Sunday, August 11, 2013

Bardstown - the museum

I spent some time walking the streets of Bardstown while I was in KY last weekend.  It's hard for me to be objective about the town because these are the streets that I walked every day to and from school.  Most everything that I see is riddled with memories, some happy, some sad, and some just ordinary life.    But I can't be a tourist here, I'm too jaded.

Bardstown is an old town.  A sign in the town museum says that in 1780 three pioneers drew for the town lots sold by William Bard, agent for David Bard and J.C. Owings, owners of the land - hence the name, Bardstown.  They don't say how Bard and Owings got the land.  That's the thing about Bardstown, I never feel like I'm getting the whole story.  There is a sanitized version to sell to the tourists - Southern Belles, Stephen Foster and all - which I'm sure is pure fantasy.

This is a typical street:
Houses built right up to the sidewalk.  These brick sidewalks are a recent improvement because this is the way I went to school and the sidewalks were typically broken then.  Many of the old homes are impressive (mansions), and very old.
I used to know the boy who lived in this house and can remember some teenage parties here.

Bardstown prospered during those early days.  The main industries were tanning, rope making, and whiskey distilling.  Bardstown was the county seat, the fourth one established in KY.

This is Spalding Hall.

When I was growing up we knew this as St. Joe Prep.  The local Catholic boys went here as well as "boarders" who came from all over.  The school was founded by Bishop Flaget in 1826, a prestigious academy first run by the Jesuits and later by the Xaverian brothers.  During the Civil War it was a military hospital, and has served as a college, seminary and orphanage.

I passed it every day on my way to school.  In 1968 it was sold to the town and now there is a museum on the first floor and a nice restaurant in the basement.

The museum is really a Whiskey Museum - the museum of Whiskey History.  I'm annoyed that the story of Bardstown is overshadowed by the story of whiskey, but maybe stories have to be told within stories.  In the old chapel of Spalding Hall there are a few artifacts from the early days of Bardstown.

A case full of silver julep cups.  Drinking must have been very big here, along with religion.

And a replica of a Sister of Charity of Nazareth ...

... the sign says that the habit was modeled on the Kentucky pioneer woman's bonnet and cape.

I was disappointed in the museum collection, like it's missing something (everything?).  Maybe I should have explored the much more comprehensive whiskey collection.


  1. My former roommate when I started grad school had been in the SCNs. Spalding is a name rings a bell in that connection. She went to Nazareth College and lived in Louisville. My ex- and I visited her on our way back to St. Louis from NYC. He wanted to see more of the USA, so insisted we take the bus. Arrgh! We eventually fly back to St. Louis from Louisville because I had some kind of sickness (never diagnosed).

    LOVE the photos of Bardstown. What a charming town!

  2. The SCN's figured big in my childhood, teaching at my grade school and high school. Their motherhouse was just about 3 or 4 miles north of town. They turned one of the dormitories into apartments for the elderly in about 1980 and my father died there in 1983. I don't think he ever adjusted to the move.

  3. Lots of Spaldings in Bardstown, from way back.