An Historic and Accessible Trip to My Old Kentucky Home

September 15, 2020

An Historic and Accessible Trip to My Old Kentucky Home

A magnificent mansion, war, politics, and death by spinal cord injury. No, it’s not a Hollywood movie. It’s all part of the accessible tour at My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown, Kentucky.

Amid COVID craziness, I needed a break from non-stop-work within the confines of the four walls of my condo. A friend came to town and we had a mini-staycation. The evening she arrived, we ordered pizza from Sicilian Pizza and Pasta (some of the best pizza in Louisville, in my opinion). We chatted throughout the evening. Face-to-face conversation with a real person was amazing!

A pretty drive

On Wednesday morning, we drove to Bardstown, Kentucky, less than an hour’s drive from downtown Louisville. My Old Kentucky Home State Park is named after Stephen Foster’s My Old Kentucky Home, Good Night, the state song. The park features the Rowan family’s mansion, known as Federal Hill, that was completed in 1818.

If you’ve read any of my previous travel blogs, you might have caught on that I’m a history-lover. The painful part of using a wheelchair and loving history is the two often don’t mix well. Thankfully, My Old Kentucky Home State Park allowed me to take a step – or roll – back into history.

Before going on the tour, I called to ask if I needed to make any special arrangements before I arrived. I didn’t. So we enjoyed the beautiful drive to Bardstown, parked in the almost-empty parking lot, and went to the Gift Shop to purchase tickets. Tickets are $14 for adults.

The tour

I was fortunate to have an especially great tour guide: my cousin, Becky. She led our small group out of the visitor’s center and through the park’s beautiful grounds. The walkway was brick and was very easy for a wheelchair to traverse.

Once we arrived at the mansion, another guide led my friend and me to the back of the mansion. I went up the outdoor lift at the back of the house, entered the house over a flush threshold, and joined our group inside the main hall of the mansion.

I’m not going to lie; I got teary-eyed entering the Federalist-style house. In my experience, getting inside historic homes like this is not common in this area of the country.

Unfortunately, pictures aren’t allowed on the tour. But it’s breathtaking. Seventy percent of the furnishings in the house are original to the Rowan family. My favorite piece was the piano with mother of pearl keys. The pufferfish was a favorite of the kids.

As we went from room to room, we heard the history and stories of three generations of the Rowan family. Duels, horses, debt, and the history of enslavement are all part of the tour, beautifully presented by the tour guides, dressed in mid-19th century attire.

Federal Hill

I mentioned the history of spinal cord injury and Federal Hill. The story goes that the daughter of John Rowan, Jr. was suffering from diphtheria. The father, spending the night by his daughter’s bedside, got drowsy and rested in the window sill. He dozed off, was startled, and fell out the second-story window.  He sustained a spinal cord injury and died.

Although the first floor of the tour is accessible, the second floor is not. Becky gave me an album with photos of second-floor rooms. As the group toured upstairs, I sat in the hallway on the first floor and listened to the tour by phone. Disappointing? Yes. But I give the park kudos for having an album available.

The 7,500 square-foot house is incredible, but its grounds are fit for a period drama with its two-hundred-year-old magnolia trees and manicured gardens. I look forward to spending more time strolling the estate.

A bite to eat

After the tour, we drove less than a mile to Old Talbott Tavern, established in 1779. To enter the tavern, someone must let the staff know to open the accessible entrance, which is also on the front side of the building. Inside, a ramp allows easy access to the dining area. On the menu, you’ll find southern fare and enough bourbon to feed any appetite. I feel like I’ve stepped back in time when I enter the Old Talbott Tavern.

If you want to wander around Bardstown, take a stroll around the round-about and up Third Street. There are plenty of stores to wander into, although a few do have steps.

Bardstown is an iconic small town in Kentucky and I always enjoy visiting. It’s full of history. I look forward to eating at its restaurants, going to more history and bourbon festivals, seeing St. Joseph’s Basilica, and touring other museums in the future.

Oh, and I’ll report back when I finally go on a bourbon distillery tour!

Things you need to know:

  • No van accessible parking is offered at My Old Kentucky State Park. I parked in a spot with hashmarks, but not labeled as accessible.
  • A special surprise awaits you at the beginning of the tour. The tour guides are exceptionally talented – and he or she will serenade you with a well-known song by Stephen Foster.
  • People with mobility impairments pay the full admission fee to the park.
  • The women’s bathroom at Old Talbott Tavern is not accessible. The door opens inward, preventing a wheelchair from entering.

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Jenny Smith

After a spinal cord injury at 16, I discovered that a wheelchair could take me places I never dared to imagined.

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