The United States has some fascinating history and wonderful cities, but the best town in America is Bardstown, Kentucky. It may not be the biggest community, and it doesn’t bring in as much revenue as other cities across the country. Still, this charming community has captured hearts from all around. Any who visit here tend to fall in love with the history, the environment, the people… and in some cases, the bourbon.
12. Bardstown is the second oldest city in the state.
The community was initially called Salem in 1780, soon renamed Baird’s Town, then Bardstown by 1782. It was deemed the seat for Nelson County when our state was still part of Virginia. The resolutions regarding Kentucky and Virginia were actually written in secret by James Madison and President Thomas Jefferson. These resolutions gave the states the right to determine a law unconstitutional and void.
11. Home of the official Kentucky Bourbon Festival.
This is possibly the most renowned festival in Kentucky next to the Kentucky Derby Festival. It takes place September 13th till the 18th in 2016. Those six days are filled with bourbon enthusiasts, bourbon providers, booths, drink specials, designated drivers and an overwhelming amount of fun. Bardstown also hosts the Bourbon Mix Drink Challenge from 2 till 4 pm and the Bardstown Sampler from 7 till 10 pm on April 30th as part of their annual Derby celebration. Tickets must be purchased in advance for these two events.
10. Bardstown was the first center for Roman Catholicism west of the Appalachians.
The Basilica of Saint Joseph Proto Cathedral still stands today, but was initially the cathedral mother church of the former Roman Catholic Diocese of Bardstown. In 1808, Pope Pius VII established the Diocese of Bardstown to provide service to those in the area but the cathedral wasn’t opened officially till an estimated 1823. The beautifully preserved architecture is a combination of the Greek Revival and Federal styles and can be seen at 310 W Stephen Foster Avenue.
9. Featured city in a post apocalyptic novel.
Nelson County, primarily Bardstown, is the focal point for the 1989 novel, “First Angel” by Ed Mann. The story uses the area as inhabited by survivors with mention of several of the historic buildings as refuge. It is an interesting read if you like the genre. I realize the image is not Bardstown, but it does have a post apocalyptic look, somewhat like Mad Max.
8. Largest Civil War Museum in the Country.
The Civil War Museum in Bardstown holds the largest collection of Civil War memorabilia in the country. It is located near the Women’s Civil War Museum, the War Memorial of Mid America, and the Lt. Gen Hal Moore Memorial.
7. The Bourbon Capital of the U.S.
There are several bourbon tours available, providing insight into local distillers and their process. The famed distilleries on the tours are Heaven Hill, Willett, Barton 1792 and nearby Jim Beam. Another leg of the tour goes to “nearby” distillers Makers Mark, Woodford, Four Roses and Town Branch. Four Roses is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. The unique Oscar Getz Museum of Bourbon History offers some insight into our connection with bourbon, and downstairs you can enjoy the delicious cuisine at the Rickhouse.
6. The Old Talbott Inn.
Located in the historic Downtown district, the tavern has been a part of Bardstown since 1779. It was built near the end of the stagecoach road that once led to Philadelphia and Virginia and was called the Hynes Hotel. Danial Boone and the exciled Louis Philippe of France both stayed here during 1797. During the Revolutionary War, the renowned George Rogers Clark utilized the Inn as a resource. Other famed patrons included Henry Clay, Abe Lincoln, John James Audubon, Stephen Foster, Jessie James and Andrew Jackson. Today the renowned tavern is a delightful B&B offering southern hospitality, delicious food and a comfortable stay.
5. The old train.
My Old Kentucky Dinner Train was originally constructed in a 1860, but has been renovated several times since then. Today, passengers can take a lovely cruise around Nelson County while dining on fine cuisine. It is a memorable experience to enjoy the beauty Kentucky has to offer with the almost hypnotic clickity clack of the train.
4. My Old Kentucky Home State Park.
This park is different than many other parks. Not only is it beautiful and full of nature, but it is conveniently located less than two miles from historic downtown and has an RV friendly campground inside the park. The park is home to the renowned Federal Hill mansion, beautifully preserved grounds, preserved architecture, a golf course, the “My Old Kentucky Home” play, and a gift shop filled with Kentucky related merchandise.
3. Historical Downtown.
The gorgeously preserved Downtown district of Bardstown is a haven for charming architecture and historical landmarks. The area is home to traditional homes and shops that seem to naturally invite you in. One of which is the Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace, which is a haven for all things bourbon, including tastings.
2. Recognized for charm and beauty.
Bardstown has been voted the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America” via Destination Marketing Association International’s “Best of the Road” competition in 2012. In 2014 Bardstown Kentucky was voted among Fodor’s “Best of the Best Small Towns in America”, and Kentucky Living voted it the “Best in Kentucky." That doesn’t include the recognition it has received for festivals and historic sites.
When a town gets recognized multiple times for its charm and beauty, you know it has something special. Bardstown, Kentucky is a “best of the best” type of town. Despite its growing popularity, the community has held on to the quality of life that earned it the title of one of the most beautiful small towns in America. What town in Kentucky do you feel deserves recognition as the best, and why?