Bardstown, Kentucky

The county seat of Nelson County, Bardstown, is a historically rich city that represents the past of the Bluegrass State (Kentucky) and the colonial United States. Founded in 1780, Bardstown is the second oldest city in Kentucky (predating the state’s admission to the United States Union) and was formally incorporated in 1838.

Heaven Hill Distillery at Bardstown
Heaven Hill Distillery at Bardstown. Heaven Hill is a brand of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, one of six distilleries along Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Editorial credit: Irina Mos / Shutterstock.com

Geography And Climate Of Bardstown

Located just a 40-minute drive from the city of Louisville, Bardstown is served by both motor and train access. The Bluegrass Parkway passes just south of the city while railroad service is provided by the R. J. Corman Railroad Central Kentucky Lines company. Located in north-central Nelson County, the town has a total area of 7.5 square miles.The climate of central Kentucky is often characterized by mild to cool winters and humid and hot summers, and Bardstown is no different. It has been noted as having a humid subtropical climate with highs in the summertime of around 31 C (88 F) and lows in the winter months of -3 C (25 F). On average, 8 inches of snow and 49 inches of rain are recorded every year.

Population Of Bardstown

Bardstown had a population of just under 12,000 in the 2010 census, with a demographic makeup of 83% White, 12% African American, and a remaining 5% of Asian, Latino, and Native Americans. 

History Of Bardstown

Bardstown Bourbon Capital welcome sign. Editorial credit: University of College / Shutterstock.com

Named after William and David Bard, settler brothers who were instrumental in the town’s development, Bardstown was also alternately known as Beardstown and Beards Town in the past. David Bard obtained a land grant for 400 hectares in the area, while brother William began the major work of surveying and plotting the town. As the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) continued, Bardstown reflected the westward migration of settlers over the Blue Ridge Mountains; it became an important center of the Catholic faith on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains, with the Diocese of Bardstown established in 1808, before its transfer to Louisville in 1841. The Basilica of Saint Joseph Proto Cathedral was built in 1823 to serve its growing Catholic community.

Attractions In Bardstown

Due to its ties to Revolutionary America, Bardstown houses several historical buildings and sights from the 18th and 19th centuries. These include the Wickland Mansion (the prior home of three Kentucky Governors), the Civil War Museum (the fourth largest museum dedicated to the conflict in all of the United States), and the Old Talbott Tavern, built in 1779, said to have been frequented by pioneer folk hero Daniel Boone and President Abraham Lincoln.

Unofficially named the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” Bardstown hosts the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival; the production of bourbon whiskey is a major industry for the city, and visitors can find a multitude of distilleries operating. Among these include Lux Row Distillers and Heaven Hill, where one can tour the facilities and then sample some of the best locally made whiskey the state offers.

Kentucky Home State Park
A Statue of Songwriter and Composer Stephen Foster in My Ol' Kentucky Home State Park. Editorial credit: James Kirkikis / Shutterstock.com

As the first stop on the famed Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Bardstown is sure not to be missed for any bourbon connoisseur. Historically minded tourists may also enjoy visiting the My Old Kentucky Home State Park, centered around Federal Hill, a plantation mansion during the Antebellum period. The park, named after the song of the same by composer Stephen Foster, also plays host to an outdoor musical called “The Stephen Foster Story”; it was recognized as the state’s official musical in 2002.

Forest Giant Little Nis reflecting on pond, Art installation by Thomas Dambo in the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. Editorial credit: Trey Thomas / Shutterstock.com

The Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is also a popular spot for tourists to enjoy more than 15,600 acres of protected forest, wildlife, and other natural landscapes; it has inspired thousands of visitors since its opening in 1929. From there, why not head out to The Historic Cobblestone Path, and go from marveling at nature to an artificial wonder? One of Kentucky’s oldest paved roads was built in 1785. It is now a pedestrian-only route and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989; take a stroll back in time and enjoy the sights of road transportation as it was in the 18th century.

Whether one enjoys its bourbon or taking in its unique colonial history, Bardstown is a charming little town that gives any visitor a slice of Kentucky. Before moving on to the big cities or perhaps stopping on the way from one, a visit to Bardstown is one that will be sure to leave a sweet and happy memory.

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