Bardstown KY, Most Beautiful Small Town in America
Posted August 27th, 2013 in Uncategorized and tagged , , by Rick Hill

Bardstown Courthouse SquareAs mentioned in an earlier post, I grew up in Bardstown, a small town about 38 miles southeast of Louisville, Kentucky.  After living away from Bardstown for most of my adult life, I decided last year to reorient myself and thought a brief return to my home town could be enriching.  I recently, celebrated my first year of reorientation which usually begins with an early morning 7 mile walk past Historic Federal Hill, once a tobacco plantation that inspired the song, “My Old Kentucky Home” by Stephen Foster, often considered to be America’s first great composer.  I travel a route that takes me past bourbon distilleries, through the traditional black community and into the town center, which is a national historic landmark district.  My midway point takes me down a vital main street where I stop and read the daily headlines posted on the front of paper vending boxes.  At the end of Main Street is a courthouse square and monument to John Fifth, an early steamboat inventor.


During the last quarter of my walk, I travel through neighborhoods of modest post World War II homes, many meticulously maintained.  My final mile is past a Civil War Museum, an active slaughter house that always seems to provoke curious heads turns from my dog Royce as life ends to fee another.  I continue up a remote horse and buggy trail and into the 66 acre Wickland estate containing a three story Georgian home, constructed between 1813-1817, which was the former home of two governors of Kentucky and one from Louisiana.  As a child, most of my summer days were spent on and around the Wickland estate exploring the home’s attic and cellar looking for hidden passages and in the nearby barns, limestone caves, natural springs, and Indian arrowhead strewn fields.


My walks become a centering point of each day.  I am most creative during these 2 hour jaunts and I usually end with a number of insights, inspirations and ideas.  Over the last year, I have quietly, observed the ebbs and flows of the community through the seasons.  I know the town from my childhood and as a concerned citizen today, and with a fairly broad perspective which has been refined from working in almost every major metro in the U.S.  But, my close up daily walks provides new insights.  I see the town breath, age, change and sigh.


Last year, Bardstown was voted by USA Today and Rand McNally, as the most beautiful small town in America.   The ranking brought a ton of pride to the community and has been a boost to tourism.  But, perhaps the designation has clouded the town’s collective vision as to where it has been and where it is going.  At times, the town seems to be encapsulated into an extended time warp consisting of variations of Stage Coach, Ye Old English, Lincoln Log Cabin, Classical styles.  Unfortunately, Ye Olde English lettering on Chippendale framed signs are not uncommon.


In the coming weeks and months I will share more thoughts on how a historic town can adapt and grow with Bardstown, my Kentucky hometown as the model.


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