Lexington:  Some background on Town Branch Distillery

aceweekly_oct2012_townbranch_bourbonstills1Source: Press This!

Alltech’s Town Branch distillery in Lexington added to Kentucky Bourbon Trail

 

The Town Branch bourbon distillery will be added to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, becoming the first distillery in Lexington and the seventh in the state along the current route, Kentucky Distillers’ Association, state tourism officials and Alltech president Pearce Lyons announced this morning.

“Having a distillery here is something of a homecoming,” Lyons, originally of County Louth in Ireland, said, telling the tale of the Irish/Scots of Pennsylvania’s Whiskey Rebellion being granted 60 acres in Virginia (now Kentucky) on which to make their whiskey by Thomas Jefferson.

“And on my mom’s side for four generations there were barrelmakers — coopers– and they were proud to actually make barrels not for beer, but for whiskey,” Lyons said.

“When we are talking about the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, we are talking about Kentucky’s history,” Lyons said.

Situated in the cluster of Alltech buildings at the junction of West Maxwell Street, Versailles Road and Oliver Lewis Way, the new distillery produces Town Branch bourbon, named after the underground aquifer that runs through downtown Lexington and feeds some of the Lexington water supply.

After comments by Eric Gregory, president of the KDA, Jeff Conder, KDA chairman and vice president of Americas Operations for Beam, Inc., Vice Mayor Linda Gorton spoke, also citing Lexington’s history. “Lexington was a hub for bourbon distilleries,” she said. Now, with the Town Branch Distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in Lexington just adjacent to the Rupp Arena area for redevelopment and the home of the early Lexington distilleries, “We will pull tourists right into downtown,” she said.

Mike Mangeot, Kentucky’s new commissioner of travel and tourism praised Lyons for his “big thinking”  and said “As we’re out selling Kentucky, we need something unique, and there’s nothing more Kentucky than bourbon,” Mangeot said.

Jim Browder, the new president of the Leixngton Convention and Visitors Bureau praised Lyons for all he and Alltech have done in Lexington. Browder commented on Lyons’ efforts that brought the National Horse Show to Kentucky after more than 100 years in New York City, and his contributions to the World Equestrian Games 2010. Browder also noted Alltech’s annual symposium, which brings 3,000 people from 23 countries to Lexington.

And then, at 10:25 a.m., with the advisory that it was after 5 p.m. somewhere, the Irishman raised a glass of the Town Branch and cleared his throat. “Here’s to Lexington and Here’s to Lexington coming back again” with a distillery, Lyons said, leading those in the room who could dare to toast the newest addition to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with the craft bourbon from his distillery.

The other distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail are: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg; Heaven Hill, Bardstown; Jim Beam, Clermont; Maker’s Mark, Loretto; Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg and Woodford Reserve, Versailles.

Tourists are encouraged to set aside at least two days to “do” the entire Kentucky Bourbon Trail. With the Kentucky Bourbon Trail “Passport” program, visitors collect stamps on a passport at each visit and receive a not-available-in-stores t-shirt that celebrates the achievement.

At the Town Branch announcement, KDA President Gregory presented Lyons with the revised Kentucky Bourbon Trail passport, turned to the Town Branch page, and had him issue the first Town Branch distillery stamp.

First articulated in 1999 by the KDA, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has hosted more than two million visitors in one five-year period, according to its website.

With the rise of premium small batch and single barrel bourbons, production of the spirit increased more than 11.5% from 1999 to 2010, according to the KDA.

KDA figures show that 95 percent of the world’s supply of bourbon is made in Kentucky and that there are now more bourbon barrels in the state that there are people. (More than four million).

Bourbon was declared America’s only native spirit by Congress in 1964. It gets its name from Bourbon County, one of the original three counties that made up Kentucky when it was still part of Virginia. To be considered a bourbon, a spirit must be more than 51 percent corn and be stored in new oak barrels which are charred.

Town Branch, which some whiskey experts note is a spirit that, like Maker’s Mark, has wheat as its second grain, is 80 proof, is one of the products of Lyons Spirits, a company created by Alltech CEO Pearse Lyons. Lyons Spirits also produces Pearse Lyons Reserve whiskey and Bluegrass Sundown (an Irish coffee liqueur).

Town Branch Distillery was the first new distillery added to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association since 1880, according to the group. Historical documents show that scores of bourbon brands were once produced at Lexington distilleries.

The distillery, which is still under construction and will open next month, sits in something of an Alltech compound at the corner of West Maxwell Street and Versailles Road, at the gateway to the state TIF development area known as Lexington’s Distillery District, which mostly runs along Manchester Street nearby.  The Icehouse, formerly an art and performance space in a historic distillery engine room, has been transformed into a visitors’ center for the concern and there is a pub facility and a banqueting hall in a separate building.

Lyons led the gathered officials and members of the press on a tour of the Visitors Center, with a central hall designed as a Dublin street with brightly colored pub fronts bearing names of Pearse and Deirdre Lyons’ ancestors. The Visitors Center was designed by Mrs. Lyons. The tour then continued into the distillery itself, with Lyons getting up on the platform supporting the two copper stills from Scotland, animated as he showed reporters how the system works.

Bourbon distilling royalty was on hand for the event as well. Jimmy Russell, 78, of Lawrenceburg, Master Distiller at Kentucky Bourbon Trail site Wild Turkey for approaching 58 years, was on hand for the toast and the tour. Russell, of course, has left his legacy. He has got his young son Eddie, 52, already trained should he need to step aside.

Lyons, a Ph.D. in biochemistry who was once part of the Guinness brewery team in his native Ireland, built Alltech, now a diversified $700 million revenue international concern based in Lexington, from a small shed operation in Nicholasville. The company founded in 1980 now employs 2,800 people and operates in 128 countries.  In addition to its agricultural products, Alltech produces the Kentucky Ale line of beer. The company was the major sponsor of the Alltech World Equestrian Games held in Lexington in 2010 and is a major cultural donor in the city.

In early 2010, the New Orleans-based company that owns the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort and the Tom Moore Distillery in Bardstown resigned from the KDA. Its distilleries were removed from the Kentucky Bourbon Trail promotion.

 

Ace Weekly (August 16, 2012)

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Lexington: #ThisPlaceMatters

Since I was downtown this afternoon, I decided to drive by the house.  Fortunately, they hadn’t started the demolition, so I was able see this historic home one last time.

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#ThisPlaceMatters

 

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Those Haunting Antebellum Basements

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The slave kitchen in the basement of Ward Hall, Georgetown, Kentucky.

I am fascinated by the basements in the antebellum homes I visit in Kentucky.  It’s always a disappointment if a basement is closed to visitors, since it’s just as much a part of a historic site’s story as the elegant rooms above it.  The story of the African-American slaves who worked or were held in those basements is every bit as important as that of their owners upstairs.

20150808_145130This first set of photos was taken at the 1812 Coleman-Desha Plantation, Cynthiana, Kentucky.  This home, an adaptation of the Georgian house plan, is privately owned, but was opened to the public as a one-day fundraiser to save the nearby Handy House (see below).

 

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20150802_172448In Georgetown, Ward Hall, the grandest Greek Revival home in Kentucky, dates to 1857.  The home is still being restored and that makes a visit to the basement kitchen and storage/work areas even more poignant.  The head tour guide didn’t realize our tour was still in the basement at closing time and turned the lights off while we were downstairs.  Viewing the basement in the gloom of late afternoon gave me a sense of what it must have been like to work down there in the 1850s.

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Handy HouseThen there’s the 1818 Handy House in Cynthiana, Kentucky.  This federal-style house is boarded up and under threat of demolition by its current owners, the city and county governments, following years of deliberate neglect by those bodies.  A grassroots effort is underway to save the house and that effort has now moved to a legal battle in court.

Entrance to basement where slaves were kept on first arrival

Entrance to basement where slaves were kept on first arrival. Handy House, Cynthiana, Kentucky.

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Jerry Gore: Gone Too Soon

Jerry Gore (November, 2015)

Jerry Gore (November, 2015)

“I don’t bring shame or blame. I’m here to teach the history of my people.”

Historian Jerry Gore’s passing this week was unexpected.  I met him last fall on one of his tours of Underground Railroad sites in Kentucky and Ohio.  I came away from the day-long tour with a new understanding and awareness.  His tours were amazing–he was amazing.

Gore, of Maysville, worked to uncover the history of the Underground Railroad in the area around Maysville and helped found the town’s National Underground Railroad Museum.

He co-founded Freedom Time, a company that organizes Underground Railroad site tours and events.

And he consulted on a number of projects regarding the history of the Underground Railroad.

Gore, a descendant of escaped slaves, credited his mother, Hattie Dunlap, with giving him a passion for preserving his heritage.

When he was 7 years old, he said she took him across the Ohio River to a house that had once belonged to the Rev. John Rankin, an abolitionist who has been credited with helping hundreds of slaves escape. She told him stories of the Underground Railroad and the slaves who followed it to freedom.

“One of the things my mother realized was we live in an unfair world, and she knew the effect racism and segregation could have on children,” Gore said in a 1995 Herald-Leader article. “But she also knew she could keep us motivated with positive images of the beauty of our history.”

Kentucky Underground Railroad historian Jerry Gore dies   Lexington Herald-Leader (August 6, 2016)

 

As word spread this week of Mr. Gore’s passing, other tributes poured in:

Words For Jerry Gore Don’t Seem To Be Enough  Maysville Ledger-Independent (August 5, 2016)

A legacy to remember  Maysville Ledger-Independent (August 5, 2016)

Jerry Gore funeral Monday in Maysville  The Morehead News (August 5, 2016)

Retired administrator Jerry Gore passes away  Morehead State University (August 5, 2016)

Local historian Jerry Gore dies unexpectedly  Maysville Ledger-Independent (August 4, 2016)

Obituary – Mr. Gore   Maysville Ledger-Independent (August 4, 2016)

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Lexington: Belle Brezing’s Gravesite

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Calvary Cemetery, Lexington, Kentucky

Lexington’s notorious madam, Belle Brezing or Breezing (1859-1940), is buried at Calvary Cemetery, a Catholic cemetery in Lexington, Kentucky.  She is believed to have been the inspiration for Belle Watling in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.

Belle Brezing opened her first brothel in a row house at what is now 314-318 North Upper Street, a block away from where my daughter lived during her time in Lexington.

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Belle is buried next to her stillborn infant born in 1882.

Belle_Brezing_in_a_feather_hat_(circa_1895)

University of Kentucky Libraries

Brezing’s  descent into prostitution is a sad one and not uncommon for a woman who had fallen on hard times in that period.  Seduced by an older man when she was only 12 and pregnant by 15, Mary Belle Cox’s mother died in 1876.  Belle was evicted and her developmentally disabled daughter Daisy May was placed with a neighbor. Belle became a prostitute, but provided money for Daisy May’s care for the rest of her life.

On December 24, 1879, Brezing began to work for Jennie Hill, a madam who ran a brothel out of the Mary Todd Lincoln house at 578 West Main St. Brezing worked there for two years until she had saved enough money to start her own house and assume the position of madam.

University of Kentucky Libraries: Special Collections Research Center

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Lexington: Kentucky Native Cafe 

Globe Full of Goodies blog

“The Kentucky Native Cafe is a true urban oasis in the middle of downtown Lexington. 

Get ready. This is the coolest concept for a restaurant that I have ever been to. It’s my new favorite place to go while visiting family, and I would go all the time if I lived closer. The Kentucky Native Cafe…”

View original post at Globe Full of Goodies


I have to agree with everything she says (and what great photos)!

10446348_451338071693918_2504967146091433228_nThis open-air restaurant is where we went for my daughter’s “Farewell to Kentucky” dinner on her last day in Lexington.    Kentucky Native Cafe is part of Michler’s (Florist, Greenhouses & Garden Design) and is located at the rear of their complex.  Michler’s is a Lexington institution, dating to 1900.

Dine and relax in our urban oasis.  Kentucky Native Café features local craft beer, fine cheese, and bright herbs to entice your senses.

Michler’s website

YatG on TripAdvisor

YatG on TripAdvisor

Walking into Kentucky Native Cafe for the first time had a magical feel, with fairy lights illuminating a soft spring evening.  It reminded me of visits to the marvelous Vishalla in Ahmedabad, India.  Vishalla is also an open-air restaurant and recreates the feel of a typical Indian village.

Our one big regret?  That we didn’t know about the Kentucky Native Cafe until my daughter’s last day in town!  We would have added it to our list of favorite places to eat.

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Lexington: Robards’ Slave Headquarters

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Short Street headquarters of Robards’ slave operation.

Slavery was front and center on a recent walking tour of Lincoln’s Lexington presented by the Blue Grass Trust’s deTour program.  Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary (Todd) Lincoln, was a Lexington native and she and Lincoln spent some time here after they married.  This tour of the historic downtown included a stop on Short Street at a building that today houses condominiums, but in the mid-1800s was the headquarters of notorious slave trader Lewis Robards.

Lincoln’s brother-in-law, Levi Todd, lived across the street from the Robards’ buildings.   The Todd home was just one of several elegant homes on this block owned by prominent Lexington families.  Just a few blocks away on the grounds of the original Fayette County Courthouse is Cheapside, the largest of Kentucky’s slave markets.  Robards sold his slaves at Cheapside.

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Robards’ slave business encompassed several buildings on this block, including slave pens and a brothel :  one building was for holding slaves until sale–slave “pens”– and another building was for displaying “fancy girls”–basically a brothel featuring mulatto slaves.

New Orleans and Lexington, Kentucky, had active markets in “fancy girls,” beautiful young girls and women, often mulatto or quadroon, who were sold not as domestics but as concubines. They were presented at auction well dressed and coiffed, sometimes with jewelry. In the 1850s, beautiful teenage girls were valued at more than $1,500 (close to $30,000 in today’s dollars), which made them as “expensive” as prime male field hands. Buying a “fancy girl” was a status symbol for traders, gamblers, and saloon keepers.

US Slave blog at http://usslave.blogspot.com/2011/08/selling-fancy-girls.html

Slave Market, circa 1850-1860.

Slave Market, circa 1850-1860.

Present-day Cheapside is the site of the downtown farmers' market.

Present-day Cheapside is the site of the downtown farmers’ market.

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Slave Code booklet for Washington D.C., published in 1862.

Having inherited the slavery ideology of Virginia, from which the state had been formed, Kentucky in 1798 adopted a slave code that defined slaves as “chattel,” thereby denying them basic rights—including citizenship, education, legal marriages, and control over property and even their own bodies. Even though various groups of Kentuckians made attempts, based primarily on religious doctrine, to end slavery, the tremendous wealth and status offered by slavery lured many poor whites to seek their fortunes through the trafficking of slaves.

Kentucky and the Underground Railroad (KET/Kentucky Educational Television)

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“She will not be sold to go out of the county….”

House Servant_Lexington Observer_May 14 1831

Lexington (KY) Observer (May 14, 1831)

A House Servant

The Subscriber wishes to dispose of a NEGRO WOMAN about 23 years of age, and can with confidence recommend her as a good house servant; she has been equally accustomed to  cooking, washing, and attending to the dairy.  Price $325.

N.B.  She will not be sold to go out of the county and a purchaser in Town will have the preference.

M. SMITH

Lexington May 14, 1831.

(from the Lexington Observer newspaper)

Twenty-three percent.  That’s the percentage of families that owned slaves in Kentucky in 1860.   Even when you consider that the percentage ranges from  25% (Tennessee) to 49% (Mississippi) in the deep south, our modern-day selves are horrified by what those statistics represent.

A recent walking tour of Lincoln’s Lexington included sites related to Lexington’s slavery history:  Slave trader Lewis Robards’ headquarters, as well as the Cheapside slave auction block, both in the historic downtown area.

Many historic sites showcase antebellum life without any mention of the slaves that made the white elites’ elegant lifestyle possible.  Federal Hill at My Old Kentucky State Park in Bardstown is an example of that approach.  I prefer historic sites that confront that history, painful as it may be to acknowledge.  Ward Hall in Georgetown and Waveland in Lexington do that by opening up areas of their properties to tell that part of their story.

I wrote about encountering the uncomfortable reality of Kentucky’s slave history in Constantly Startled by Southern History last year.

Tom Eblen, a columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader, writes in “Lexington Slave Trade Flourished Before Civil War”:

Without the Civil War, who knows when Lexington’s trade in black men, women and children might have ended? Most whites 150 years ago were content to look the other way….

The Bluegrass and Beyond

 

 

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