show that Major John Lee took over the cabin and used it as his home from the 1780s to the 1790s. Lee was a Major of the Second Virginia Troops and cousin of Hancock Taylor through Taylor’s mother, Elizabeth Allerton Lee Taylor. Major Lee was also one of the founders of Versailles, Kentucky just a few miles from the cabin.
Major Lee came to Kentucky in 1781 with Willis Atwell Lee (his son from his first marriage), and his second wife, Elizabeth Bell Lee, making the cabin a family home.
Additional log rooms were added to the cabin between 1787 – 1789, and a brick addition was added in 1799. By that time, Major Lee was running the building as an inn and needed to expand its size. (NOTE: Information regarding the brick addition differs depending on the source. It was added somewhere between 1799-1802.)
From Inn to Tavern to Stagecoach Stop
It is believed that Major Lee died sometime in 1802, or shortly before, as his wife Elizabeth leased the inn to Horatio J. Offutt in 1802. Offutt expanded the business from an inn to a tavern, and the area became known as Offutt’s Crossroads. It is believed at this time (1802) that the original log portion was covered in cherry weatherboarding.
The transition to a stagecoach stop in 1804, made this the first stagecoach stop west of the Alleghenies.
Cole’s “Blackhorse Tavern” History
The tavern was later deeded to Richard Cole Jr. in 1812. He renamed the tavern “The Blackhorse Tavern” although many knew it as Cole’s Tavern. He ran the tavern until his death in 1839.
Richard Cole Jr. was married to Sarah “Sally” Cole and had 4 children prior to the purchase of the tavern. One of those children, was a son by the name of James Cole. James Cole was born in 1804 in Woodford County, KY. He married Sarah “Sallie” Lindsay in 1822, at the young age of 18. James and Sarah had two children; Zerelda Elizabeth (b. 1825) and Jesse Richard (b. 1826). Zerelda was born in the upstairs brick room of Blackhorse Tavern. Unfortunately, in 1827, just two years after Zerelda’s birth, her father died after being thrown off of a horse. Zerelda, Jesse, and their mother Sarah then lived under the guardianship of Richard Cole Jr.
In 1839, after her grandfather’s death, fourteen-year-old Zerelda was sent to St. Catherine’s Academy, a Catholic school in Lexington. While there, Zerelda met Robert Sallee James. Robert was a student at Georgetown College where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. Robert and Zerelda married in 1841.
Parents to Frank and Jesse James
Robert and Zerelda moved to Clay County, Missouri in 1842 where Robert became a prominent Baptist minister. He and Zerelda had four children together. Their first child, Alexander Franklin “Frank”, was born in 1843. Robert Jr. died shortly after birth. Their third child, Jesse Woodson (named after Zerelda’s brother) was born in 1847. Their final child, Susan Lavenia, was born in 1849.
Frank and Jesse James would go on to become the most famed American Outlaws.
Tavern becomes Tollgate House
In the 1840s, the Versailles-Midway Turnpike Company constructed the route between Midway and Versailles. The Turnpike Company then purchased the Offutt-Cole Tavern in 1848 for use as a tollgate house. In 1865, the company re-incorporated as the Lexington, Versailles, and Midway Road Company and continued to use the building as a tollgate house until 1880.
The road between Versailles and Midway, (U.S. 62), was constructed in the early 1850’s, by the Versailles-Midway Turnpike Company. This company purchased Cole’s Blackhorse Tavern in 1848 and retained ownership until 1865, when it was reincorporated as the Lexington, Versailles and Midway Road Company. The old tavern then becomes a dual tollhouse, collecting from all directions. This company, in turn, owned the tollgate house until the late 1800’s when it was sold to Frank Harper, who owned property adjacent to it, and was one of Kentucky’s earliest thoroughbred breeders. In 1916 Miss Elizabeth McCabe who, at her death willed it to her brothers, William and John McCabe, bought it. In 1976, John McCabe donated the tavern and two and one quarter acres to the Woodford County Historical Society to be kept by them and restored to its original use .Descendants of Thomas Sims Graves
Present-Day Offutt-Cole Tavern
The most recent information that I could find on the tavern was from the 1980s. Kentucky Kindred Genealogy stated, “In the 1980s the Woodford County Historical Society hoped to reopen this historical place as a restaurant, but as in many things, money did not go as far as expected, and the full restoration was not finished. The historical society sold the property in 1985 and the owner is expected to use it as a farm office.”
From my photos, it looks like it is currently being used as an insurance agency. The day I stopped by, there was a car in the gravel area behind the tavern and the back door was open. I didn’t want to just walk up and knock, so I just took photos around the building (posted above).
As with my other posts, when I just come upon history, I don’t know the whole story until I return home to research. Through that research, I learned the history above as well as architectural features that make the building more unique than noted from the outside. In the brick addition, where Zerelda Cole was born, is a wooden partition that swings up to the ceiling to convert two small rooms into a large ballroom. In the log cabin section, the doors are walnut board and batten with hand-wrought hinges and locks, and a winding staircase to the second floor with cherry rails and ash tread steps. The features go on and on and all can be read here.
Obviously, after reading the interior details, I really want to see the inside of the tavern. I hope to make a call in the Spring to see if I can get an inside glimpse. I’m sure I’m not the only one to call for such a request, so who knows if it will work? If it does, I’ll update this post with any photos I can snap!
Can you see why I had to make this a special post? The history that surrounds this structure is just mind-blowing to me. There’s name-dropping everywhere! 😁. I hope that you have enjoyed the history as much as I have enjoyed sharing it. If you are ever in the area, stop to snap some pictures. It is one very priceless structure that should never be forgotten.