Located in central Kentucky, Bardstown (population 10,374) is the county seat of Nelson County. It was first settled in the late 1700s as Americans began pushing west. Its most celebrated historic attraction is Federal Hill Mansion, “My Old Kentucky Home.” Frequently visited by the American composer Stephen Foster, it is said to be his inspiration for Kentucky’s state song.
Bardstown is also well known as the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” with two distilleries in town and several others within a short drive. The history of whiskey-making is celebrated in the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, which is located in Spalding Hall (1826), once part of St. Joseph College and Seminary. Through the Bardstown Renaissance Program, the city has helped to rehabilitate and adaptively reuse the building, which also houses the Bardstown-Nelson County Historical Museum, restaurants, and offices.
Museum Row in Bardstown is the home of several museums and other cultural properties. The Civil War Museum is housed in the renovated former town water works and ice house. Unlike other museums, the Civil War Museum focuses around the War of the Western States. Every month from April through December, the museum hosts Living History days, where men in period uniforms and family members depict camp life at Old Bardstown Village. Adjacent to the museum is the historic Wright Talbott House, which houses the Women’s Civil War Museum. This museum depicts the role women played in the Civil War, from nurses, spies, and home life.
My Old Kentucky Home State Park offers candlelight tours during the holiday season. The mansion is decorated for Christmas in the antebellum style. During the summer months, the park hosts “Stephen Foster, The Musical,” an outdoor musical that features the music of Stephen Foster, such as “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races,” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”
Bardstown includes 279 structures listed in the National Register of Historic Places, including those in the Bardstown Historic District and Spalding Hall. Over the past decade, the city has been implementing a plan to revitalize the central business area of the historic district.
Designated a Preserve America Community in April 2004.