No Destination: Federal Hill

Visiting Bardstown for a wedding last summer, I knew one destination that I could not miss. Federal Hill, colloquially known as My Old Kentucky Home. Of course, my arrival there was moments before the state park closed so while I toured the grounds, I did not enter any of the buildings.

As folklore goes, it was on an 1852 visit with his cousins (the Rowans) here that Stephen Collins Foster was inspired to write what later became the state song. There is some debate as to the veracity of this story. Foster could have been inspired on an earlier (and well-documented) 1833 visit to Augusta, Kentucky. The song was adopted as the official state song in 1928; its words were revised in 1986 also by legislative fiat (changing the word from "darkies" to "people" after a performance of the song by a Japanese choir upon the opening of the Toyota Plant in Georgetown. It was said that the lyrics "convey connotations of racial discrimination that are not acceptable.") Also generally eliminated by the 1986 legislation: verses 2 and 3. Verse 3 is below; you can see why it was removed:
The head must bow and the back will have to bend,
Wherever the darky may go;
A few more days, and the trouble all will end,
In the field where the sugar-canes grow;
A few more days for to tote the weary load,
No matter, 'twill never be light;
A few more days till we totter on the road,
Then my old Kentucky home, goodnight.


John Rowan, a jurist and congressman, began construction of Federal Hill in 1795 but the work was not finished until 1818.  According to The Kentucky Encyclopedia, John Rowan's granddaughter (Madge Rowan Frost) sold the estate to the Commonwealth in 1921 who has since maintained and operated the site.
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