A few years ago, I was flipping through cable channels when I came across a program description that alarmed me. A local television station was airing a documentary on Lexington’s White Hall, the historic home of famed 19th-century abolitionist Cassius Clay. The program description read: “The history of White Hall, former home of Muhammad Ali.”
Now, I’m not a huge history buff. But I know enough to know that White Hall was built more than a century before the legendary boxer was born in Louisville.
An editor somewhere failed to catch a problem we have in Kentucky – we have two famous Cassius Marcellus Clays.
The first was born in 1810. He was a newspaper publisher, a naturalist, a politician who fought against slavery, and an orator (this is an occupation that no longer exists, but basically means he was a motivational speaker without the books and late-night infomercials). From 1861 to 1869, the first Cassius Clay was the U.S. minister to Russia under President Abraham Lincoln. And perhaps unfortunately more notably, he married a 15-year-old girl when he was 84.
The second was born in Louisville in 1942. This guy is a boxer. And not just any boxer, he is the self-proclaimed Greatest (and few can argue his point). He is a man of many accomplishments – Olympic champion, three-time heavyweight champion, and orator in his own right. This Cassius Clay changed his name in 1964 to Muhammad Ali to reflect his embrace of the Muslim faith. He retired from boxing in 1981, but remains one of the most famous people in the sport. Think: “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee …”
I spent one summer a few years ago working for a daily newspaper in Hopkinsville in Christian County, Kentucky. Even though my grandparents have lived in a town not too far from Hopkinsville my whole life, I wasn’t very familiar with the area but trusted my GPS to take care of me. My new co-workers laughed at me when I began dutifully punching in addresses to Garmin.
“That’s not going to help you,” my boss said. “That GPS isn’t going to be able to get you to Possum Trot.”
Now, if I thought Hopkinsville’s nickname, “Hop-Town,” was strange …
Possum Trot is an actual town. It’s a dot on the map in Marshall County, Kentucky, east of Paducah. On the western side of that western Kentucky town, you’ll find Monkeys Eyebrow – note, that is not a possessive monkey’s – in Ballard County (Garmin, however, will pretend the place doesn’t exist, despite the signs that say it is so). Officially, it isn’t actually a town because it has never had a post office. But don’t say that to the locals.
Here are more of Kentucky’s oddly-named towns:
• Rabbit Hash – really just a general store in Boone County on Highway 536 just southwest of Cincinnati. Supposedly, the name comes from the recipe that helped the town residents survive a harsh flood in 1816.
• Mud Lick – there are actually 9 towns with this name in Kentucky. You’ll find them in Anderson, Elliott, Greenup, Knox, Lewis, Robertson, Russell, Perry and Pike counties.
• Paint Lick – this seems more dangerous than the above. You’ll find this town on Highway 52 in Garrard County. It’s named for a salt lick marked for prime hunting by Native Americans in the area.
• 88 – yes, it’s a Kentucky town. In Barren County on Highway 90, 7 miles south of Glasgow. It is rumored to get it’s name because one of the town’s founders had 88 cents in his pocket when they were trying to pick a name. Talk about running out of ideas. Other rumors say the local postmaster had such terrible handwriting that he picked the name because he was sure everyone could read those two numerals.
• Future City – in Ballard County. This town reportedly got its name from the developer who put up a sign at the edge of the land where he intended to build a town that read: “Future City.” And then he never got around to building anything.
• Lamb – there are two of these, one in Kenton County and the other in Monroe County.
• Typo – in Perry County, you can make up a good story for that one.
• Bush – in Laurel County. This town was named after George Bush. No, not THAT George Bush. No, not that one either. This George Bush founded the town in 1840 when he opened the post office and the general store. The first President Bush did campaign there in 1988, and newspaper headlines read: “Bush Returns to Bush”
• Bugtussle – on Highway 87 south of Tompkinsville in Monroe County. This is popular with fans of the Beverly Hillbillies, who may remember that the Clampetts were from Bugtussle … only they were from Bugtussle, Tennessee. Well, Monroe County IS near the Tennessee border. Bugtussele is another word for a backwater town.
• Black Gnat – in Taylor County
• Black Snake – in Bell County
• Co-operative – in McCreary County
• Crummies – in Harlan County
• Hi Hat – (as in ‘hello’ and not way up in the sky) in Floyd County
As seen on TV our state license plates, Kentucky is known as the Bluegrass State – despite the fact that few people outside of the state have any idea what bluegrass is, or that it isn’t always blue (In all seriousness, I was watching a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field once, and the little boy was reading in his program that the field was sodded with Kentucky bluegrass. He looks up to his father with a terribly confused face and says, “But it’s green grass, Daddy. It’s green grass!”). I’ll refrain from getting into the debate that the grass really does have a blue tint to it in the early dawn hours when the day’s first sunlight hits the dew resting on top of the blades of grass … we can discuss the color wheel and how it relates to agriculture later.
Moving on …
Kentucky is truly a land of strange curiosities, and there are a number of things we could slap on our license plates as the state slogan. Here are a few of them:
• Gateway to the Wild West – Judge Roy Bean, Jim Bowie and Kit Carson were all born in Kentucky.
• The Post Office State – Kentucky has more post offices per capita than any other state.
• The Governor State – More than 100 native Kentuckians have been elected governors of OTHER states.
• The Volunteer State – OK, so technically this one belongs to Tennessee (though what exactly is a Tennessee Volunteer and why do they insist on sporting that awful shade of orange? Bleh.), but in the War of 1812, more than half of all Americans killed in action were Kentuckians.
• The Game Show State – Famous game show hosts Jack Narz (CBS’s quiz show Dotto … and he was also a narrator of ‘The Adventures of Superman’), and Chuck Woolery (the original host of Wheel of Fortune) were born in Kentucky.
Just something to think about. Kentucky’s been known to have some strange license plates before (who remembers the smiling sun that even Jay Leno made cracks about). Who knows what the boys in LaGrange will be banging out next? … did you know all Kentucky license plates are made at the Kentucky State Reformatory in LaGrange?
Kentucky was the 15th state to join the Union and the first on the western frontier. High Bridge located near Nicholasville is the highest railroad bridge over navigable water in the United States. Post-It Notes are manufactured exclusively in Cynthiana; the exact number made annually of these popular notes is a trade secret. The first American performance of a Beethoven symphony was in Lexington in 1817. Pikeville annually leads the nation in per capita consumption of Pepsi-Cola. Teacher Mary S. Wilson held the first observance of Mother’s Day in Henderson in 1887; it was made a national holiday in 1916. The song “Happy Birthday to You” was the creation of two Louisville sisters in 1893. More than $6 billion worth of gold is held in the underground vaults of Fort Knox; this is the largest amount of gold stored anywhere in the world. Cheeseburgers were first served in 1934 at Kaolin’s restaurant in Louisville. Middlesboro is the only city in the United States built within a meteor crater.
There’s no other place like Kentucky.
The spirit of that phrase has inspired the Kentucky Department of Travel to host a campaign and Twitter contest this fall. “There’s Only One Kentucky” highlights 26 uniquely-Kentucky destinations filled with history, fun and beauty.
There’s only one Mammoth Cave National Park. There’s only one National Corvette Museum. There’s only one Cumberland Falls. There’s only one Bourbon Country.
The contest asks you to tweet for 26 days about only-in-Kentucky attractions with the hashtag #OnlyOneKentucky. Each day you tweet, you’re entered to win that day’s prize. You can learn more about the contest rules and details here: http://www.onlyonekentucky.com/
In the spirit of the contest, we’ve put together a short list of some of the “Only One” destinations we’ve visited. We’ve had a great time on our travels so far — we’d love to have you join us in enjoying the Bluegrass State!
1. Lexington is known as the Horse Capital of the World
OK, we’re a little biased here. We’re both born and raised Lexintonians, and we’ll be the first to tell you there’s no where else in the world like it. The rolling hills of Bluegrass and sweeping fields of thoroughbred horse farms are just the start of its beauty. While you’re there, take a walk through Gratz Park or visit downtown and Cheapside Park. There are tons of great things to do in Lexington.
2. Take to the high seas Ohio River on the Belle
The Belle of Louisville is a historic steamer docked on the riverfront in downtown Louisville. Take day cruises, dinner cruises or special event cruises. A few years ago, our friends joined us for a special fireworks cruise on the Belle on the Fourth of July. It was a beautiful night of dancing and fireworks.
4. Hang out with the buffalo in Land Between the Lakes
Blair will always hold a soft spot for Land Between the Lakes and the bodies of water that surround it (Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley). Her grandparents live in one of the neighboring counties, and she spent countless summers growing up there with her brothers and sister. In fact, we just made a trip back to western Kentucky a few weeks ago and it is just as beautiful as she remembers it. Enjoy the great food, all of the miniature golf, the lovely resorts along the lake — Lake Barkley State Resort Park, Kentucky Lake State Park, Prizer Point, just to name a few — and if you look close enough, you’ll even spot a few buffalo. How very uniquely Kentucky.
5. Whether to rock climb or to eat some delicious pizza, people come from around the world to see Red River Gorge
This canyon system on the Red River in east-central Kentucky is about 44 square miles of high sandstone cliffs, natural bridges, waterfalls and rock shelters. ‘The Red’ attracts rock climbers and bolder-ers from around the world to experience the tons of bolted routes in overhanging, pocketed sandstone. When you’re there, be sure to check out Natural Bridge State Park. This natural sandstone bridge spans 78 feet and is 65 feet high. And don’t you dare leave without stopping at Miguel’s Pizza in Slade, Kentucky. Some of the best pies I’ve ever tasted.
We took an impromptu road trip this weekend to Evans Orchard and Cider Mill in Georgetown, Kentucky, and discovered that a pumpkin patch is no longer just a pumpkin patch.
My mother says we used to get our pumpkins every year from a man who set a bunch he’d picked from his field on his front porch next to a coffee can where you stuck your cash to pay for the pumpkins you took home.
There was no pay-by-the-pound, there was no trudging through fields of pumpkins still on the vines. There certainly was no corn maze, obstacle course, petting zoo, camel ride, apple orchard or live music.
Apparently, pumpkin patches have come a long way.
At Evans Orchard this weekend, we found all of the above and more. We picked our pumpkins, indulged in lunch from the Sweet Apple Cafe and sipped our apple cider while listening to a lovely rendition of “My Girl.” We bought six or seven mini pumpkins, coming to about $7 and then spent a collective $50 in the gift shop on fried apple pies, apple donuts, candy apples, pecan apple butter, peanut butter fudge and cartons of apple cider. What pumpkins?
We didn’t set foot in the dirt fields, but we could’ve if we wanted to pick our own pumpkin. We didn’t walk up and down the rows of apple trees with baskets in hand, but we could’ve if we wanted to pick our own apples. Just like we could’ve taken a hay ride, we could’ve walked in circles atop a very perturbed looking camel, and we could’ve participated in the pet costume contest — but we couldn’t even coax Bows into posing for a picture. There was so much to do we couldn’t take it all in.
But we left happy with pumpkins in hand and fried apple pies stuffed in our mouths. A pumpkin patch is no longer just a pumpkin patch … it’s way better.
Check out Bows in all of her googly-eyed glory. (No wonder she didn’t want to be in our pictures).
What it’s going to cost you:
Not a thing just to go and walk around. You’ll pay by the pound for big pumpkins and gourds, and $1-$2 for the small ornamental varieties. Visit the gift shop to spend even more cash on some delicious desserts and fun decorations. Kids activities including camel rides, the petting zoo and the corn maze are also going to cost you. Find a full list of activities and prices on Evans Orchard’s website.
Hours and Directions:
Evans Orchard and Cider Mill is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. And it’s not just a pumpkin patch and apple orchard! In the spring time, you can pick strawberries and in the summer months you’ll find peaches and pears. The orchard grows We grow 15 acres of peaches, apples and pears, two more acres of small fruit, and more than 20 acres of farm-fresh vegetables.
From Lexington, you’ll travel eight miles north of the I-75 bridge (exit 115) on Newtown Pike (Highway 922). Take a right onto Stone Road and the orchard is the third drive on the left.
I have an enthusiastic affinity for food festivals – barbecue, ice cream, chili, Moon Pies. You find it, I’m up for a weekend trip of arts and crafts booths, live music, and cooking and/or eating competitions of any form. I think my fondness for these most basic culinary celebrations was instilled in me at an early age when my family decided to make yearly pilgrimages to the Trigg County Country Ham Festival in Cadiz, Kentucky.
We went under the guise of visiting my grandparents who lived in the small rural community at the most western tip of the state. But really, my dad was going for the country ham and despite my mother’s eye rolls when Dad began enthusiastically packing up the family in the car each year, she secretly loved the weekend celebration too.
My early memories of Ham Festival vacations are fond ones – talking my parents in to buying me a bunny (which grew into a rabbit and made lots and lots of baby bunnies with my brother’s rabbit), nearly throwing up my corn dogs after too many rounds on the Tilt-A-Whirl, sitting on a straw bale with my grandfather listening to Bluegrass music and eating snow cones. There may even be photographic evidence in existence of me chasing around a baby pig in a ‘Sack the Pig’ contest that was one of the highlights of the festival until animal rights activists declared it inhumane and officially nixed it from the weekend lineup (the photos are well-hidden too, by the way).
Last year, my younger brother and I went back to the Ham Festival for the first time in many years. And it was … exactly how I remembered it. Cured country hams still hung in a tent near the courthouse on Main Street waiting to find out if they were grand-prize winners. Carnival rides and games still filled a nearby park, arts and crafts booths lined the streets alongside food vendors offering deep fried everythings (Snickers, Twinkies, pickles, etc). But perhaps the finest tradition of the Trigg County Country Ham Festival is its claim to fame: The World’s Largest Country Ham and Biscuit.
Yes, you read that correct. It’s the world’s largest. It’s Guiness Book-official. The huge biscuit debuted in 1985 during the 9th annual Ham Festival. It was 4,000 pounds. A crowd of over 15,000 people were on hand to view the biscuit and parade in its honor grand marshalled by University of Kentucky Basketball Coach Joe B. Hall.
The recipe has since been halved, and each year a 2,000-pound version (10.5 feet in diameter) is baked in a custom-built oven and removed by fork lift during the festival. The recipe includes 150 pounds of flour, 2 pounds of salt, 6 1/2 pounds of sugar, 39 pounds of shortening, 39 cups of water, 13 gallons of buttermilk. Add 16 large baked country hams and it is served to the masses.
The 35th annual Trigg County Country Ham Festival is this weekend (Oct. 14-16). To learn more about the history of the event as well as a schedule of events and directions to the festivities, check out the Ham Festival’s website.
I hope to run into you in line for the Tilt-A-Whirl! (I’ll be the one with a country ham biscuit in each hand).
If you’ve ever driven out U.S. Highway 421 — or Leestown Road for the locals — headed north and away from Lexington, you’ve passed what used to be the U.S. Public Service Hospital in Bracktown. It sits back away from the road on the right, just past Masterson Station Park. Today, it’s the Federal Correction Institute, but it used to be a hospital for prisoners who were being treated for drug addiction.
Between 1935 and 1975, most everyone sent to prison for drugs in the U.S. was sent to the United States Narcotic Farm located at this prison hospital. And from 1953 to 1962, government doctors tested LSD on 300 human patients at the public service hospital. Because there was no money to pay the prisoners for their participation, they were given a choice of time off their sentences or the drug of their choice. Most chose the drugs.
Despite the controversy of these experiments, the filmmakers of The Narcotic Farm — a documentary made in 2008 about this Lexington experiment station — note accomplishments at the institution remain milestones in addiction science and treatment. Its most important contribution might be how it transformed the way society views addicts.
When the first battles of the Civil War broke out in April of 1861, ladies and their gentlemen brought picnic lunches and sociability to the edges of the battlefield. However, as the casualties mounted on both sides, the spectators quickly realized the war was no Sunday afternoon frivolity. Luckily for us, the 149th Anniversary of the Battle of Perryville was, and yes, you can bring a picnic lunch.
No soldiers, horses, or spectators were harmed in the staging of this re-enactment.
Just a little history:
The Battle of Perryville, fought October 8, 1862, was one of the bloodiest of the Civil War, and the largest battle fought on Kentucky soil. Lasting approximately 6 hours, more than 1,400 men were killed, more than 5,500 wounded, and almost 1,200 men captured or missing. Kentucky played host to several other skirmishes thanks to its border-state status, including the Battle of Mill Springs, the Battles at Forts Donelson and Henry, General John Hunt Morgan’s infamous raids, the Battle of Munfordville, and the Battle of Paducah. As a border-state, Kentucky was a key to the strategies of the Union and the Confederacy. Lincoln was quoted:
“I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.”
“I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game. … We would as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of the capital.”
The state’s position along the Ohio and Mississippi River made the successful occupation of Kentucky by either army, a tactical advantage, and in 1862, the Confederates launched their Kentucky Campaign, pushing North from Tennessee.
Around 1:30 in the afternoon of October 8, 1862, members of the 33rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Leonard Harris’ Brigade, deployed skirmishers to the left of General McCook’s Union line, which was deploying on the fields. Soldiers from Company A and F were sent out some three hundred yards in front of the 33rd OVI to reconnoiter the area for any sign of the Rebel Army. They soon found elements of Wharton’s 8th Texas Confederate Cavalry which were conducting a sweep around the main Confederate force’s right flank.
Wharton’s 800-man Cavalry force swept down on the skirmishers of the 33rd Ohio Infantry and drove the skirmish line back. Wharton’s men, who were also known as Terry’s Texas Rangers, withdrew from the area unaware of the full strength of the Federal Army.
The rolling terrain of the “Chaplin Hills” created “line of sight” problems for both armies. Wharton grossly misjudged the strength of the Union deployments and when Maney’s Confederate Brigade moved into position from the fields, they found a much stronger Federal position than was anticipated.
Maney’s veteran Confederates eventually pushed the Federal line back and with the help of Wharton’s Cavalry overran the Federal guns of Parsons’ Union Battery, which were positioned on the hill.
Maney’s men continued to advance through the cornfield which extended into the trees on the left. They crossed the Dixville Road and pushed further to the Union position on the far hill. A desperate hand-to-hand fight ensued and the Confederate advance stalled. Darkness soon followed and the Battle of Perryville ended.
Although the Confederates were victorious, the outnumbered southerners were forced to withdraw, giving up the field and eventually the state to the Union. The massive Confederate offensive, which occurred during the summer and fall of 1862, was turned back.
With Confederate defeats in Maryland and Kentucky, Abraham Lincoln gained the military clout he needed to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the war went on for 3 more years, Confederate forces were never again able to mount an offensive equal to their 1862 campaigns.
Going to the Re-enactment
If you’re not a fan of loud, percussive noises, walking, or the milling about of large family groups, going to the re-enactment is not for you. If, however, you enjoy action, interaction, and history, you’re going to love it! This years re-enactment featured about 75 re-enactors from the 6th Ohio Volunteer Infantry reenacting company, based out of Cincinnati, OH. We chatted with one of the Union men, and he told us they participate in approximately 2 re-enactments/month during the summer (high-season for re-enactments) and visit plenty more.
Going to the re-enactment will cost you $10/per car, more for passenger vans and buses. There are a few add-ons at the State Historic Site as well, such as a Guided Battlefield Tour ($5/person) and the Ghosts of Perryville Tour ($10/person led by SHOCK, the Spirit Hunters of Central Kentucky). Unfortunately, we didn’t make it to the ghost tour this time around, though I doubt my nerves could have handled it.
Traffic & Parking
The programming information for the re-enactment warned us to beware traffic congestion and troubles parking, but we didn’t have any troubles at all. Perhaps it was the virtue of a Sunday afternoon, or that it wasn’t quite the sesquicentennial (more on that in a bit) but we made it to Perryville quickly and easily, and the uniformed gentlemen guided us straight to parking.
A Few More Notes
The battlefield is BIG. And not only is the battlefield big, but the entirety of the Perryville State Historic Site is big. The soldiers at the actual Battle of Perryville had trouble navigating the terrain, and you will too if you don’t wear good walking shoes. Heck, you might have trouble if you don’t wear good walking shoes, we had a bit of trouble walking sideways across the hills, and up the hills, and down the hills. But it really does make you appreciate just how easily an entire army might sneak up on you from atop a ridge.
We had a BEAUTIFUL day to go watch the re-enactment, warm in the sunshine, cool and breezy in the shade. But, as we all know, Kentucky weather is notoriously fickle and the battle will go off sun, rain, or snow. The reenactors this year had to spend the night in below 40-degree temperatures in their Civil War Camps and the Battle itself was fought during one of the worst droughts in Kentucky history, so be prepared.
On that note, you may also want to bring a chair. Some of the folks had picnic blankets and stadium chairs, and a great vantage point to watch from. Bear in mind however, you will be dragging that chair with you everywhere you roam across the park.
If you’re easily startled by loud noises, here’s your warning: there are guns and cannons, and they make loud, startling noises. When the cannon went off the first time, there wasn’t a single person in the crowd who didn’t yelp or jump. And when the cannon kept going off, people continued to be startled by it, along with their pets.
Which brings me to another note: yes, you can bring your friendly dog, but there are lots of horses and children running around, and loud noises like I said, so it might be wise to bring your dog only if he/she has a zen-like demeanor and wonderful social skills.
(yeah, I made up a word, so what?)
The best part about going to a Civil War Battle re-enactment is interacting with the reenactors- say that 5 times fast. We chatted with a few fellas from the Union company, one of whom was clearly brave, because he let Blair aim his rifle! The reenactors WANT you to come talk to them and ask lots of questions and they really know their stuff. They can tell you all about how the soldiers lived, trained, and fought; what their families were doing back home; and plenty of other great history and culture tidbits from the 1860s. You can check out the camps they set up (and yes, live in during the reenactments) and shop for re-creations of artifacts from the time period. I’m actually still upset we didn’t wear our hoop-skirts for the occasion…
No, I did not just make up another word, honest- go check out Webster‘s! If you didn’t know it already, we are in the midst of the Civil War Sesquicentennial, aka the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War. Fort Sumter has already commemorated the event along with many other Civil War battle sites and history sites. Perryville will be honoring its sesquicentennial next year, and they let us know it will be a BIG EVENT. Re-enacting companies will be coming in from all over the country to lend a hand to the authenticity of the battle, and over 6,000 soldiers are expected! The dates are already set for next year’s festivities, and you can bet that traffic and parking may not be as easy to come by for next year’s event. However, if you do go, you will most definitely be treated to a unique and exciting experience, that though it may come from a dark period in our history, will surely put a smile on your face.
Wait! There’s More!
Check out these photos of our trip from My Old Kentucky Road Trip’s guest photographer, Elliott Hess:
When you hear the name ‘J. Peterman,’ most people think of John O’Hurley’s eccentric character who was Elaine’s boss on “Seinfeld.” But before Thursday May 18, 1995, J. Peterman was just a second fiddle men’s clothing catalog in the market dominated by companies like Banana Republic, L.L. Bean and J. Crew.
The real J. Peterman isn’t a Manhattan company, but a small Lexington firm. The real Mr. Peterman isn’t a bombastic boss, just a sensible businessman. Seinfeld creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld were fans of the catalog and created a character based on what they thought the voice of the catalog would be. At first, no one informed the real John Peterman that his company was about to be satirized on the nation’s number one television program in 1995. But eventually folks made contact and began sending advance scripts to the Kentucky businessman for approval — which he always gave.
John Peterman tried a rapid expansion when the series brought national attention to his brand with retail stores, but that venture landed him in bankruptcy. So he started over and went back to what he did best: periodic catalogs — and a website — full of men’s and women’s clothing, luggage and novelty gifts. The J. Peterman Company offices are still located in Lexington on Old Vine Street.
Note: We’ve been collecting stories — curiosities really — about Kentucky. The things not found in history books or in visitors’ guides. The things that are rumored, whispered about and told as (sometimes) far-fetching tales by locals. Sometimes they’re totally true. Sometimes they have to be taken with a grain of salt … making them all the more fun.
Everything But the Moat
The rolling hills of bluegrass and picturesque Thoroughbred horse farms that line the road connecting Versailles and Lexington, Kentucky are the same beautiful and iconic images of central Kentucky that you’ll find on postcards at local gift stores. But it isn’t these charming views that cause traffic to noticeably slow down as you top the last hill before entering Fayette County, it is the stone turrets that come into view. If the Bluegrass region’s green hills didn’t already resemble the landscapes of western Europe and the United Kingdom, the stone walls, turrets, and drawbridge of The Kentucky Castle—known locally as simply “The Castle” or sometimes “Martin Castle,” for its previous owners—certainly give the feeling that you’ve traveled across the Atlantic, or even back in time.
As far as neighbors can determine, this castle is void of any knights in shining armor, and the clusters of people standing outside its gates are tourists taking pictures, not villagers arriving for market. And while this Versailles castles’s history isn’t as rich (literally or figuratively) as its counterpart in France, sordid rumors of its past are nearly as entertaining.
First and foremost, the castle began as a labor of love. Rex and Caroline Martin were taken with old European castles they saw while on vacation in 1968. When they returned home, they purchased the 53 acres off U.S. 60 in Woodford County, Kentucky, just outside of Lexington and broke ground on their dream home in 1969. The Martins’ finished estate was to have seven bedrooms, 15 bathrooms, four corner towers, a dozen turrets, 12-foot-high walls, a drawbridge, an Italian fountain in the courtyard, and tennis courts out back. But before the castle could be completed, the couple divorced, and Rex stopped building, leaving the 10,400-square-foot, two-story home unfinished and empty.
In 1988, Rex put his castle on the market with a For Sale sign posted on the gates that announced showings by appointment only. The castle was up for sale on and off for the better part of two decades, but as the story goes, countless real estate agents who showed interested in the property never received any response from Rex.
Rex died in 2003 without ever selling the castle.
Later that year, Thomas Post, a graduate of Lexington’s Lafayette High School and the University of Kentucky, bought the property for $1.8 million and announced plans to convert the castle into a bed and breakfast so that locals and tourists would finally have an opportunity to peek behind the walls they’d’ been speculating about for years. But in 2004, the house inside those gates caught fire, burning nearly the entire main building to the ground. Locals who caught wind of the fire (including these two roadtrippers who were in high school at the time) gathered along Versailles Road late into the night as the iconic structure went up in flames.
The new owner rebuilt, completing construction in 2008, and converting the property into a hotel. The Castle has since sold again and is known today at The Kentucky Castle, a luxurious hotel and event venue. Inside, a great hall with thirty-foot ceilings, solid stone walls, and elegant chandeliers welcome guests. The castle also includes a library, a large dining room, a gourmet kitchen, a sun-lit breakfast room, and twelve extravagant suites.
The Kentucky Castle is located at 230 Pisgah Pike in Versailles.
Want to learn more about Kentucky’s famous attractions? Pick up your copy of My Old Kentucky Road Trip: Historic Destinations and Natural Wondersat your local bookstore or order from Amazon. From the parkways to the back roads, these two Kentucky natives are exploring our Bluegrass State!