Monday, May 14, 2018
We got a bit of a late start again on Monday to avoid traffic. We drove out to Locust Grove around 10:30. The home is a little way East of town, but the drive isn’t bad.
We got tickets for the 11:15 tour. Before the tour we watched the short movie about the history of the house and all the important people who have passed through its doors. Those people include Lewis & Clark, Andrew and Rachel Jackson, Arron Burr, and James Monroe. The tour starts with the house that was built around 1792 by William and Lucy Clark Croghan. The house was sold a few times over the centuries and wasn’t a museum until 1964.
The house was built in a beautiful Georgian style, which is one of my favorite styles of architecture. The red bricks and the huge porch were just stunning. To think that the threshold into Locust Grove had been crossed by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, along with a number of American presidents is still the one visitors cross today is amazing to me. The interior of the house was also beautiful. Many of the rooms are very busy with the mismatched patterns of the carpets, wallpaper, and furniture. The concept of if something “goes with” something else wasn’t the style in the time the house was built. Instead, it was in fashion to buy the best and most expensive décor you could in order to show your guests you had wealth. On the main floor of the house almost all the trim is painted a rather garish teal color called verdigris, a paint pigment derived from copper. It was very expensive in the late 1700s, so naturally it had to be used.
Even though the dining room and the parlor are on the main floor of the house the ballroom is on the second floor. This is very common in Georgian style houses since it was in fashion to keep the main floor as symmetrical as possible. In the dining room, there’s the predecessor to the ceiling fan called a punkah. The punkah at Locust Grove is three large pieces of heavy fabric hanging from a pole on the ceiling. To get it to work there’s a rope on the wall the gets pulled every so often to get them moving.
There are many out buildings on the property all of which are reproductions built on original foundations and based on archeological finds. The buildings nearest the house are the kitchen, the dairy, the smoke house, and the ice house. There’s a corn crib and a spring house a little way away.
The exhibit inside the visitors center is really wonderful. It provides a ton of history on the Clark Croghan family. There’s a lot of history on the westward expansion of the United States too, because this was once the frontier. The museum also has a section talking about the lives of the slaves that were here. Yes, the original owners of the house did have slaves, it’s a tragic part of our country’s history, but it did happen. With the death of Dr. John Croghan the 22 remaining slaves were indentured for several years to learn a marketable trade and then freed. I would highly recommend visiting Locust Grove if you ever have the chance. There’s so much history to be learned, and the tours are fairly cheap too.
On our way back into town we stopped at a kind of dive-y looking BBQ joint called River Road BBQ. I got a pulled pork sandwich with potato salad and baked beans. It was to die for! Some of the best BBQ I’ve had in a while, and it was pretty cheap too.
Our last museum for the day was the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs. From what I was told the museum was recently renovated after flooding. The museum was good sized and gives a ton of information on the whats and whys of the Kentucky Derby. They have hats and outfits worn to the derby by important people. There’s sections about the big-name races horses like Secretariat. There’s the list of winners from the last 144 years and little things to recognize the Triple Crown winners. There’s a 20 minute video before our walking tour of the grounds. The video goes through what derby day involves and the prep leading up to it.
The guided tour of Churchill Downs was fairly short. It started with the paddock where all the horses are before the race. Then, through the tunnel used by the horses and the jockeys out to the track. We didn’t get to see the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle, but we did get to see the one used for every other race of the year. Along the outside of the stands there’s signs for every Kentucky Derby winner and the Triple Crown winners have a crown next to their names on their sign.
We called it quits after the Kentucky Derby Museum and went back to the AirBnB. The heat and sun really took the energy out of us. We had to pack up to leave the next morning anyhow.
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
Tuesday really wasn’t super exciting. We tidied up our AirBnB, loaded up the car and were on the road by 11:00. We got on the interstate and headed towards Nashville for a while. We took an exit off the interstate on to a small country highway. The little country road was twisty and turny up and down what were mountains by Minnesota standards. The little roads through the Kentucky farm land were absolutely beautiful! If it weren’t for the heat and humidity I’d move to Kentucky in a heartbeat!
After driving for around an hour we got to our reason for getting off the interstate, the Maker’s Mark Distillery. We got there just in time to join a tour. The tour starts with a brief history of Maker’s Mark. It all started with Bill Samuels Sr., a fourth generation distiller, purchasing the distillery in 1953. After ceremoniously burning the old family recipe and testing production began in 1954. The look of the label, logo, and the iconic wax drip were all ideas that came from Bill’s wife Margie.
Our guide took us through where they make their bourbon with the gain cooking in massive vats, then to the room full of wooden vats where the sour mash ferments for a few days before being distilled. We got to try the sour mash, and it was indeed sour, like a sourdough starter. We took a quick walk through where they still print and cut their labels four sheets at a time on equipment from the 1930s. We passed through the rickhouse where barrels of bourbon were aging. It smelled heavenly of oak barrels and “the angel’s share” or bourbon that was evaporating out of the barrels. After going through where the Private Select barrels are kept we got to the good part, the tasting.
We got to sample six bourbons, well, five bourbons and Maker’s Mark right out of the still. The unaged Maker’s Mark was actually not too bad. We also got to taste traditional Maker’s Mark, Maker’s Mark 46, Maker’s Mark Barrel Proof, one of their Private Selects, and their premixed mint julep since it’s derby month. My favorite was just the plain old Maker’s Mark. For once it’s not the most expensive option! In the gift shop, I bought a small bottle of Maker’s Mark and got to dip it in the wax myself, which was pretty cool.
We got lunch up the road in Loretto, Kentucky, and made our way to Nashville. Once in Nashville we checked in to where we’re staying, parked the car, and got some dinner before calling it a night.
Until next time, safe travels! Be sure to like and follow me here and on Instagram so you don’t miss out on what I’m doing.