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Kentucky Travels

The blue, blue grass of home

Dr. Anton Anderssen, eTN  Jul 08, 2011

(eTN) - Formerly known as Transylvania, Cherokee Land, and Virginia, Kentucky is the state where both Abraham Lincoln, President of the Union, and Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, were born. In the heart of Kentucky lies a stretch of rolling hills called "Bluegrass Country," where the grasses, when left to grow naturally along the roadsides and meadows, sprout bluish purple buds, which color the air when the grasses sway gracefully in the breezes.

This is a land of great thinkers, independent thinkers with a constellation of opinions and passions. Like the bluegrass, ideas and innovations have been blowing in the Kentucky wind for generations.

Plantations had slaves in the antebellum era, but Kentucky never seceded from the Union – they used their intellects to figure out solutions to problems rather than just quit. Chad Horn is part of the intelligentsia that has found peace in this unique Nirvana: he graduated valedictorian of Fugazzi College with degrees in business management and accounting and holds degrees from Central Kentucky State with certifications in residential, commercial, and industrial electricity.

Now, whoever would guess that Chad the electrician is also a published author with poems in over fifty magazines? As counter-intuitive as that might appear at first blush, this man, like Kentucky, is filled with surprises. Christian County is wet, while Bourbon County is dry. Barren County has the most fertile land in the state. Chad describes Kentucky as neither north nor south, but rather, unique. Kentucky is a Commonwealth, not a state, and its wealth lies not in the tons of gold held at Fort Knox, but in its exceptionally talented people: more than 100 native Kentuckians have been elected governors of other states.

Kentucky’s oldest city, Harrodsburg, has a charming old downtown area, thanks to the efforts of Harrodsburg First, the local planning organization which believes heritage and identity in downtown is the historic, social, cultural, and political core of the community. Harrodsburg First hosts a variety of events, which enhance and improve the quality of life in Harrodsburg and Mercer County, such as the Festival of Books and Arts, a tribute to the literary riches found therein.

The Chairman of the Board of Directors of Harrodsburg First is the youthful and spritely Dixon Dedman. Dixon is the fifth generation of the Dedman family to be involved in the family business - Beaumont Inn and the Old Owl Tavern – where he works as the Director of Food and Beverages. Along with his lovely wife Elizabeth, and their soon-to-be-sixth-generation-expected-baby, Dixon works alongside his parents.

Mamma Dedman (Helen) masterminded the décor in the public areas and suites of the three buildings comprising the Beaumont Inn. Each suite is custom-coordinated with unique furnishing from the antebellum era. During a visit to Bluegrass Country, we stayed in Beaumont Inn’s Platinum Suite number 5, the red roses haven. The stunning wallpaper features regal clusters of roses arranged in golden vases and flanked by red tassels dangling from strings of rubies and pearls. A four-poster bed and red-damask sofa draw out the rich colors of a spectacular Persian carpet, which warmly graces the room when lit from the above-hanging chandelier. The tiled bathroom has an enormous Jacuzzi, laden with mile-high plush cotton towels that are luxuriously soft to the touch. On one of the bureaus, two bottles of whiskey and a box of elegant bourbon ball chocolates awaits consumption by its guests. This Bluegrass inn is fit for blue-blooded royalty.

Bourbon County, the historical name for a collection of 34 counties in Bluegrass Country, was named for the French House of Bourbon royal family. Many remnants of French grandeur can be found in this area, including a nearby town called Versailles, where bourbon is distilled. Even the name Beaumont is reminiscent of classic French literature: born 300 years ago, Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, educator and writer, penned Beauty and the Beast and Other Classic French Fairy Tales. The Beaumont Inn is a fine example of the southern mansions one would read about in fairy tales.

The cuisine presented at the Beaumont Inn rivals the finest French gourmet creations – in taste, but not in snootiness. The highly-comfortable atmosphere and exquisitely polite staff offer the quintessential experience in southern hospitality, as if straight from the rulebooks of cotillion. The social graces and respect for historicity abound in this collection of mansions; the main building, constructed in 1845 was a formal (literally and figuratively) structure for the process of cotillion. Originally conceptualized as a scholarly sanctuary where ladies could learn elocution, French, literature, and other cultivated knowledge, the property formerly functioned as Beaumont College – whence Beaumont Inn sprang.

The innkeepers still maintain a refined portrait of class about them. Daddy Dedman (Chuck) spent the morning cooking in the kitchen, and afterward, when he walked toward the front office, he looked like he had just stepped out of a GQ magazine. He was immaculately groomed, wearing a starched, button-down Oxford broadcloth shirt, ironed slacks, and polished shoes. He spoke with a slightly southern dialect, in a courteous and dignified manner, befitting the testimony of a man of impeccable mien.

Dixon Dedman is a chip off the old block: classy and articulate, warm and hospitable. He spends a good amount of time running the highly-spirited retreats of the inn: the Old Owl Tavern and the Owl’s Nest. Dixon’s ancestors owned the Dedman Distillery, where they distilled Old Owl Kentucky Whiskey on Oregon Road in Salvisa, Kentucky, before prohibition. Since antiquity, the owl has been a symbol of wisdom: it was sacred to the Greek goddess of learning, Athena, and is depicted on some Greco-Roman currency as a symbol of status, intelligence, and wealth. The owl aptly symbolizes the generations of inn-keepers at Beaumont.

Greystone mansion is part of the Beaumont Inn complex. It was built in 1931 by Mrs. A.G. Kyle, niece of Eli Lilly of pharmaceutical fame. Lilly is most appreciated for the pioneering and development of insulin during the 1920s and the mass production of penicillin during the 1940s. The family established the Lilly Endowment that, in 1998, became the largest philanthropic endowment in the world in terms of assets and charitable giving. The Dedman family keeps the spirit of philanthropy alive by constantly giving back to the community.

Many famous people are from Bluegrass Country. Carrie Nation, the spokesperson against rum, tobacco, pornography, and corsets was born nearby in Lancaster, Garrard County. She is particularly noteworthy for promoting her viewpoint through vandalism. Her favorite activity was entering a peaceful alcohol-serving establishment, then attacking the bar with a hatchet. She called herself “a bulldog running along at the feet of Jesus, barking at what He doesn't like.” If said bulldog is female, I guess it would be proper to call her a bitch.

Another noteworthy Kentuckian is Joe Bowen, who holds the world record for stilt-walking endurance. In 1980, at age 35, Bowen walked 3,008 miles on stilts from Kentucky to Los Angeles, California, to raise US$100,000 to fight Muscular Dystrophy. Eventually, peripatetic wayfarers make their way back home from lands distant, like the elusive missing sock.

One inquiring Californian, Brian Goddard, came to Kentucky’s oldest city to learn about some of his ancestors profiled in the book “Uncle Will of Wildwood: Nineteenth-Century Life in the Bluegrass.” Goddard originally planned to stay only four days, but when we met him, he had repetitiously extended his stay for two-and-a-half weeks. Goddard became so fascinated with the Beaumont Inn and the local history, he just couldn’t make himself leave. The Beaumont has antiques which once belonged to Goddard’s ancestors; he was able to touch tangible mementos from his family of yore. For the first time, he was able to meet relatives not seen in generations. Fascination turned to passion: before he left, he purchased two historic buildings in Harrodsburg, including an amazing 8,000-square-foot mansion built by the Dedman family in the late 1880s. Another building will hold acquisitions for a new business he wants to start, called Gothic House Antiques. Fortunately, he’s got excellent mentors over at Harrodsburg First to help him succeed.

Harrodsburg First is rightly proud of its accomplishments. Dixon Dedman related: “In the heart of downtown Harrodsburg lies a National Register Historic District with a streetscape reminiscent of an earlier time. Most of the preserved buildings within this area date back to the 1880s and 1890s. Many gift and specialty shops, restaurants, and activities, all with a regional flavor, are scattered throughout the downtown district. Dedman Drugstore (c.1860) is a unique Main Street property that retains all of the original cherry cabinetry. Everyone admires the stained-glass windows and cherry paneling, which enclose the pharmacist’s station. The Kentucky Fudge Company invites you to sit a spell in the cafe or at the original soda fountain and browse the early drug store memorabilia on display.”

I think eating fudge and sipping sodas is an excellent way to spend the day.

Nearby the inn (at the junction of Handy Pike and US 68), we discovered Boone’s Cave, the only cave in Kentucky historically verified as used by Daniel Boone, who lived in the cave alone after his companion, John Stuart, was killed in January, 1770. I’m not sure why we discovered the cave, because we weren’t looking for it. We were looking to buy some of those Rebecca Ruth 100 Proof bourbon whiskey chocolates we ambitiously devoured in our red roses suite. We inadvertently learned that tourists to the area could take beginning horse-riding lessons, offered at several nearby stables. Unfortunately, I wanted chocolates, not a horse.

As we searched high and low for the prized bourbon balls, we came upon the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, America’s largest restored Shaker settlement, complete with costumed interpreters, skilled artisans, talented singers, and historic farming demonstrations. Shaker Village explained their 2011 golden anniversary celebration: “The once vibrant Shaker community that flourished on Pleasant Hill’s rolling meadows for more than 100 years was gone. By 1961, the hand-built limestone buildings they erected as symbols of heaven on Earth were empty and crumbling. The Shakers were almost forgotten until concerned friends and neighbors formed a nonprofit organization to acquire, restore, and preserve their buildings, lands, and stories. In 2011, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill celebrates its first 50 years as a nonprofit organization and honors its founders and friends, those who have shaped an illustrious past and those who will be crucial to the preservation and conservation of Shaker Village for the next 50 years.”

Who are the movers and shakers that once shook in Shaker Village? These industrious people had a unique culture; firstly, they believed that hard work was related to their salvation. Hence, they worked all the time. I could deal with that as long as I was the supervisor. They practiced their religion as a way of civic life – instead of spending their money on frivolous things like clothing that their children actually wanted to wear, they pooled their money and purchased freedom for area slaves. They also had a unique style of religious worship: choreographed line dancing in church. Unlike neighboring Baptists who believed dancing was a sin, the Shakers did some sort of hokey-pokey, turned themselves around, and that was what it was all about. I could really get into a church service that valued my Lady Gaga “Bad Romance” dance moves, but I envision theirs was more like Ethel Merman and chorus in “Anything Goes.”

The Shakers were into growing organic vegetables, making fine home furniture, and never making whoopee with the opposite sex. Wow, where do I sign up? Give me that old time religion.

Visit the offices of the Harrodsburg/Mercer County Tourist Commission, located on the first floor of The Diamond Point Mansion, where the friendly staff can provide detailed information on local attractions, dining, lodging, events, shopping and more. For more info, call 859-734-2364 or 800-355-9192.

Friend the author, Anton Anderssen, at .

The blue, blue grass of home
Beaumont Inn / Photo from Dr. Anton Anderssen

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