How long has it been since you sang My Old Kentucky Home? Many of us sang it as school children.
The ballad is also the name of “a hallowed farm with many rich layers of history, legends, and traditions spanning over two centuries.” So reads the first paragraph of the Visitor’s Guide for this two-story brick mansion in Bardstown, Kentucky.
“No photography is allowed inside,” the docent stated from her position on the top step outside the gracious home. She directed her comment to my husband who had our camera slung around his neck.
Many interesting stories abounded in connection with the home and the Rowan family. One was the story of a duel between Judge John Rowan and the only doctor in the vicinity, but I won’t spoil it for you. You’ll want to hear about it when you take the tour.
Another story was the disagreement between Judge Rowan and his son, John Jr. They did not see eye to eye on the issue of slavery. No duel involved in that story. In fact, the Judge never fought another duel.
During the Civil War various family members aligned themselves on both sides of the conflict. However, when any family members came home, they left all their opinions outside.
The Federal-style mansion was originally named Federal Hill. The name change occurred because of the family connection to the famous songwriter and the family’s cousin, Stephen Foster.
Stephen Foster drew inspiration for his song, My Old Kentucky Home from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and from what he witnessed while visiting Federal Hill Farm. Though today, most people think of the Kentucky Derby in relationship to this song, it actually had a far deeper impact on our country.
During and after the Civil War, both union and confederate soldiers visited the farm they knew had visually inspired Foster to write the ballad.
After telling us the story of Stephen while we stood before his portrait in the hallway, our tour guide announced she would now sing the song for us. “All the guides consider it a matter of pride. We all love to sing it.”
Our tour group shifted uneasily. I think we all wondered if this would be embarrassing. We need not have worried. She had a beautiful voice. Tears misted her eyes as she completed her rendition.
After hearing those words as an adult I can understand why it became a theme song to support the abolitionist movement. Its storyline is the plight of an enslaved servant who believes he will be sold to a farm in the deep south away from his home in Kentucky.
• Stephen Foster’s story is told in an outdoor musical.
For show times visit www.stephenfoster.com
• My Old Kentucky Home is located at 501 E. Stephen Foster Ave., Bardstown, KY
• Tickets: Adults $12, Seniors (65+) $11;
Youth & Children, Ages 13-18 $11, Ages 6-12 $9, Age 5 & Under Free
• For specialty tours and events at My Old Kentucky Home visit the website:
• No photography allowed inside My Old Kentucky Home mansion.
• My Old Kentucky Home isn’t the only museum in Bardstown, Kentucky.
The nearby area known as Museum Row, encompasses 4 museums:
1. Old Bardstown Village, a reproduction 1790 frontier community
2. Civil War Museum of the Western Theater, contains many rare items
3. Women of the Civil War: nurses, spies, soldiers; plantation and factory workers
4. War Memorial of Mid-America, American Revolution to Desert Storm
310 East Broadway, Bardstown, Kentucky
Hours of Operation: 10:00 a.m.—5:00 p.m. daily March—October
Open Friday, Saturday, Sunday in November; Closed December, January, February
Information or Reservations: (502) 349-0291 Group Reservations Year-Round
If any of the web addresses fail to open, copy and paste the urls in your browser.
Travel Light Humor
In that era, hay made a good bed for younger children—any accidents could drain away through the hay. It would have been difficult to clean urine out of a feather mattress.
The hay for these beds was pounded to get rid of the bugs—hence the phrase: Hit the Hay.
Judge Rowan had several notable friends: General Lafayette, Andrew Jackson, and Henry Clay.
Near the door to the library was an old sofa where Andrew Jackson slept or took naps when he visited. Maybe he didn’t like hay or feathers.
If you had lived in that era, would you have preferred to sleep on a hay mattress or a feather bed? Tell me why in the comments below.
Or tell me about the docent who sang to you during a tour. I’ve never been sung to before. Have you?
For another Kentucky adventure, see previous post about the ARK Encounter.
Until next time . . . Travel Light,
© 2017 SuZan Klassen